The length of the Via Francigena
The Via Francigena is long! It starts in Canterbury England and goes to Rome Italy. In fact you can go beyond Rome, to the southern tip of the heel of Italy’s boot, and on to Jerusalem.
From Canterbury to Rome it is about 2,083 km (around 1,290 miles.) This will take about four months to walk.
The part in Italy is about 944 Km ( 587 miles.) It starts at the Gran San Bernardo Pass which connects the French Canton of Valais in Switzerland with the region of Valle d’Aosta in North West Italy.
Where to start your walk?
If you don’t want to tackle the whole Via Francigena, I recommend choosing the Italian section.
- The Italian section is decently sign-posted (and signage is improving yearly) whereas the signage in France and Switzerland is limited or nonexistent.
- Ending in Rome makes sense, it’s where you celebrate the culmination of your efforts and receive your testimonium.
If you want to start at the Pass, be forewarned that it is typically open only June through September. Be sure to check the weather. If there’s snow and risk of avalanche, you need to get a guide, or skip walking the pass and use the tunnel (which cuts off 3 days of walking.)
Choosing the amount of days
How much time can you devote to this? If you want a simple walking holiday you might want to walk a section for only 5 days. If you want a more significant journey, that allows for a spiritual deepening, I recommend a month or more.
Note that to qualify for a testimonium, a pilgrim must have walked 100 kilometers. (This would equal from the town of Viterbo to Rome.) And you must have a stamped pilgrim passport. (more on that below.)
Once you decide how many days you want to spend, try to count backward from Rome, based on understanding your level of fitness. Pilgrims who are very in shape often cover 25 kilometers a day. For me, because of doing it after an extreme illness, I found it challenging to walk 12 kilometers a day.
You may want some days off to rest and explore some of the towns. For example, I took two days of rest in both Lucca and Siena, and I spent one extra day in Bolsena.
What’s a pilgrim passport?
It is your credential that certifies that you’re a true pilgrim. When you stay with religious institutions, your pilgrim passport will be stamped. If you’re staying at B&B or other “regular” accommodation, it won’t be stamped. However, if you pop into the local church and can find the priest, you will be able to get it stamped. You can obtain it at some tourist offices on the route, but that’s not the most reliable option. It is more secure to get it ahead of time. The confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome will email you one if you become a member. Or you can purchase one online here.
Where to stay?
There is a combinationof accommodation, both religious and traditional. By traditional I mean hotels, hostels, B&Bs, and agriturisimi. The amount of religious accommodation options increases as you get closer to Rome. Be aware that the traditional accommodation is for everyone, not just pilgrims, which is why you may find them full, even if there are not yet massive amounts of walkers on this route. Make it a habit to call a day ahead for reserving accommodation if you don’t want to camp in a field. You can download accommodation lists here.
For information on packing see Part Two