Via Francigena: A Beginner Guide For A Pilgrimage To Rome
February 14, 2024
Via Francigena
By guy yefet
arrow

Here you have a complete beginner guide to Via Francigena. If you haven't heard this name, you can discover in this blog all about the pilgrimage to Rome.

Via Francigena: A Beginner Guide For A Pilgrimage To Rome

After I walked the Camino de Santiago (Camino Frances) last year. I was looking for another and different walk that I could do.

I thought maybe to walk the Camino del Norte or Camino Portuguese.

I wanted to experience the pilgrim way again.

By chance, in a short stroll on the Internet, I found the Via Francigena.

Via Francigena is a pilgrim route that starts in Canterbury (England) and continues to Rome.

I didn't have the time required to go all the way from England, so I did some research and saw that I could start the journey in Lake Geneva, which turned out to be a particularly successful decision in retrospect.

I walked from Lausanne to Rome in October-November of 2022.

1200km in 54 days(including rest days).  

Check out my day-by-day itinerary for the Via Francigena:

Part 1: Lausanne - Aosta (125km, 9 Days)

Part 2: Aosta - Lucca (560km, 24 Days)

Part 3: Lucca - Roma (400km, 18 Days)

via francigena waymarks

Unfortunately, even today, there is not much information on the Internet about this route.

I searched a lot about those who did it in the past. I found various blogs and websites, but the information was limited, especially in English.

After walking the Via Francigena, I want to share my experiences and provide you with the most detailed, updated, and comprehensive information.

I hope it will help you plan this route in the best way.

Table of Contents

Some history about the Via Francigena

In the Middle Ages, there were three ways of pilgrimage: one to Santiago in Spain, the second to Jerusalem, and the third most important - to Rome.

The pilgrimage was a rite of passage, an act of social unity, and a personal process of repentance and atonement for sins.

The pilgrims to Santiago took with them a shell, the pilgrims to Rome took a key, and the pilgrims to Jerusalem took a cross. Some have combined the pilgrimage to Rome and Jerusalem.

The main routes of pilgrimage to Rome were from Northern Europe. A network of roads led to Rome from France, Germany, and England.

The most important and main road was the Via Francigena. It led from Canterbury in England through northwestern France, Switzerland (Lake Geneva), and northern Italy (Lombardy and Tuscany) to Rome.

Around 990, Archbishop Sigeric walked from Canterbury to Rome. But only recorded the return journey.

After crossing the English Channel, he traveled 20 km every day.

A total of 1700 km. About a year of continuous walking in every direction.

On the way from Canterbury to Rome, there were 80 stops, and the pilgrim stayed mainly in monasteries along the way.

Clooney monasteries’ movement supported the pilgrimage phenomenon and declared the pilgrims protected. Orders such as the Hospitallers Templars helped them, and the authorities treated the pilgrimage phenomenon as an important part of the social fabric and Christian life.

They used to send sinners on a pilgrimage as a penance for their actions, and on the other hand, the upper classes saw it as a duty and a challenge to make the journey. It was a sort of melting pot of medieval society.

walking on medival town in italy

Via Francigena was not a single road like the Roman roads, paved with stones, there were horse-changing stations for travelers with official duties.

Rather, several different ways changed over the years according to the boom and bust of trade and pilgrimage.

The ancient pilgrims crossed the Alps in several different ways depending on the political circumstances and according to the popularity of places of worship and holy people who lived along the way.

The Via Francigena got its name because most of the pilgrims came from France, similar to the French way that crosses Spain to Santiago de Compostela.

The pilgrims faced difficult roads and risked robbery, and many of them died on the way from disease or exhaustion.

Where does the via Francigena start?

The official way starts from Canterbury England and ends in Rome.

Of course, you don't have to start from England, and most people walk from different sections in other areas such as Lausanne where I started, Lucca, or Siena.

Best time to walk the Via Francigena

The best time to walk the Via Francigena is from May to the end of October.

It depends on where you start walking and how long you intend to walk.

It is incredibly warm in July-August in Italy, so the best time to walk is April - June and then September.

You should know that the Great St Bernard Pass is officially open from June until end of September.

This is the recommended time to cross the Saint Bernard Pass, so you should orient yourself to cross the pass between these times of the year.

man walking via francigena near lake geneva

As mentioned, I did not start the journey from England, so I can recommend the section I did from Switzerland to Rome.

I traveled off-season.

I started the Via Francigena in October, which is considered the end of the season, and I finished at the end of November.

Some of the places to stay for pilgrims close on October 31st and it makes sense because there are a few pilgrims.

Luckily I had great weather in October and November.

Pilgrim’s Credential

The Pilgrim’s Credential is similar to the one on the Camino de Santiago. We have a pilgrim passport which is actually a document that you will sign along the way. You can do this in hostels, restaurants, and other places that offer a stamp.

The pilgrims' passport will testify to your walking in Via Francigena. It will allow you to stay in places that are adapted only for pilgrims, so it is mandatory to have a passport before starting the journey.

You will present the passport in Rome at the Vatican City to receive a Testimonium (a document that officially confirms that you have walked at least 100 kilometers to Rome).

Via Francigena Credential

In addition, the various and unusual signatures you will collect along the way will become a wonderful reminder of the places you visited and will be a personal souvenir from a great trip.

The pilgrims' passport will also buy you various discounts along the route, such as in museums, at the entrance to cathedrals, trains in Italy that pass along the route, and more.

How to get the Via Francigena credential?

You can purchase the pilgrims' passport for a nominal amount in advance through the official website or probably at the place where you will start walking.

Click here to check the list where you can see where you can purchase the pilgrims' passports.

I purchased my pilgrims' passport in Lausanne for 5 euros.

Testimonium

A Testimonium is a document confirming the completion of a pilgrimage to Rome.

This is the equivalent of "Compostela" which is obtained upon completion of the Camino de Santiago. Historically this document was important because when a pilgrim returned home he could prove that the pilgrimage had taken place.

The document is different from the Compostela that you get and is more generic. They don't write where you started walking or how many kilometers you traveled but still another nice souvenir in the end.

How to get the Testimonium in Rome?

The certificate is only given to pilgrims who present a certificate showing stamps of at least the last 100 km.

Some people say that you only get it if you walk religiously.

I can say that it's not true. When you receive the document, nobody really cares what the reason you walked is, and they don't even ask.

via francigena TESTIMONIUM

The Testimonium is available at:

St. Peter's Basilica:

You can find the reception point just before climbing the stairs that access the portico of the basilica, on the right.

Please note:

There is no need to wait in the long line of all the tourists waiting to enter the basilica, ask one of the policemen and he will direct you and let you in without a wait in line to receive the Testimonium.

Open on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between the hours of 7:30 and 18:00. On Wednesdays from 1:00 p.m. until 6 pm.

Things you should know before you walk the Via Francigena

Language

I started the route in Lausanne, which is the part of Switzerland where French is spoken and I was surprised to find out that they hardly know a word of English but somehow they always manage even if they don't know the language.

Those who start the route in Lausanne have a total of one week until they move to Italy, so in my opinion, it is more important to know Italian.

It is useful to know some simple words know in Italian before starting the journey.

It will make your life much easier and more rewarding.

You should know words that will at least allow you to book rooms by phone, and maybe to have conversations with locals and enhance your experience on the trip.

Local SIM

If you do not live in Europe, it is necessary to use a local SIM. It will help you a lot.

A local SIM can be purchased in Italy, which is much cheaper than in Switzerland.

I got my local SIM through the wind3 company for 25 euros. 70 gigabytes of Data and unlimited local calls.

The local SIM is mainly important to make calls to the accommodations that are adapted for pilgrims because you have to call them and let them know you are coming.

The SIM is usually valid for one month, and it can be renewed for 10 euros for the same package.

Water

Along the way, you will find water in many places.

You don't need to buy mineral water.

The water is drinkable. You can find fountains and fill your bottle in every town along the Via Francigena.

fountain on the via francigena

It is good to carry 1-2 liters of water with you. A 1-liter bottle of water was enough for me.

What to take to the Via Francigena?

Two critical things for the quality of the trip are the backpack and shoes.

Shoes - You must have good walking shoes that you have been walking in for at least a few months before going on the trip.

It is difficult to describe the suffering of those who after a day or two got blisters. It can ruin large parts of the journey.

Backpack - the second most important thing is your backpack.

It is essential to have a quality travel bag that protects your back and balances the weight well.

A backpack of up to 50 liters is enough.

The bag will be on you for 5-7 hours every day, so it must be of good quality.

Clothing - basically for hiking in the summer, it will be warm.

I started walking in October, which is already considered off-season.

Most of the time, I was blessed with pleasant weather during the day, but not too hot. And it was a bit chilly in the evening.

Buying groceries - in every town, you can stock up on groceries for sandwiches or ingredients to prepare a cooked meal if you want to cook and not eat out.

Cooking - some accommodations have a kitchen with a gas stove, pans, pots, and cutlery.

If you are traveling on a budget, you can buy vegetables, eggs, and pasta and cook dinner.

Laundry - don't take a lot of clothes with you, there's no point.

You can always find washing machines or means for manual washing yourself.

This is the best solution and will make it easier for you to carry unnecessary clothes.

(I will publish a detailed post soon with my full packing list for the via Francigena)

via francigena backpack

Travel insurance for the Via Francigena

Although the via Francigena is not like the Annapurna circuit trek in Nepal which reaches a high altitude. But as with any hike and trip, it is essential to have travel insurance.

Especially on the via Francigena because there is the crossing of Saint Bernard pass in the Alps.

With travel insurance, you can walk with peace of mind.

How to prepare for the Via Francigena route

When you walk an average of 25 kilometers a day for 1100km, it is not a simple thing.

However, any person of average fitness can walk this way.

I met people of different ages and even a 70-year-old man with a pacemaker who walked all the way from Canterbury to Rome!

So everyone can.

The weight becomes significant, so don't take more than you need because you will have to carry it.

If you can, it is recommended to do a short hike of two or three days with a backpack to get used to walking and the weight of the backpack.

In any case, you don't have to walk 25 kilometers every day. You can start with 15 kilometers on the first day.

Feel your body and move slowly at your own pace.

via francigena route toscana

The most important thing is not to speed up your body and not overload you. Take your time and enjoy the way.

The number of kilometers per day doesn't matter to anyone. It's your Camino and only yours. It's not a race or a competition.

It's worth remembering: in the first day or two or even the first week, the body hurts from the journey and the many kilometers and hours of walking, but after that, the body gets used to it.

The pains of the first few days disappear, and you realize that it's all in the head and a mental matter.

Don't break even if it hurts a little and your body is not used to walking a lot. After a few days, it will work out!

Pros and cons of The Via Francigena

Pros:

// Stunning views!

In my opinion, The views on the Francigena are more beautiful than the Camino Frances.

In terms of the varied landscapes and changing terrain along the way. From the beautiful Lake Geneva in Switzerland to the Italian Alps. Aosta Valley and, of course, the wonderful Tuscany.

// You experience Italy in the best way.

This is not a touristy trip to Italy. You will pass through so many small local towns without any tourists with a unique charm.

That made me fall in love with Italy. I got to know their coffee culture, the aperitivo time, how important pasta is for them, and more.

// The via Francigena is not crowded at all. Especially from Lausanne to Lucca.

When you get to Lucca and Tuscany, you start to see a few more pilgrims. But it's not close to the number of pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. For those who are looking for quiet, this is the way for them.

// Tuscany - one of the most beautiful stages in Via Francigena.

Before I arrived in Tuscany, I had no idea how beautiful and impressive it is.

The Via Francigena crosses the Tuscan landscapes that have hardly changed for centuries.

A stunning landscape of hills quickly alternating between vineyards and forests and rows of cypresses leading to remote farmhouses and fine wine.

Tuscany is one of the main highlights of Via Francigena, and walking through it is an unforgettable experience.

via francigena photos
The beautiful landscapes in the Via francigena

Cons:

// Lack of communication with the local's accommodation.

In some of the Convents and Monasteries that are intended for pilgrims, you will have to contact the owner and call him to reserve a bed or find out if the place is open or not and inform him that you are coming.

This is also one of the reasons that it is desirable to know a few words in Italian. It will be easier for you to communicate with the locals.

Sometimes it's not necessarily a language problem.

In some cases, when you call the accommodations adapted to pilgrims, many times they don't answer the phone, or when I sent an email, there is no response.

The communication with the pilgrims looking for a place to stay is something they need to streamline to make it easier for travelers.

// Walking on asphalt can be dangerous.

Maybe because the Via Francigena is not popular there are quite a few places that require you to walk on asphalt and sometimes right next to a highway.

You should know that there is a lot of walking on asphalt or sometimes near a highway and also in urban areas, especially when leaving and entering big cities.

// You will be alone a lot of the time.

I put you both as an advantage and as a disadvantage.

For some people, it is an advantage, and for others, it is a disadvantage.

As mentioned, the via Francigena is not very famous. Most of the locals, at least up to the part of Tuscany, do not really know and are aware of this way and will not understand who the crazy person is who walks all the way to Rome on foot.

Although I met another pilgrim and we traveled together for several days.

I found myself in some days walking an entire day without meeting a single pilgrim.

Those looking for a social experience like the Camino de Santiago should be aware of this fact.

// Not a lot of accommodation that is suitable for pilgrims.

There is a selection of hotels or B&B but not places specifically intended for pilgrims.

via francigena solo
Just me and my backpack

Accommodations on the Via Francigena

There are several types of accommodation when walking the Canterbury to Rome route.

You will find a mixture of hotels, B&B, churches, and monasteries along the via Francigena.

There are three popular types of accommodation:

Convents and Monasteries

Some communities in remote villages offer basic sleeping quarters to pilgrims for a fixed fee in monasteries, schools, or convents.

Unlike on the Camino de Santiago, where there is a large selection of accommodation arranged for pilgrims with lots of beds, the via Francigena, it works differently.

In some churches and monasteries, you will not have to pay (it will be by donation), and in some, you will probably have to pay 15 euros.

The monasteries or churches will be in basic but good conditions, some are large with 25 beds, and others are small, with only 3 beds.

In most of them, the pilgrims' room will be clean, and you will be provided with a hot shower and a bed, and usually, there will be no wifi in these places.

The small towns in the Via Francigena are in remote areas, and accommodation options may be limited, so organization is essential.

Accommodations for low-budget pilgrims are scarce and almost non-existent in Switzerland.

Also, it is highly recommended to be equipped with some basic Italian phrases when communicating with the hosts.

Bed & Breakfast

Bed and breakfast is widely available on many parts of the walk.

Bed and breakfasts can be found in the larger towns and villages along the Via Francigena.

You can expect a warm welcome in any family B&B in Italy.

Staying in a B&B allows you to learn a little about traditional family life in Italy and get to know the locals up close.

I had the chance to stay several times in such accommodation when I could not find another place to sleep and always the Italian hospitality was kind, and the rooms were of a high standard.

Hotels

In some big towns, you can also stay in hotels.

Especially in Tuscany, once you reach the famous landscapes of Tuscany, you can pamper yourself and stay in beautifully maintained hotels in Lucca, Siena, and more.

Many of these hotels are traditionally decorated with a very romantic Italian feel.

via francigena accommodation

Food on the via Francigena

I'll start by saying that there is no special menu for pilgrims

The Pilgrim menu doesn't really exist except maybe in a small town or two.

Because there is no special menu, you will either have to buy groceries at the supermarket and cook for yourself or eat outside in restaurants.

I will explain mainly about Italy because that is where I spent most of my time.

Breakfast- Breakfast is small and consists of coffee (espresso, macchiato, or cappuccino) accompanied by a small triangular sandwich of white bread with cheese or sausage, or alternatively, a croissant.

via francigena breakfast

Dinner - Eating in the restaurant is the main entertainment and combines several dishes, including wine, dessert, and coffee.

Usually, the restaurants open for dinner around 18:00 and operate until 22:30.

On the dinner menu, you will find pizza in almost every restaurant.

I don't think I need to explain too much about Italy and pizza, it's obvious.

In addition, you can find antipasti, which is an appetizer for the meal, usually a Caprese salad and some vegetables.

After that, you can choose a first course, main course, and dessert and finish the meal with Italian coffee.

The first course is usually pasta in a variety of sauces and toppings.

The main dish includes a fish, meat, or seafood dish accompanied by boiled or baked vegetables.

eating pasta on the via francigena

The meal is always finished with something sweet.

The well-known Italian desserts, the delicious and wonderful tiramisu, and panna cotta.

Last but not least is the coffee, which in Italy is always made room for, and given the respect it deserves.

At the end of every hearty meal, the Italians usually drink a strong espresso to seal the meal with the aroma of the coffee beans and wake up shortly after the meal.

You will not be hungry in Italy.

Via Francigena cost

As mentioned, I can only refer to Italy and Switzerland.

Accommodation

In Italy, if you stay in a pilgrim dormitory, the average price per night is 15 euros.

In some places, you can find places for pilgrims who are Donation (with a donation of a symbolic amount, as much as you have and think is appropriate).

Double room in a hotel or B&B, expect to pay about 50 euros per night for 2 person.

Switzerland's prices are much higher than Italy, almost double. It is known to all, Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world.

The disadvantage in Switzerland is that there are almost no budget places for pilgrims like in Italy.

A bed in a shared room in a hostel (only in big cities) will cost you 50-60 euros per night per person.

A hotel room or b&b, the prices are 70-100 euros per person.

Food

Italian-style breakfast which is coffee and a croissant or a small sandwich for about 3 euros.

Dinner can cost around 20-25 euros per person, light lunch or pizza around 10 euros.

The average budget per day per person varies and ranges from 35-60 euros per day.

I know it's not accurate but each person has their own choices and considerations.

One would prefer to eat out every day in restaurants, and the other would buy groceries and cook whatever would lower the costs.

The budget varies a lot. In general, it is more or less the average daily budget that you should take into account in your calculation before you walk the Via Francigena.

francigena route

Social life on the Via Francigena

If you walked the Camino de Santiago in the past, whether it's the Camino del Norte, the Portuguese, or the Camino Frances. In all of them, and in particular the Camino France, part of the experience of the way is the social life, the people you meet and know every day from other parts of the world.

A big part of the Camino is meeting people and connecting with them. Having dinner with all the pilgrims and more.

This is part of the magic of the Camino, and that's how I felt when I walked alone last year and made friends for life.

The Via Francigena is very different.

Yes, you will meet pilgrims from different countries. But not the same amount of people as on the Camino. There will be days when you will not meet any pilgrim at all.

If you've done the Camino de Santiago before, don't expect the same social experience if it's on the way itself, at the famous resting places for pilgrims, or at the shared dinners.

You will have less of that, but that doesn't mean you won't meet lovely people along the way, whether it's additional pilgrims or kind locals.

via francigena pilgrims
a nice pilgrims that i met

Route marking

In general the Via Francigena is well signposted in Italy, although the style, design and color of the signs vary greatly.

Along much of the way is the red and white tape of the official route, marked with a black pilgrim silhouette to distinguish it from other long-distance trails.

From Point Saint Martin to Rome, you will start seeing a big brown sign of the  “Via Francigena” with two walkers or cyclists and a car. These signs indicate the direction of the route and are generally positioned in areas where motorized vehicles can circulate.

In Switzerland, the way is, for the most part, waymarked as Route 70 with a yellow diamond shape marker.

via francigena route marking

Safety on the via Francigena

I felt very safe on the route from Switzerland to Rome. These are European countries that are safe to walk around in.

There are a few things you should know to stay safe.

// Crossing highways and walking alongside them.

There are many places where walking on the asphalt next to highways with trucks passing quickly and walking on the curb.

Sometimes I was surprised to see the markings showing me that I should walk on the side of the road.

Usually, these dangerous sections will not be for a long distance.

// Another thing you should know is the dogs in Italy.

Almost everyone has a dog, and you will pass by many farms and private lands of people with a dog guarding the building that will probably bark at you.

Usually, the dogs are locked up in the houses and don't come out and do anything but bark, but in any case, it's something you should know so you won't be surprised by the number of dogs in Italy.

// Great Saint Bernard Pass is not always passable.

Something like Route Napoleon for crossing the Pyrenees from St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles on the Camino Francés.

That pass is open from June-October and officially closed during the winter months for safety reasons. If you use it and require it to be rescued you will be fined.

saint-bernard pass snow
Great St Bernard Pass after snowstorm

Via Francigena tips

1 / In Italy, it is customary to have lunch between 12:30 and 14:00.

Many restaurants close in the afternoon and open again in the evening. In order not to remain hungry, it is highly recommended to adjust according to these times.

2 / Take as many rest days as you can whether it's in the Aosta Valley, Lucca, Siena, or a small town along the way.

You can rest your body and explore beautiful places along the way.

3 / A local sim is very useful. You need to call a day in advance to make sure you have a bed and someone to give you access to it.

Wi-fi is not always findable in many towns on the via Francigena.

4 / You don't have to go all the way at once.

If you have a few days, whether it's 4 days, a week, or a month. You can choose a certain stage to walk in.

In Italy, the trains are very efficient and reach many towns where you can start walking.

I strongly recommend the stage between Lausanne to Aosta, or between Lucca to Siena, or if you have more time, between Lucca to Rome.

5 / Pack light- Keep it basic. The last thing you want is to be weighed down by a heavy backpack.

6 / When you walk on roads, walk facing traffic but watch behind for cars passing other cars.

7 / Book your accommodation in advance. A day or two before is enough. It doesn't matter if you sleep in a monastery or a hotel. The Italians want to know that you are coming so they will be ready for you.

8 / Many accommodations are staffed by volunteers or are not permanently staffed.

Some places don't open their doors until 3pm-4pm.

Plan your time accordingly, so you don't have to wait so long to enter the accommodation.

9 / Be prepared for loneliness. It's not the Camino de Santiago, with tons of people walking the same path as you every day.

There were days when I didn't meet anyone during the day, and I was often the only person in Ostello at night.

This can also be a good thing, but it is important to understand before starting this route that there is not the same social atmosphere.

10 / Enjoy - Don’t forget to enjoy yourself on your journey!

Recommended guidebooks

Final thoughts

The via Francigena is a historic and unique route that sets a goal at the beginning.

There is something about persistence in walking. At some point, it becomes part of your daily routine.

You get up early in the morning, drink coffee, put your bag on your back and start walking. Almost like a need of the body. A kind of rhythm that the pilgrim entered into. Your feet will continue to walk until you reach Rome and receive the pilgrim's certificate.

Similar to the Camino de Santiago, and although this route is way different, it is undoubtedly an experience that I will take with me for life.

There is something unique that combines a powerful personal experience. A complex human experience where you get to know yourself in the best possible way, especially even in the moments when you are really alone with yourself.

At the end of the route, reach Rome on foot and feel that you are signing something very unique and significant that you have done.

A great experience that I recommend to everyone!

guy looking at lake geneva

I hope this guide to the Via Francigena has helped and inspired you to walk this way or at least know more about the experience of pilgrimage to Rome.

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask me down below in the comments, and I will be happy to answer!

My travel resources

  • Book affordable flights on Expedia, a great website that show the best routes and flight deals to your destination.

  • Find a budget-friendly deal on all sorts of accommodation types on Booking.com.

  • Buy the most flexible and budget-friendly travel insurance at SafteyWing.

Thanks for reading!

Read My Other Blogs:

Annapurna Circuit Solo: The Detailed Itinerary

The complete guide to solo travel in nepal

3 Days In Kathmandu: The Ultimate Kathmandu Itinerary

12 best reasons to visit nepal

Scotland road trip Itinerary for 14 days

How to plan the ultimate norway road trip

15 most amazing places in Norway

2 days in bergen norway

8 most scenic routes in norway

3 Day Madrid Itinerary

how to spend weekend in Amsterdam

2 weeks in sicily: the perfect sicily road trip

how to spend 3 days in prague

Disclaimer: some links on my site are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase through these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. By using these you are directly supporting Guy On The Road to remain an independent travel blog. Thank you!