La Via Francigena – The Plan

The problem with walking the Camino Trail is that it gets a hold of you and won’t let go. In 2010, Richard and I walked our first Camino, 110 km from Tui, Portugal to Santiago de Compestella, Spain. In 2016, we walked another 110 km from St. Jean Pied de Port, France to Najera, Spain. Determined to get the Camino out of our system, in 2017, we completed the Camino, from Najera to Santiago de Compostela, and then to Muxia and Finisterre (700 km). We thought we would move on to other travel adventures — Machu Picchu, the Trans-Siberian Railway, Everest Base Camp…. But, we heard about the Via Francigena (VF), the ‘Italian Camino,’ and we instantly knew that it was for us.

In the 10th Century, Sigeric the Serious, the Archbishop of Canterbury, walked and recorded the full 1900 km ‘Via Francigena’ route (that crosses England, France, Switzerland, and Italy). In Medieval times, this became a popular pathway for pilgrims wishing to reach the Holy See. After the Renaissance, the VF began to decline, mostly being used for local roads and footpaths. In 1985, Giovanni Caselli, a Tuscan anthropologist, and avid hiker, retraced Sigeric’s route and published “La Via Romea ‘Cammino di Dio,” thus reviving this pilgrim trail. (Source)

There are notable differences between the Spanish and Italian Caminos. A much quieter trail, the VF recently boasted an estimated 40,000 walkers in 2017 compared to an approximate 300,000 pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago in the same time period. (Source1, Source2) This fundamental difference leads to many other contrasts between the two trails, including infrastructure, amount of available pilgrim accommodations, signage and costs. What the VF may lack in resources, it more than makes up for in breathtaking landscapes, new challenges, history, culture, coffee…and FOOD!

That’s all that Richard and I needed to know. In two months’ time, we plan to walk the Tuscan section of the VF (400 km from Lucca to Rome). The good thing about having done three past Caminos is that we are already packed and ready to go. (This was a necessary early step to ensure that everything fits inside our packs.)

We have learned from experience what works well for each of us and what does not (e.g., applying Vaseline under our sock liners each day is a MUST).  For me, the most strenous part of my last Camino was not the physical grind, or sharing a room with 40+ strangers each night…but trying to blog live from the trail. Seriously, we’d finish a long grueling day of hiking, head off to shower, wash our clothes and have something to eat. Then, while Richard was relaxing in a hammock drinking Sangria, I would be stumbling around desperately looking for internet connection on my iPhone. I have already given close friends permission to SMACK ME HARD if I even mention blogging live from this trail. Feel free to join them!

Since preparing for the Via Francigena is a large part of my current focus, I will continue to post more about this topic in the upcoming weeks.  I value your questions, suggestions, and feedback.

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 6.49.21 PM
(Source: http://quovadis-walkingtorome.uk)

Feature Photo: https://www.discovertuscany

94 Replies to “La Via Francigena – The Plan”

  1. What’s not to like? Breathtaking landscapes, culture, history, coffee, food…. AND ITALY. Have a wonderful time and I look forward to recaps *after* the journey! 😂

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  2. Sounds like an amazing adventure. Enjoy the journey and forget about blogging. We don’t mind waiting to hear your tales. Just make sure you take a notebook and pen to journal so you can share your stories later.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I will be following your every step! I did a short version of the Camino from Santiago to Fineserre. I was 3 years into the metastatic breast cancer treatment. My daughter joined me who had walked 200 miles to the the cathedral and saved the leg to Fineserre for me and her to finish. I kept a daily facebook page. Wonderful trip. My daughter and I would like to do it again. Maybe Italy is the place.

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    1. Hi, Antoinette – What a wonderful hike to experience with your daughter. Isn’t Finesterre amazing?! It truly was the highlight of our last Camino. The Italian section of the VF sounds like a perfect trip for you and your daughter. I would absolutely LOVE to experience the Camino with my son.

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  4. Hi Donna, I am very excited for you and your husband. I am familiar with the Camino de Santiago. I did not know about the VF. It’s always interesting what you learn from each hike and how you would do things the same or differently next time. I will love to hear about this Summer’s hike, although I will wait until you complete your adventure. No Smacking necessary.

    We have done longer canoe/camping trips where weight, packing, little things made a huge difference. A fun part of a trip is research, planning, preparing, as you well know. I am looking forward to hearing all about it!

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    1. Hi, Erica – I can feel your excitement all of the way down the island. Thank you for that! Encouragement from others is a true blessing. You are absolutely right about weight, packing and the ‘little things’ making a HUGE difference. On the Camino, I never carry more than a 10 pound pack so I need to be ultra careful about what makes it inside my bag. My Camino backpack is a very high rent district!

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    1. Hi, Mike – Thank you so much for stopping by. I’ve missed our WordPress Meet Ups. (Although I am happy to say that switching to WP.com has been a dream come true for me. Thank you again for that)!
      No need for a tour guide on the Camino Trail. On the Spanish trails, the routes are well marked, pilgrim resources are plentiful (and very affordable) and there are tons of people willing to help out where needed. Although there are less resources on the Italian Trail we would never book through a company. For us, that would only up the price (significantly) and reduce our flexibility as well as our solitude! I’ll keep you posted!

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      1. Hmm, I don’t know about that. Since, the only clothes that I will have with me are what I wear hiking, and then what I wear when I am washing what I wore hiking (2 sets of clothes), “cute” may not be the right adjective! But I do like your positive attitude! 🙂

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    1. Hi, Joanne – Being an avid hiker and outdoors gal, I knew that you were kidding about the walking. Even though I’ve done a bunch of Caminos before, and (semi) regularly follow The Camino Forum, I hadn’t heard of it previously either, until Richard came across a reference to it. Since then I have found numerous blogs and resources on the topic. It is inspiring for me to follow pilgrims who are currently hiking the VF now! 🙂

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      1. Yay! It’s always a relief when someone gets my sense of humour 🙂

        The biggest thing I love about hiking – and cycling too, I guess – is that intimate connection that occurs with your surroundings. It’s a spiritual experience and I understand the lure of these pilgrimages.

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      2. That’s it exactly! The intimate connection that occurs within surroundings can be overwhelming…and is often described as ‘spiritual’, even by those who have no religious affiliations. You are very good with words and getting right to the heart of the matter!

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    1. Hi, Janis – The culprit was definitely you! 🙂 Although blogging on the trail was a true pain, it was nice to have our trip fully recorded (with photographs) once we returned home. As I will be seeing you IRL shortly after our return, I’ll be able to give you a “fresh off of the trail” summary. I’m greatly looking forward to our meetup!

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  5. Loved that cartoon at the end! And good on you for tackling a new and exciting adventure. I’m sure the two of you will have a fabulous time and you’re both well prepared, so I think it’ll be a blast. An occasional update would be lovely – no daily blogging though!

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    1. Hi, Leanne – That’s kinds what Janis said last time — but even “weekly” or “occasional” is hard on the trail. If I do lose my resolve, and send updates on my blog, you know that I will now blame you and Ann! 🙂

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    1. Hi, Sue – Thank you for your supportive words. We won’t be walking in April, but we will be #ACTIVELY preparing, so I hope that counts! 🙂 I’m glad that you will be walking with me virtually, that encouragement is greatly appreciated!

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  6. Hi Donna,
    I’m so envious; you two are intrepid trekkers to say the least! While I’ll miss your voice for a bit while you do the trail, I totally support the “no live blogging” resolve. We can hear all about it when you are done!

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  7. How wonderful Donna! It’s going to be a fabulous experience for you and your husband and I’ll look forward to walking it with you, via whatever blogging you’re able to do! My sister walked the Spanish Camino last year and absolutely loved it. What a wonderful immersive way to see Italy. Bellissimo!

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    1. Hi, Miriam – Slow travel is the perfect way to explore old towns and communities. This gives you the chance to get up close and personal, without sights blurring by through a vehicle window. I’m glad that your sister had a chance to experience the Spanish Camino. I greatly appreciate you following along!

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  8. My best friend and her husband are planning a trip to walk the Spanish Camino. I better warn her it’s addictive! I was excited for you about this upcoming hike, until I came upon the comment about mosquitos and wild dogs. But your enthusiasm won me over and I know you will have an amazing experience. I’ll look forward to reading all about it once you are finished.

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  9. How exciting, Donna! I look forward to reading your posts about how (and what) you pack and otherwise get ready for this trip. And of course looking very much forward to the blogging afterwards (not during!).

    Deb

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  10. Hi Donna! This sounds like so much fun. I can’t wait to hear about your trip AND see your photos upon your return. And yes, I think there are MORE than enough of us to tell you not to blog during the trip. Your memories on return will be wonderful enough. ~Kathy

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    1. Hi, Dee – The good thing is that Richard and I are equally enthused about trying this version of the Camino. It would be a drag if one of us was excited to go, and the other one was so-so about it. Thank you for your warm wishes.

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  11. It sounds like fun, Donna. For a time, I followed a hardcore hiker named Carrot Quinn here on WordPress. She gets into the nitty gritty of things like you mention (i.e. vaseline user socks), but then gets even more advanced with things like bear repellant, satellite phones, food drops, etc. Again, hardcore. I’ll be interested in your activities because I’m sure it’ll be closer to whatever I might be able to do. Have fun! – Marty

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    1. Hi, Marty – Thank you for letting me know about Carrot Quinn’s blog. I’ll check it out. If she is writing about food drops, she must be doing some long distance wilderness hiking. Ironically, the West Coast Trail is very close to our home, but lodge to lodge hiking works best for me. 🙂

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  12. Hi Donna,
    Second time back to re – read this post. I had to comment on poor ol’ Teddy first!

    I first heard of what was referred to as The Way of St Francis ( now I am not sure this is exactly the same way but maybe your research might discover that.) on reading Graeme Simison’s book “Two Steps Forward”. I read Mel’s post from Life ….One Big Adventure and saw your comment about your plans to do this trek. I have to say this one really interests me because it is going through Italy and a part I love. Also as my husband is Italian and I speak the language too it is an added attraction. I would love to go to explore Lucca (haven’t been there yet) and that region.

    You might be interested to visit Debra Kolkka’s blog https://bagnidilucca.wordpress.com/ she lives half the year near there and half back in Australia. She has some great stories on the area and Lucca including restaurant recommendations. If you visit, mention I sent you there ( just spreading the WordPress Love).

    I also have on very good recommendation from someone who visits there every year and was born in the area – that the walk on top of the old walls of Lucca is a great thing to do.
    I had to laugh at the cartoon. I feel that is me sometimes! I look forward to hearing about your preparations etc. And reading your VF posts which you will write in the comfort of your home when you are back – we are all going to hold you too that. 🙂

    Hope you are enjoying your season changing there, ours certainly is starting to here in Melbourne. Louise

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    1. Hi, Louise – Thank you for sharing this information with me. I will check out both sites today. My understanding is that The Way of St. Francis and The Via Francigena are two different routes….both ending in Rome. I believe that The Way of St. Francis was inspired by St Francis of Assisi’s wanderings in the hills of Tuscany and Umbria and traditionally starts in La Verna, but is often modified to begin in Florence. That route from Florence to Rome is approximately 550 Kms. The full Italian portion of the Via Francigena begins in Bourg Saint Pierre and follows the path of Sigeric the Serious (1,011 km for the entire Italian section). I follow the Camino Forum (I highly recommend this) and have read some discussions comparing the two walks, which I do believe share numerous similarities. Are you on the Forum? You can check out some of the discussions about the two hikes here: https://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/threads/camino-francigena-vs-the-way-of-st-francis.44914.
      Either way, I don’t think that you can go wrong. I totally envy you for speaking Italian. I’m doing a (raw) beginner’s crash course right now! I haven’t tried my Italian out on anyone in real life yet. I am sure that it is excruciating to listen to!

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      1. Thanks, Louise – I am glad that this comment made you chuckle. I’m positive that my feeble attempts at Italian would make you laugh at loud! But I am persevering! Wish you lived nearby to help! 🙂

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  13. Hi Donna – sounds amazing … hiking and walking is something I’ve never been able to do – after 60+ years they told me I had a birth defected hip! I’ve been able to do everything else and can walk – but most definitely not along the spine of Italy! I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t heard of Sigeric … love his name though.

    I’m always amazed how far people walked – but logical. You are going to have an amazing time … and so good you both want to walk it. I guess so few clothes – means you can buy some wonderful outfits on arrival in Rome … and perhaps we need another image of some Britishers with sandals and socks on!

    I am looking forward to reading about your preparations, as well as the posts on your return with the pics …

    Enjoy all the preparations …and I note the help you’re getting from fellow bloggers … always good news. Cheers for now – Hilary

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  14. Hi, Hilary – Thank you so much for your encouraging and thoughtful comment. I am so sorry to hear that you are not able to hike. Reading your posts, I know that does not stop you from having incredible adventures. You are correct about this amazing blogging community – it’s truly awesome!

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  15. This journey is so inspiring to me, Donna, you and Richard are living the life! Hans has 6 more years of work before he can be truly retired, but anything in Europe and South America will be on our lists for extended travel. Like everyone else says, no posts from the road, Donna, but I know you will keep a journal and have lots of photos for us.

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    1. Thanks, Terri – It is amazing how quickly six years can speed past. I look forward to you and Hans joining Richard and me one day soon in Europe, South America and of course, Vancouver Island! 🙂 If you are free this July, Kathy and Janis, Jude and I are meeting together for our “Yearly Bloggers’ Gathering” on VI this July 20. Save the date and join us if you can — even at the last moment. We would LOVE that! 🙂 🙂

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  16. I’m so impressed by your walking adventures, Donna. I love walking, but I’ve never tried anything of this distance. Carrying everything on my back scares me a little. I admire your stamina and can’t wait to hear all about your experience.

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    1. Thanks, Christie – Packing for, and carrying, everything needed for a long-distance hike is a definite challenge for sure. Packing for the Spanish Camino was a bit easier for me as I knew there would be ample opportunities to purchase anything that I needed along the trail. The Italian Camino has less resources, so I am trying to be extra cautious with my packing, while still staying in the 10lb range. Fingers crossed!

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  17. Donna, Amazing that you’re tackling still another – definitely addicted! My idea of hiking is ending the day with a hot shower, a cool glass of wine, and a soft bed. Not sure anything about the Camino (Spain or Italy) would provide that. But I can understand the appeal (to others). Looking forward to hearing about it (afterwards).

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    1. Hi, Pat – Thank you for reading and commenting. The hot shower and glass of wine at the end of each day is one of our favourite things about the Camino. I don’t believe that there was a single night when we missed either. I could never remember how soft the beds were, because I usually feel asleep instantly and slept more soundly than I have anywhere else. I’m totally with you on long wilderness hikes where hot showers and beds don’t exist! 🙂

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  18. Hi Donna, I’m seriously excited for you both. I would love to do it! I look forward to reading all about it when you get back home and rested. Have fun as I’m sure you will.

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  19. This does sounds exciting and I think I would like this better than the Camino. I have had friends do the Camino but I can’t see myself finding the motivation. It is good to keep in touch with friends when away, but it does seem to prevent you from being there in the moment, and it is over, all too soon. So enjoy! Blog later.

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      1. Likewise, I feel like we could have lot in common and as I as soon to face retirement, I think I could really value a blogger friend like you. Loved your post about the gutenberg editor. I think it has a lot of people scared.

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      2. Thanks, Amanda – I look forward to reading more from you. And if you have any questions about retirement (or anything else that I write about) please never hesitate to ask. The Gutenberg Post was by Hugh from Hugh’s News and Views. I highly recommend checking out his site.

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  20. Hi Donna – This is such an exciting plan! I remember reading your posts on your previous Camino 700 km walk. I look forward to reading about your trip preparation and your trip after you return home.

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  21. Yay, you two. I had a feeling you had something like this up your sleeve. It became reality! This Via sounds like an amazing adventure and hike – every facet of it. And, please, do not blog. While probably not as exhausting, I totally understand how you felt in 2017 right now, as we have super full days of hiking and exploring. We are exhausted in the evening, but it’s the only time I have to catch up on blogs (mine and others), reply to emails, or write my diary. Sigh! 🙂

    Have fun preparing and planning and keeping us up to date before departure.

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    1. Thanks, Liesbet – I believe that even if I planned to blog from this trip, I likely wouldn’t be able to keep it up. According to people who have hiked both the Spanish Camino and the Via Francigena — this route has many unique challenges. They describe much of the terrain being as physically exhausting as the French Pyrenees section at the start of The Camino Frances (yikes)! And then there is the longer distance between accommodations so less options for short days (double yikes). Factor is the massive mosquitos near the Italian rice fields, the angry dogs protecting their farmland, the fewer pilgrims, the looser infrastructure and the language barrier….we have several challenges ahead of us. The good news is that the scenery is said to be breathtaking, the culture incredible, the food unlike no other and the experience something you never forget. I totally understand the exhaustion that you describe at the end of your days. I can’t imagine doing all that you do AND writing and publishing a book. I’m tired just thinking of it! 🙂

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  22. I look forward to updates of plans going forward Donna. It sounds so wonderful! The food – mmmmm mmmmm . In the meantime I’ll ask my sister what part of the Camino she and her husband are doing, in May I think and thereafter tying it up I gather with some river barging in France afterwards

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    1. Hi, Susan – It’s cool that your sister is doing a Camino in a similar time frame to us. My guess is that it is likely the Camino Frances (especially if she is tying it in together with River Barding in France — wonderful combination! Does your sister blog? If so, I’d love to read more about her trip!

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  23. Ps when I travel or hike I put a damp cloth in ziploc bag and use it for wiping my face – it’s refreshing and small to pack. I also have a fancy thing called an ice towel that comes in own container, light and effective but ziplock is that much smaller and lighter –

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    1. Hi, Susan – Great idea about the ziplock bag and damp cloth. I have a lightweight “cooling cloth” that I wear loosely around my neck when hiking. I keep it damp from my water bottle (or fountains alike the way). I agree, it makes a huge difference!

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  24. Oh Wow! I didn’t know that you’d done the Camino & I’ve never heard of the VF – but now I want to know more. Hubby and I are talking about doing The Cotswolds Way in the European Autumn in 2020, but I’m so looking forward to what you have to say (when you get back – no blogging on track)…

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    1. Thanks, Jo – I hadn’t heard about the Via Francigena until after I had completed my 3rd Spanish Camino. Of course, now that I know about the VF, I’ve seen multiple references to it in numerous places (funny how that works). Richard and I would also like to do The Cotswold Way. So many great hikes, so little time!

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  25. Oh Donna this looks amazing and something I’d love to do. What an adventure! Oh heck you must relax every evening and put your feet up, I’m sure if you make notes along the way, you’ll be able to write when you return. Can’t wait to hear about it though!! How exciting.

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    1. Thanks, Sam – There are huge pros and cons for both writing directly from the trail and doing the write-ups after returning home. Two separate Tims walked the Via Francigena last spring. One of them, wrote as he went (with a support team helping him out) and the other Tim saved his posts for after he returned home. Sadly, the second Tim never did finish his posts — as other things in his day-to-day life took over (as often happens). So that is a bit of a concern for me. BUT, relaxing with a fine Italian wine after a long day of walking somehow outweighs those concerns. 🙂

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