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Via Francigena: A Road Map

15 Pieces of Tuscany to Hike

There never was an “official” road map that the pilgrims bought and followed as the made their way south to the the Terra Santa or to pray at the tomb of St. Peter and Paul in Rome. The Via Francigena was an uncodified path that gathered the walkers as they funneled into Italy from all over Europe. It was a conglomerate of many roads merging together for safety, convenience and hospitality.

It wasn’t until the discovery at the British Library in the 1980’s by Italian researchers of the travel journal by abbot Sigerico, named Bishop of Canterbury in 990, that it was possible to actually trace a very real route. Sigerico wrote of 80 stops between Rome and Canterbury: 587 miles in Italy and 15 stops in the region of Tuscany.

Curious to follow these ancient footsteps? Get yourself a Pilgrim passport and then choose how you want to go: walk, bike, horseback and in some case drive your car along the various tracks. These trails propose a unique and special way to admire the ever changing scenery, the tranquility and the antique structures, churches, and mansione left behind.

Below we have broken down the pieces, with a few comments of what to expect. Enjoy your adventure!

1: Passo della Cisa to Pontremoli

Approximately 19 km and averaging about 5 hours to walk it. Due to a steep decline, this track is considered to be rather difficult. The path passes thru several towns and landscapes which have maintained their medieval charm. Particularly noteworthy is the Labyrinth at the end of the trail in the town of Pontremoli, the very same one that has been a symbol for the via Francigena over the years.

2: Pontremoli to Aulla

Approximately 33 km and averaging about 8 hours to walk it. You are cautioned about a bit of road traffic at the very end. Definitely the Pieve of Sorano, is one of the highlights of this track and the vision of the Castello di Malaspina.

3: Aulla to Avenza

Approximately 33 km and averaging about 8 hours by foot. Though the second half of the trail levels out to easy walking, the first half has quite a few dislevels classifying it as rather difficult. Travelling through the towns, fortresses and castles of the Lunigiana this piece of the trail even gives you a glimpse of the ocean and Tuscan coast.

4: Avenza to Pietrasanta

Approximately 28 km and averaging 6 ½ hours. Be prepared to be dazzled by the stark contrast between the views of the awe inspiring Apuane mountains with their frosty white tips, the ocean below and the local agriculture including vineyards and olive groves. You will pass through the famous town of Massa, known for its quality marble and end in Pietrasanta - well known for its artistic community.

5: Pietrasanta to Lucca

It is approximately 32 km and requires a minimum of 7 ½ hours of hiking. Passing thru the hills and forests near Camoire, the trail follows the hills down into the valley to enter into the city of Lucca by the ancient city gate: San Donato.

6: Lucca to Altopascio

It is approximately 18 km and takes about 4 hours to walk. This is considered an easy walk, though years ago this entire area was heavily covered by forest leaving the pilgrims open to bandits and danger.

 

7: Altopascio to San Miniato

About 25 km and averaging about 6 hours of trekking. We are in the valley, so the trail is considered easy to navigate following the Uscinan Hills. Once a marshland , this area has been bonafided and provides several little towns to see along the way.

8: San Miniato to Gambassi Terme

Covers approximately 24 km in about 6 hours. Considered particularly beautiful, this trail is etched along the hilltops of the Val d’Elsa offering panoramic views in all directions. Be sure to set some time aside to rest your weary feet in the thermal waters of Gambassi.

9: Gambassi Terme to San Gimignano

It is 13 km and can be covered in approximately 3 hours. This is an easy track to cover and is also a great track for bike enthusiasts (and not since it is fairly flat) This area is particularly noted for the buildings which grew in direct response to increase in pilgrims.

10: San Gimignano to Monteriggioni

It is approximately 30 km and takes about 7 hours to complete. Undoubtedly this is universally considered one of the more beautiful tracks, leaving the iconic image of Tuscany (San Gimignano) at your back and passing several picturesque churches to finish at the impressive walled city of Monteriggioni.

11: Monteriggioni to Siena

It is about 21 km and averages approximately 6 hours of hiking. This pieces provides passage through the bonifided lands, thick forests and winding “white roads” entering in Siena through the city gate of “Porta Camelia.” Combine this track with an in depth visit to the Duomo, the Piazza del Campo and the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, an important stop of the weary pilgrims.

12: Siena to Ponte d’Arbia

It is approximately 30 km of trails and will take almost 7 hours to walk. The changes in the landscape are notable: hills become softer and they are no longer dressed with thick forests, there are less vineyards, olive groves and more fields of grain, and the Creti Sensei are becoming more and more pronounced.  This portion of the trail lends itself to a circle route, read here for more information.

13: Ponte d’Arbia to San Quirico

Covers 27 km and averages about 6 hours of walking. One of the last legs of the walk, passes through wide spreads of grain, sunflowers, vineyards, and the well restored town of Buonconvento. The scenic Val d’Orcia is unfolding quickly and beautifully, great photo opportunities.

14: San Quirico to Radicofani

The last destination in Tuscany. There are approximately 33 km and it averages about 7 hours. The hills here are more pronounced and will stretch the muscles with its constant up and downs...however this area is rich in thermal waters like those of Bagno Vignoni and Bagno San Filippo.

15: Radicofani to Aquapendente

The last track starting in Tuscany is approximately 32 km and is calculated to take about 7 hours. The views are spectacular, as the border of Tuscany comes into view. Mount Amiata is visible, as is the region of Lazio and the last few pieces till Rome.


Author: Donna Scharnagl

It has been over 24 years since I took my first steps in Italy and I still haven’t found a good reason to leave.  Between the food, the culture, the history, the art, the landscapes … did I mention the food? I have become a lifelong student. And I soon learned that Italians all have stories that long to be told; stories that paint a picture of how hard work produces character, how life is made of ups and downs and how good it feels to laugh.



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