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Learn about the Via Francigena and St Francis Way: the different sections, interesting festivals along the way, the stories behind the Via Francigena and St Francis route markings, food and recipes.

via-francigena-marking-italy-francigena-waysThe Via Francigena trail might not be as well known as the Camino de Santiago but it has been a path taken by pilgrims across Europe for centuries.

We explain the Via Francigena, the Camino to Rome, in 15 interesting and simple facts:

1 – The Via Francigena covers 1900kms from Canterbury to Rome.

2 – It is one of the many routes taken by European pilgrims on their way to Rome since the Middle Ages.

3 – The Via Francigena or Camino to Rome crosses four European countries: UK, France, Switzerland and Italy; and areas of spectacular beauty and historic interest.

Canterbury-Via-Francigena-Francigenaways4 – Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury, walked the route to Rome and recorded his travels in a journal in the 10th century. This can be considered the first ever Via Francigena ‘guidebook’ and the route today follows Sigeric’s trail as much as possible.

5 – Slightly different variations have emerged in sections of the Via Francigena route, to avoid bigger roads or areas not suitable for walking/cycling. Some guidebooks will indicate both itineraries so walkers/cyclists can choose which one to follow.

6 – It is pronounced: Francheegena (with accent on the ‘ee’) but to make it easier you can also call it the Camino to Rome.lake-geneva-chateau-chillon-francigena-ways

7 -The Via Francigena route is a Council of Europe European Cultural Itinerary since 1994 and Major Cultural Route since 2004.

8 – Once in Rome, you can request your Testimonium, certificate of pilgrimage to Rome.

9 – It is not very clear how many people walk or cycle parts of the Via Francigena each year but it was estimated there were 2,500 in 2012 (Source: Cicerone Guides). * Compared to over 240,000 who reached Santiago de Compostela in 2014 for instance.

lucca-walking-tuscany-via-francigena-francigenaways10 – The Via Francigena is still very much at a development stage in terms of way markings. Those will vary greatly depending on the countries and regions. It is important to have a good guidebook or route notes and maps with you.

11 – Markings are not as common or uniform as those on the Camino. Markings can be the Francigena pilgrim, the red and white stripes (GR marking) or both combined.

12 – Way marks become more frequent in Italy and particularly, as you get closer to Rome.

13 – Accommodation particularly in rural areas can be limited.

14 – It will take approximately 3 months to walk the full length of the Via Francigena, the Camino to Rome all the way from Canterbury. It should take a month and a half to cycle the route.san-gimignano-walking-tuscany-italy-via-francigena-ways

15 – Many Francigena pilgrims choose to do separate sections at a time (1 to 2 weeks for instance). Some of the most popular sections are section 9 walking to St Bernard’s Pass and across the Alps, section 14 walking in Tuscany and section 16 walking into Rome.

You might also like to read our blog post: Camino de Santiago or Camino to Rome?

For more information about cycling or walking the Via Francigena or to book your Camino to Rome, contact our travel specialists

reims-cathedral-via-francigena-francigenawaysThe Via Francigena, like the Camino de Santiago, is a long-distance walking trail following a medieval pilgrim path. Starting in Canterbury Cathedral, in the UK, the Via Francigena crosses France towards Switzerland, before reaching Italy. Today’s route follows the path taken by Sigeric the Serious, archbishop of Canterbury, in the 10th century, as closely as possible.

To learn more, read the history of the Via Francigena or our blog post the Via Francigena in 15 interesting facts.

Over 16 stages, the Via Francigena walking trail offers a very unique and varied view of Europe: from the cliffs of Dover and WWI battlefields to the Champagne region, the Alps and Tuscany. Each section and country crossed by the Via Francigena, the Camino to Rome, has its unique history, heritage and natural beauty.

Section 1: Canterbury to Wisques, across the Channel

Section 2: Wisques to Arras, Northern France

Section 3: Arras to Laon, walking on the WWI battlefields

Section 4: Laon to Reims, into the Champagne region

Section 5: Reims to Bar-sur-Aube

Section 6: Bar-sur-Aube to Langres

Section 7: Langres to Besançon

Section 8: Besançon to Lausanne, walking from France to Switzerland

Section 9: Lausanne to Aosta, walking from Lake Geneva to the Alps

Section 10: Aosta to Vercelli

Section 11: Vercelli to Piacenza

Section 12: Piacenza to Aulla

Section 13: Aulla to Lucca

Section 14: Lucca to Siena, walking in the heart of Tuscany

Section 15: Siena to Viterbo

Section 16: Viterbo to Rome, the last 100km of the Via Francigena

La-Rocchicciola-st-francis-way-italy-camino-rome-francigenawaysThe Saint Francis Way takes an old Roman route from the city of Florence to Rome, following the footsteps of Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order. This fantastic walking trail, suitable for more experienced walkers, crosses the Apennine Mountains and we have divided it in four stages:

Section 1: Florence to Sansepolcro
The first section of the St Francis Way starts in the stunning city of Florence, capital of Tuscany. The starting point is Basilica di Santa Croce, the largest Franciscan Church in the World. This stage will take you to Santuario della Verna and across breath taking Tuscan landscapes to finish in the beautiful medieval town of Sansepolcro.

Section 2: Sansepolcro to Assisi
Section 2 of the St Francis Way trail starts in the walled town of Sansepolcro and crosses lush green Umbria on the way to Assisi, the spiritual centre of this journey. This is where Saint Francis was born and where he is buried, at the impressive Basilica di San Francesco.

Section 3: Assisi to Rieti
From Assisi, the St Francis Way trail heads to Rieti, across the Umbrian countryside. In this section, you will visit many points of Franciscan interest as well as charming medieval towns, art cities and one the most impressive natural monuments: the Marmore Waterfalls. In Rieti you can request your St Francis pilgrimage certificate.

Section 4: Rieti to Rome
The last section of the St Francis Way heads from Rieti to Rome along the Via Salaria, an ancient path across rolling hills taking you all the way to St Peter’s Square in Rome.

Via-Francigena-sign-tuscany-francigenawaysFollowing the Red and White

The Via Francigena has its specific symbols and route markings to guide you on your way.

In England, you will look out for the pilgrim sign, whereas in France you will check for the red and white strips. In Italy, you will find a combination of both the pilgrim and the strips.

Read our blog post: How to follow the Francigena trail.

Following Saint Francisst-francis-way-signpost-francigenaways

The route of the Saint Francis Way (Cammino di Francesco) is signposted with an icon depicting Saint Francis lifting his arms to the birds.

This sign will guide you on your way following Saint Francis’ steps, from Florence to Rome

pantheon-Rome-walking-italy-via-francigena-waysThe Via Francigena is one of the longest pilgrimage routes in Europe. From Canterbury to Rome, the trail takes walkers to some of Europe’s most spectacular regions, as well as areas of fascinating history and culture. These are some of the Via Francigena highlights:

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral is the departing point of your Via Francigena journey. Founded in 597 and re-built in the 11th and 12th centuries, the cathedral is the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is from here that Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 10th century departed on his pilgrimage to Rome. His detailed account of the journey is the first Via Francigena travel book and our itinerary today still follows mostly Sigeric’s route.

Canterbury Cathedral is on the first section of the trail: Via Francigena from Canterbury to Wisques.

White Cliffs of Dover

Dover’s iconic White Cliffs, in Kent, United Kingdom, owe its characteristic bright white colour to its composition: they are an impressive cliff face of soft white chalk as high as 350 metres; highlighted by streaks of black flint. The cliffs are located on the narrowest part of the channel that separates Britain from continental Europe. For this reason Dover’s White Cliffs have had an important strategic and defensive role over the centuries. Interesting history, stunning views across the channel and rich wildlife attract visitors to the White Cliffs today.

The White Cliffs of Dover are located on the first section of the trail: Via Francigena from Canterbury to Wisques.

Battlefields of the Somme

The Via Francigena trail also crosses the Somme region in Northern France where some of the most important battles of World War I took place.

The third section of the Via Francigena from Arras to Laon is dotted with military cemeteries and memorials, a poignant reminder of the lives lost during the Great War. The Chemin des Dames (Ladies’ Path), as well as Peronne’s Great War museum and Monument to the Fallen are both on your way.

Champagne and Reims Cathedral

Section 4 of the Via Francigena from Laon to Reims, in Northern France, takes walkers across the vineyards of the Champagne region where the world’s most famous bubbly is produced; as well as Reims Cathedral, a Gothic masterpiece. The Cathedral de Notre Dame in Reims was, for many centuries, the place chosen by French Monarchs to be crowned.

Lake-Geneva-vineyards-Switzerland-Via-Francigena-camino-Francigena-waysBesancon’s Citadel

Besancon is the last French city on the Via Francigena pilgrim trail before crossing the Swiss border. Its UNESCO-listed Vauban Citadel is a military masterpiece; offering magnificent views of this city hugged by the Doubs River and its surrounding landscape.

Besancon can be reached on section 7 and 8 of the trail: Via Francigena from Langres to Besancon andVia Francigena from Besancon to Lausanne.

Lake Geneva and the Swiss Alps

Once in Switzerland, the Via Francigena takes pilgrims from Lausanne on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland; across the Alps and into the Aosta Valley, in Italy. Stunning scenery as you hike along Lake Geneva with the Swiss mountains as a backdrop; and into the Alps crossing the traditionalSt Bernard’s Pass make this section of the Via Francigena one of the pilgrims’ favourites. Note this section can only be walked in the Summer months.

Lake Geneva and the Alps are located on section 9 of the Via Francigena from Lausanne.

Tuscanymonteriggioni-cycling-tuscany-italy-via-francigena-ways

Inspiration for Renaissance artists, home to picturesque rolling hills of verdant vineyards, ancient hilltop towns and delicious local cuisine… the Via Francigena in Tuscany is the most popular amongst pilgrims and walkers for a good reason!

Section 14 of the Via Francigena from Lucca takes in lush countryside as well as spectacular towns and villages such as UNESCO-listed San Gimignano ‘of the beautiful towers’ and the iconic fortress-village of Monteriggioni.

Section 15 of the Via Francigena from Siena crosses the glorious UNESCO-listed Val d’Orcia, and its famous vineyards.

Siena

A magnificent city and UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unparalleled heritage, Siena is the most unmissable city on the Via Francigena, after Rome. World-famous for its art, history and architecture, Siena truly is a living open-air museum. The city’s iconic unique Piazza del Campo hosts the spectacular ‘Palio’ horse race each Summer.

You will reach Siena on section 14 of the Via Francigena from Lucca and it is also starting point to section 15 of the Via Francigena from Siena.

Rome

Eternal City and home of the Holy See, Rome is the final destination of the Via Francigena. Capital of European culture, cradle of the Roman Empire and home of Christianity, Rome is many cities in one and an absolute must-visit at least once in a lifetime. After getting your Testimonium (pilgrimage certificate) in the Vatican, pilgrims should take at least a couple of days to explore Bella Roma: be amazed by its ancient monuments, unveiling layers of history; enjoy the lively atmosphere of Trastevere and treat yourself to a celebration dinner in a traditional trattoria… you deserve it after your long journey.

You don’t have to walk the whole 2000kms of the Via Francigena to walk into Rome; most pilgrims choose to start the Via Francigena from Viterbo, and complete the last section of the trail. As you approach Rome, you will get great panoramic views of the city from Monte Mario.

via-francigena-passport-francigenawaysBefore you start your Via Francigena, make sure you get your pilgrim passport (credential) so you can track your progress, get your stamps along the way and apply to receive your Testimonium once you reach Rome. In order to be able to apply for the Testimonium from St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, you must walk at least 140km to Rome, from Aquapendente.

You can also get your Testimonium from the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi in St Peter’s Square, if you walk at least the last 100km from Viterbo to Rome. Read our article about the Testimonium.

On the St Francis Way

Before you start your Saint Francis Way, get your pilgrim passport (credential) so you can track your progress, get your stamps along the way and apply to receive your Certificate of Pilgrimage. You can get your passport and certificate from the Saint Francis Walk main office located at the offices of the Rieti Tourist Board on via Cintia 87, Rieti. In order to be able to apply for the Saint Francis Way Certificate, you must walk at least two days of the Saint Francis Way.

There is an ‘Assisiana’ certificate for pilgrims walking at least 100kms into Assisi; you can claim it in Assisi’s Basilica. You can also get a Testimonium of Pilgrimage from the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi in St Peter’s Square in Rome (you must walk at least the last 100km, from Rieti to Rome; 140kms if you are requesting it from St Peter’s Basilica).

You can request a pilgrim passport from the Dioceses of Assisi on the Via de Francesco website (in Italian). At FrancigenaWays.com we include our own pilgrim passport as part of our packages; you can stamp it along the way and request the relevant certificates at the end of your walk: Saint Francis Way Certificate in Rieti, Assisiana in Assisi and Testimonium in Rome.

florence-easter-festival-walking-italy-st-francis-way-francigena-ways

Check out our Via Francigena Festival Calendar: we have selected the most colourful and interesting festivals on the Via Francigena and St Francis Way to help you plan a memorable trip. From medieval-inspired fairs to foodie feasts, these events will make your Camino to Rome even more special.

MARCH/APRIL

– Easter, or Holy Week, is a special time to finish your Camino to Rome; but it is also a great time to visit Assisi, on the St Francis Way. The city of Florence hosts the spectacular Explosion of the Cart on Easter Sunday.

MAY

– 27 trucks gather for the gastronomic feast of Food Truck Festival in Lausanne, Switzerland.

– Corsa dei Ceri, the impressive Race of the Candles in Gubbio, on the St Francis Way, takes place each year on 15th May.

– The French capital of Champagne: Reims goes back in time for its annual Joan of Arc Festival in late May/early June, celebrating its most famous daughter.

JUNE

– Italy’s National Day, 2nd June, is a holiday across the country: Festa della Repubblica.

– San Quirico d’Orcia in the Val d’Orcia, celebrates the Feast of Barbarossa the third weekend in June.

– Medieval Festival on Monteriggioni takes place three weekends each Summer in late June / early July.

– Festa di San Giovanni (St John’s Feast) in Florence, on the St Francis Way, is celebrated with fireworks and a ‘period’ football match: calcio storico.

– Festival de la Cité in Lausanne, Via Francigena in Switzerland, offers a fun-filled week of entertainment.

– Quintana of Foligno, is an impressive jousting tournament taking place in June and September in the town of Foligno, on the third section of the St Francis Way.

JULY

Lucca Summer Festival, Via Francigena in Tuscany is a treat to music-lovers.

– Ay Champagne festival in Reims, France, celebrates bubbly the second weekend in July.

– Il Palio di Siena, Siena‘s famous horse race takes place twice each summer (2nd July and 16th August) in Piazza del Campo, the city’s most iconic square.

– Siena is also home to the Estate Musicale Chigiana in July and August. Churches and theatres across the city and county are the unique settings for concerts by international musicians.

Montreaux Jazz Festival, on the shore of Lake Geneva, is a very unique and prestigious jazz festival.

– On 14th July, France celebrates its national day: Bastille Day.

AUGUST

– Il Palio di Siena, Siena‘s famous horse race takes place twice each summer (2nd July and 16th August) in Piazza del Campo, the city’s most iconic square.

– 1st August is Switzerland‘s National Day.

SEPTEMBER

– The medieval town of Viterbo honours its patron in September with the Festa di Santa Rosa and its impressive ‘macchina’.

Florence, on the St Francis Way, hosts its annual Festa della Rificolona or Festival of the Lanterns, on 7th September.

– Quintana of Foligno, is an impressive jousting tournament taking place in June and September in the town of Foligno, on the third section of the St Francis Way.

OCTOBER

– Lucca, on the Via Francigena in Tuscany, hosts one of Europe’s biggest comic and games festival each October.

NOVEMBER

San Miniato, in Tuscany, hosts its famous White Truffle Festival over three weekends in November each year.

– Other truffle festivals take place on the Saint Francis Way, in the towns of Gubbio, Cittá di Castello and Pietralunga (all on section 2 of the Camino di Francesco), from mid-October to early November.

Il-Palio-di-Siena-horse-race-tuscany-via-francigena-ways

*Picture: ilpalio.com

NOTE: Accommodation availability during festival periods can be limited. If you would like to travel on those dates, please contact the FrancigenaWays.com well in advance. Please note hotel rates might also change.

vineyards-champagne-region-viafrancigena-francigenawaysThe Via Francigena crosses four countries: UK, France, Switzerland and Italy.

From the Champagne region in Northern France to the mountain specialities of The Alps and succulent Tuscan delicacies, you will discover a whole world of gastronomy along the Via Francigena and the Saint Francis Way.

Read our latest blog posts on the local gastronomy along the route here: Via Francigena food and wine.

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