Budgeting for the Via Francigena
There are many things to consider when determining your budget for the Via Francigena. This article will mainly discuss options at the lower end of the affordability scale.
When considering an overall budget, you might find outlining (daily) spending for the following useful:
As discussed below, where you are on the route will also have a significant impact on expenditure.
It is likely that this will be your biggest expense as a pilgrim.
In Italy, you can walk nearly the entire route (with a handful of exceptions) sleeping in a donativo (donation) or specific pilgrims’ ostello each night.
There is a huge variety in the quality of this accommodation. It is typically fairly spartan, always shared, but can often be charming. If it is priced, expect to pay between €10-15. If it is a donativo, a donation of €10 a night should be considered a minimum, €15 if food is offered. You will see a much discussion about what is considered an appropriate donation. Consider what you can afford and remember that the service cannot function without its expenses being covered.
Of course, there are numerous bed and breakfast options all along the way including agriturismos. As a minimum, you might expect to spend from €20-40 per person. More luxurious places can charge considerably more.
In France, the situation is different, but improving year on year. There are some donativo and hostel options but they are not at every stage. This means, if you require a bed to sleep in every night, you will regularly have to rely on gîtes and B&Bs. However, if your French is up to some basic conversation – there are now many pilgrim hosts, often former pilgrims themselves, who offer a bed and usually supper and breakfast, for a donativo contribution, or a modest set charge . Some parts of France are more expensive than others, but on average you should expect to spend €20-40 per person, which will often include breakfast. Some gîtes and B&B owners will be familiar with the Via Francigena and might offer a pilgrim discount.
The Confraternity has now translated and published a slim and handy booklet “Booklet of Accommodation and Facilities” (click to see in shop) on the Via Francigena in France. This lists accommodation for all budgets, pilgrim hosts, transport, food and shops for the length of the route in France
Something that you will read and hear frequently is that Switzerland is expensive. This is undoubtedly the case. One budgeting tip might be to simply run through it. Pilgrim-specific accommodation is sparse to the point of non-existence but there are several hostels that will provide the best value for money. For a hostel place you might expect to pay between 20-40 CHF. For a B&B or similar, prices of 50-100 CHF per person is expected. As is the case with France, it can be considerably more expensive in these scenarios to be a single pilgrim. If you are walking in a pair or a group, your relative price will be lower. It is worth contacting parish priests or pastors as there are often options to stay in parish rooms.
Although it’s likely that you won’t spend too long in Kent, there are hostel options in both Canterbury and Dover. There are also some B&Bs in and around Shepherdswell.
If you are attempting the full Via Francigena on a very tight budget, bringing a tent and sleeping mat with you is an option that is certainly worth considering. In France, there are several campsites along the route itself, although some parts of the country have much better provision than others. A pitch will usually cost around €10 in France. In Switzerland you will find campsites at almost every stage of the route. They are more expensive (up to 20 CHF) but much cheaper than the other options. It is also worth saying that camping on the banks of Lake Geneva is a charming experience. Camping in Italy is harder and less appealing than in France and Switzerland. There are fewer campsites on the route and they are more expensive. Because of the more developed donativo infrastructure, you would often pay more for a pitch than a bed. For this reason it is quite common for pilgrims send their tent back home when they arrive in Italy.
Wild camping is prohibited in all the countries of the Via Francigena. This being said, enforcement isn’t always rigorous. Sleeping in national parks and protected areas would be an especially bad idea but you will find numerous spots where you can be discreet and have minimal impact on the environment. Permission from the landowner should always be sought and can usually be easily done. Camping in this way, even if not every night, can save you a great deal of money.
If you are keen on the idea of spending the odd night outside but don’t think you will be doing so too often a lightweight tarp and/or a bivvy bag is a good option. They’re much more portable and usually cheaper but they do offer much less protection from the elements and consequently your options will be reduced if the weather is poor.
Cycling pilgrims will benefit from a wider range of potential choices for their accommodation and can almost always go further to find somewhere more within their price range.
Food is a variable expense. It can be difficult to eat cheaply and sufficiently along the way. You might often find yourself in small towns and villages, especially in France, that don’t offer much provision.
Often, but by no means always, pilgrim-specific accommodation will offer an evening meal as well as breakfast. In donativos, this should be taken into consideration when making your donation. Similarly, it is worth working out what accommodation provides access to some kind of kitchen. Preparing your own dinner will considerably reduce your costs.
In addition, you will find some restaurants along the way, almost exclusively in Italy, that offer a pilgrim menu where you can expect to pay around €15 for a good dinner.
For lunch, cafés and bars will rarely be absent and usually offer reasonable value. Pre-prepared food from supermarkets, or purchasing picnic options will almost always be cheaper, though.
If you are planning on camping because of a tight budget, then bringing a pan and a burner will reduce your costs further. There are several ultra-lightweight options and they give you the flexibility to prepare meals for yourself in most circumstances, reducing your expenditure considerably. If you do this, and keep a tight handle on your purse strings, you will be able to set yourself a budget our €10 a day for food, or slightly less. Of course, you would be forgoing some exciting cuisine that you might not be willing to miss out on.
It is worth thinking about these pre-departure expenses and making sure that you are confident in your choices. If you are drawing up a budget for the whole trip then your kit will be a significant proportion.
Of course, it will be a balancing act between affordability and quality. Do remember that if you are planning on walking the entire distance then the kit that you buy should ideally last you 2000km. There are several opportunities to restock along the way but it can be a little trouble to do this.
Weight is something that can have a significant impact on price, especially with items such as tents. Knowing what sort of weight you can carry is a prerequisite of choosing. Do not expect yourself to be able to carry more than you actually can. If you are trying to economise as much as possible and are considering a tent and cooking materials then your pack will, of course, be heavier. Lightweight tents can cost a small fortune but there are cheaper brands out there that can do the job without weighing you down too much. Try to do your research and decide how much you are willing to spend.
If you have no intention of camping, a common question is whether or not you’ll need a sleeping bag. Almost always a sleeping bag liner will suffice (and is usually mandatory in hostels), or perhaps if you are walking in slightly colder months a thin two-season bag. In some of the pilgrim hostels you will find blankets and mattresses but no washable bedding. Purchasing something you can wash yourself will save both yourself and the hostel.
In your total budget you should think about getting to the starting point of your pilgrimage and also returning from where you will finish.
It is always better value to book in advance.
A final word
It is possible and rewarding to do the Via Francigena on a shoestring. You should ask yourself about how much you plan to, and can afford to, spend. A lot of the communities along the Francigena have become reliant on the pilgrim trade. Money you do spend is almost always directly invested into those local communities. In return, that investment will help develop and maintain the infrastructure for future pilgrims.