By pilgrim Elaine Jones
I love the Camino de Santiago. However, this year a new contender for my favourite walking holiday has come into my life – the Via Francigena.
The Camino has been a huge part of my life for several years now. I am writing this while sitting in one of my favourite bars in Santiago, having just completed the last 100km with another fantastic group. I’ve walked various sections of the Camino many times now, but each time is special. It’s as simple as that.
Walking The Via Francigena From Viterbo to Rome
When walking the Via Francigena in Italy: the glittering prize is Rome. The eternal city that needs no introduction.
I was taken aback walking the last 100km of the Via Francigena, from the medieval town of Viterbo to Rome. This “new” (to me) pilgrimage took hold of me so much and won a place in my heart.
Although following in the footsteps of Sigeric the Serious, I felt as though I was the first one to do it. Yes, that really was the name of the Archbishop of Canterbury who completed the pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome in the tenth century.
It’s a more or less established route of course, but it is so much less commercialised than the Camino. There are several variations and alternatives to the Via Francigena too, which can be a little confusing.
There are comfortable hotels to stay in, fantastic medieval towns and villages to pass through, and the restaurants serve high-quality dishes which are justifiably famous. There is much more than just pizza and pasta.
There are no souvenir shops selling pilgrim regalia, however. There is no plethora of albergues, bars and vending machines….. and no T-shirts.
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Via Francigena: time for reflection, to appreciate the scenery, and opportunities to talk to local people
I was an individual walker through beautiful, rural Lazio, my pilgrim status kept within myself and not on display.
At times I missed the instant camaraderie of the Camino. There were no calls of ‘Buen Camino’, no-one to swap stories with or compare blisters. In early March I was the only walker, pilgrim or otherwise. Later in the year, there will be more encounters with fellow pilgrims.
However, there was more time for reflection, quiet times to appreciate the scenery, opportunities to talk to local people. Pilgrims are not exactly a novelty, but I was still noticed and received many friendly waves and offers of lifts by passing cars.
There were not as many places to stop for coffee as I’ve become used to on the Camino. But whenever I passed through a village I was always rewarded with superb coffee and cakes, as arguably only the Italians know-how.
Memorable moments on the Via Francigena
I made many fond memories along the Via Francigena.
The two old farmers who stopped in a red jeep offered me a lift to my destination and couldn’t really understand why I preferred to walk – in the pouring rain!
The Etruscan amphitheatre and rock church in Sutri, with wall paintings depicting pilgrims doing the same as me – just fifteen centuries earlier.
Walking along a small section of a Roman road, knowing my feet were treading on the same stones as who knows how many people before me.
The old nun at the Sanctuary who leaned out of a window to greet me, and the cat who showed me the way into the church.
Having dinner in Isola Farnese where the whole restaurant had been taken over by a family party. They welcomed me and gave me a table in the middle of the festivities.
The first sight of the dome of St Peter’s from Monte Mario, with Rome spread out before me like a map.
I could continue, but this is my story and, like walking the Via Francigena, it is very personal and special to me. I can only urge you to do it yourself, especially before it becomes more well known.
Pilgrim’s Certificate: Testimonium
I received my Testimonium, the Pilgrim’s certificate, and will proudly display it with my Compostellana. My heart lies in the Camino, that hasn’t changed. But maybe my soul is in the Via Francigena – and I don’t need the T-shirt to prove it.
Want to learn more about the Via Francigena?
The Via Francigena is the main pilgrimage route to Rome from France, though its traditional starting point is Canterbury in England. With over 19,000km of walking trails through France and Italy, this pilgrimage to Rome has something for everyone. Have a look at the six sections that we recommend in Italy.
If you have any questions about walking the Via Francigena or our other walking tours on the Camino de Santiago, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read more about the walking routes we support.
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Originally published on 27th May 2015