The modern Via Francigena – literally the Way of the Franks – is the traditional pilgrim way from Canterbury to Rome which broadly follows the route taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury Sigeric when he journeyed to Rome in 990 to receive his Pallium or cloak of office. The itinerary broadly follows the recorded stages of his return journey.
It takes a reasonably fit person about 90 days to walk the 1,900 km from Canterbury to Rome and about 30 days to cycle there.
The Via Francigena is walkable all the year round, with some major constraints – the Grand St Bernard pass over the Alps is normally only passable from the end of May to late September. There can also be snow in the Jura and the Apennines in winter. Some accommodation may be closed during the winter. Walkers should remember that daylight hours are shorter then. Late summer and early autumn are pleasant months, though Italy can be hot well into October. Rain is more likely in spring.
You can take the bus from Orsières or Bourg St Pierre in Switzerland through the tunnel under the pass towards Aosta in Italy. Snowshoes can be hired, but local advice about avalanches must be followed.
Italy and Switzerland have sufficient accommodation along the way, ranging from pilgrim hostels and parish provision to hotels and B&Bs, but certain sections of the route in rural France are more problematic and require careful planning by ringing ahead, and sometimes walking days can be lengthy. However, France is becoming more conscious of the Via Francigena, and a visit to the local mairie (town office) or the lists from local Francigena-Compostela associations will suggest local people who will accommodate and feed pilgrims for a small sum.
The Confraternity website has an interactive map and accommodation list – see the main menu “Accommodation.” The European Association of the Vie Francigene website www.viefrancigene.org also publishes lists. Their ‘Accoglienza per i pellegrini lungo la Via Francigena’ directory is updated every year.
It helps to have some knowledge of both languages, especially if you are planning to use your mobile to call ahead to book accommodation. Learn a couple of phrases to be able book ahead. It is always courteous to learn the basics of polite greeting.
The short section in England along the North Downs Way from Canterbury to Dover is easy to follow. The way-marking in France is more challenging – particularly in the Pas de Calais where it tends to snake a bit, following the GR 145 route (red and white horizontal flashes as waymarks). Some guides (eg Cicerone) recommend shortcuts. Thereafter it is better, and improving all the time as local associations take charge of their part of the route.
The route through Switzerland is easy to follow and most of Italy, especially Tuscany, is well way-marked.
Not necessarily but a guide book is helpful and there are also various apps and GPS aids available.
Kilometre Zero is at Canterbury Cathedral but some British pilgrims set out from London or from their homes. Other popular starting places are Besançon, Lausanne, the Great St Bernard Pass, and Aosta.
You need to walk at least the last 100 km from Viterbo or Acquapendente, or cycle the last 400 km from Lucca.
Compared to the Camino Francés to Santiago de Compostela and most of the other well-known Camino routes in Spain the Via Francigena is a more solitary experience, especially in the northern sections. In Italy, and closer to Rome, you will meet many more pilgrims.
Yes. Many women have successfully completed the journey by themselves without any problems. Just take the same safety precautions that you would anywhere – for example, stay alert, and don’t have ear buds in listening to loud music so you can’t hear.
As above, take usual precautions. On some stages of the VF in Italy there are stretches where you have to walk on busy roads. It’s advisable to wear something hi-viz, and always walk facing oncoming traffic. In larger towns don’t leave belongings unattended or easily accessible.
Although this can be a spiritual undertaking, many people set out on the Via Francigena simply to follow an ancient pilgrim route, and for many it is an entirely secular and cultural experience.
The golden rule is less than you think. While most people carry around 10kg, experienced walkers can keep their loads down to under 5 kilos. Another gold rule is leave behind most of what you think you may need.
3G and 4G connections are generally good, but do not rely on hostels or even bars having wi-fi as they do in Spain. A SIM card bought within the EU will not incur roaming charges throughout the Union.
The Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome issues one to members on joining, and more can be obtained if necessary. The European Association of the Vie Francigene sells them, and they are generally available from tourist offices in major cities along the way.
The Testimonium is available from:
- the office of the “ Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi” in St. Peter’s Square (Piazza Pio XII, 9), on the right of Bernini’s colonnade standing with your back to the Basilica and at St. Giovanni dei Fiorentini (piazza dell’Oro, 1). Opening hours: Monday to Sunday from 9:00 to 17.00 Info: St Peter’s Square Office, Tel +39 06 698963840;
- the offices of the rectory of St. Peters. Use the Petriano entrance in piazza S. Uffizio. Opening hours: every day except Wednesday and Sunday from 8:30 to 12:30. Info: sig. Patrizio Menna Valerio, Tel +39 06 69883731.
- the service of pilgrims’ reception Ad Limina Petri in the San Lorenzo center of via Pfeiffer 24 in Rome. Opening hours: in summertime from 11:00 to 17:00 every day from Monday to Friday. Info:firstname.lastname@example.org, tel. + 39 06 69885332
A tent is generally not necessary as the amount of pilgrim accommodation is increasing every year. In France it can be a useful addition if you are on a tight budget, and most towns have campsites. In Switzerland and Italy there are few campsites along the route, and ‘wild’ camping is strictly prohibited. Depending on the time of year a sleeping bag or an inner liner can be useful, and hostels in Italy will usually insist on at least a liner, or disposable sheet. Most hostels have blankets.
GPX tracks from the Great St Bernard Pass to Rome are downloadable from the viefrancigene.org website.