THE VIA FRANCIGENA is one of the most interesting walks in Europe. This walk takes you along one of the most historic and longest pilgrimage paths. The Way begins in Canterbury and makes its way to Dover. A ferry takes the walker to Calais, where the land journey resumes. Across France to Switzerland. Then down to Lake Leman and along the Rhone Valley, up to the Alps and down to Aosta in Italy. Along the Italian peninsula, before arriving in Rome.
Paul Chinn and Babette Gallard have written a guidebook ‘The complete 2010 LightFoot Guide to the via Francigena’, which is a four part series illustrated book, with detailed maps and route directions. Alison Raju has just completed her new guidebook from Canterbury to the Grand St. Bernard Pass.
THE VIA FRANCIGENA ROUTE is 2000 km long and for those contemplating this trail for their walking journey, a certain amount of planning is required. The way is fairly well marked in most of the countries it passes. Due to its length, planning is required.
HISTORY: The Christian origins of this ancient route date back to the seventh century. The Latin name Via Francigena (the Frankish Route) was given to the route first documented by Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury who returned from Rome to Canterbury along the route in 994AD describing the main stopovers in his journal.
IN THE MIDDLE AGES, the Via Francigena was a fundamental part of a network of pilgrimage roads that connected Christianity’s three main cities of worship: Rome, Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela. A southern Via Francigena brought pilgrims from Rome to the east coast of Puglia where they would sail to Jerusalem.
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE WALK: Via Francigena Route: Starting from Canterbury, the walk to Dover is relatively flat. Once in France the path traverses some valleys before arriving in Switzerland. The Alps are a bit of a challenge, and then there’s the hilly section of Italy.
SOME HIGHLIGHTS: So many historic sites to visit. Canterbury Cathedral, Dover, Calais, the French villages and towns. The Swiss countryside and the Great St Bernard Pass. Italian villages and churches. Lake Bolsena and Montefiascone. Rome’s churches and ancient ruins.
WALKING ROUTE PLANNER: The number of days required depends on how fit and how quickly or leisurely you want your walking journey to be. Work out the average number of kilometres you are prepared to do in a day, taking into account the landscape and the town or village in which you will end your day. It's also nice to plan on arriving a little earlier in a village if there are interesting attractions you may like to visit, such as in Viterbo or Assisi. The full walk takes around three months. We did sections of the walk in four weeks.
LUGGAGE TRANSFER: This service is available to guided walkers for some sections of the walk and can be organized through a number of tour operators. Independent walkers will have to take their own packs.
YOUR VIA FRANCIGENA ACCOMMODATION: This is usually in B&Bs or inns and should be booked in advance. It is also possible to stay at some monasteries. The AIVF organisation, based in Rome can help with accommodation lists, you have to become a member for this.
WHEN TO GO: The northern Spring or Autumn seasons are recommended as accommodation is easier to obtain and the tourist numbers are lower.
WALKING GEAR: Good walking boots and socks are critical. Your shoes should have been broken in. Also important is what rain gear to take. Make sure it’s made from a breathable material.
The following is an outline of a shorter walk itinerary. We decided on this itinerary because of the time we had, the reasonable distances and the available accommodation.
Canterbury to Dover (33 km)
Calais to Therouanne (51 km)
Therouanne to Arras (68 km)
Arras to Peronne (45 km)
Peronne to Laon (88 km)
Laon to Reims (70 km)
Reims to Chalons-sur-Marne (54 km)
Chalons-sur-Marne to Bar-sur-Aube (95 km)
Bar-sur-Aube to Langres (67 km)
Langres to Besançon (99 km)
Besançon to St. Maurice (180 km)
St. Maurice to Gr. St. Bernard (61 km)
Gr. St. Bernard to Ivrea (104 km)
Ivrea to Vercelli (51 km)
Vercelli to Pavia (66 km)
Pavia to Piacenza (57 km)
Piacenza to Fornovo (75 km)
Fornovo to Pontremoli (60 km)
Pontremoli to Lucca (110 km)
Lucca to S. Gimignano (76 km)
S. Gimignano to Siena (41 km)
Siena to Acquapendente (96 km)
Acquapendente to Rome (130 km) - your destination!