Italy from the North to the Vatican, along the Via Francigena

Monteriggioni, a stop of the Via Francigena (c) GagliardiPhotography/
Monteriggioni, a stop of the Via Francigena (c) GagliardiPhotography/
Once the favorite path of pilgrims visiting the tomb of St. Peter in the Vatican, today the Via Francigena is one of the most famous routes in Italy, appreciated for its breathtaking landscapes and its rich cultural heritage. All to be discovered without haste, in the peace of nature.

Spend several weeks walking backpacking, surrounded by nature, among places rich in history along the path that first St. Francis of Assisi undertook to reach Rome … this and much more is the Italian section of the Via Francigena. An experience that combines sport and spirituality. No less beautiful than the much more famous Way of St. James of Compostela, the Via Francigena crosses the length and breadth of Italy, revealing its variety of landscapes, from mountain paths to ancient stone streets, passing through narrow roads that meander through the fields and then continuing on to the white Tuscan cobblestone streets dotted with cypress trees.

Before embarking on the journey, however, it must be kept in mind that there is not just one variant of the Italian section of the Via Francigena, but that it provides several options, with different starting points and multiple stages. Among these is the main route, over 1,160 km long, which winds from the Colle del Gran San Bernardo, in the heart of the Alps of the Valle d’Aosta, to get to Rome. Or the Piedmontese variant that starts at the border with France and crosses the Susa Valley (near Turin) until it reaches the city of Vercelli, among mountain paths and ancient mule tracks, to then rejoin the main route.

The ancient path that every year was walked by pilgrims on their way to Rome crosses small villages, remote valleys, but also places of meditation and prayer, with crypts and chapels kept in Romanesque churches. Not to mention that the Via Francigena also touches some of the most important cities of Italy including Pavia, Parma, Lucca, Siena, Viterbo and Rome as well as tourist destinations of great charm, such as the plains of Emilia, the rolling hills of Tuscany with the towns of Colle Val d’Elsa, Monteriggioni, San Gimignano and the remains of Roman architecture in the countryside between Viterbo and Rome.

Traveling the Via Francigena, in its entirety or even just in part, for those who are pressed with time, also offers the perfect opportunity to stop in an “agriturismo” (a local farmhouse) to taste culinary specialties of the various regions, prepared with the use of local ingredients according to ancient techniques and recipes. The secret to making the most of the journey is to take it calmly, without the need to run, armed with GPS and taking restorative breaks to admire the beauty of the surrounding landscape and leave stress behind.