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.
Feature Photo: https://www.discovertuscany