In this blog, I will explain the main differences between Via Francigena to Camino de Santiago
They are very different.
I'll start by saying to those who have walked before or are planning to walk the Camino de Santiago you shouldn't expect the Via Francigena to be the same.
I want you to know what to expect. For example, find an Albergue to spend the night for ten or fifteen euros in every town you pass through.
Don't expect pilgrim menus to be available in every restaurant, souvenir shops in every town, or tons of travelers from all over the world to share the route.
It should be understood from the beginning. The via Francigena is almost in no way similar to the Camino de Santiago.
I walked the Camino Frances from Saint Jean de Port to Santiago.
A year later, I walked the Via Francigena, 1200 kilometers between Lausanne and Rome.
It's only been a year since I did the Camino de Santiago, so I can immediately notice many differences between these 2 routes.
If you decide to walk the Via Francigena, which by the way, I highly recommend.
The first thing you should know is the Via Francigena is not a tourist and is less popular and well-known than the Camino de Santiago. Certainly in Switzerland.
I was surprised to find out that local people didn't even know the name Via Francigena, at least in the beginning stage in Switzerland.
If you start the walk in Switzerland, don't expect the same experience you might have had on the first day of the Camino de Santiago.
If you plan to start walking in Italy on the stage between Lucca to Rome, you will feel more of a pilgrim atmosphere.
Because the Via Francigena is not popular, you will not meet so many people during the day. Some days you will walk alone for the whole day without seeing a single traveler.
Of course, it has advantages and disadvantages, but we will get to that later.
This Via Francigena is indeed an ancient road. It's still not as famous as the Camino de Santiago.
This means fewer places to stay for pilgrims or suitable for those who do this route.
In Switzerland, you will feel that there is almost no mention of Via Francigena.
In Italy, the Via Francigena is much more popular in the beautiful part of Tuscany where you can feel a bit like a pilgrim like on the Camino Frances.
I'm not saying this to keep you from walking the Via Francigena, but it's important to know what to expect.
The Via Francigena is a beautiful route, especially the stage between Lausanne to Aosta, where you cross the Alps on foot at Great San Bernard. You'll see stunning views that you won't see on the Camino de Santiago.
In this blog, I will detail all the notable differences between Via Francigena and the Camino de Santiago.
The first and most important thing is the distance.
800km from Saint Jean de Port to Santiago to walk on the Camino Frances. (1 month)
1900km from Canterbury to Rome to walk on the Via Francigena. (3 months)
There is a significant difference in the distance and length of the route and the days required.
You don't have to walk all at once. You can always choose a shortened stage for the time you have.
On the Camino de Santiago, numerous pilgrims start the walk from Logroño, Burgos, and Sarria. The Via Francigena is mainly popular in Italy, so pilgrims start the walk from Lucca or Siena.
Some will say that the Camino Frances is difficult. I don't think so.
The first day crossing the Pyrenees via San Juan de Port to the Roncesvalles is challenging and considered the hardest day on the Camino.
The climb to O Cebreiro is also not that easy. but in general, there is not too much continuous difficulty on the Camino Frances.
Besides that, on the Camino de Santiago, I didn't feel the length. There were pilgrims around me all the time. Sometimes you talk while walking, meet a new pilgrim, so you don't notice the distance you walk.
On the other hand, the Via Francigena is more challenging than the Camino de Santiago (I'm talking about the part between Lausanne and Rome that I walked).
The walk over the Alps causes more significant elevation changes and is more challenging than the climbs on the Camino Frances.
There are many hills and ascents in Italy, and you will go up and down many times.
The via Francigena is not particularly difficult, but it is definitely more challenging than the Camino de Santiago. You need to know and be prepared accordingly.
The Camino de Santiago, due to the popularity of the way, there are many places to stay for pilgrims.
In almost every town you pass through, you can find a place to stay that is specially adapted for pilgrims.
On the Camino, the places where the pilgrims usually sleep are called Albergue.
There are two types of Albergue, one that is public and one that is considered private.
Usually, the public Albergue will be a simple place with a large room and many beds for pilgrims.
The private Albergue is also more or less the same style with higher services. The prices are very affordable. Usually, a night will cost 5-15 euros.
On the other hand, the style of accommodation via Francigena is very different from what is customary on the Camino de Santiago.
There is no Albergue for pilgrims. In Switzerland, it does not exist at all.
In Italy, most of the accommodation for those with a low budget will be in monasteries or churches that accept pilgrims who hold the via Francigena passport.
Most of the time, the accommodation will not be inside the church. You will be received by the volunteer sisters or whoever operates the church who will take you to a room intended for pilgrims located next to the church.
In addition, there is also Ostello which I compare to Spain and the Camino de Santiago, I would say it is like the private Albergue.
Accommodation in Italy is more expensive than in Spain.
There are churches and monasteries where you can stay for free (not really free, with a donation of a symbolic amount, usually the minimum is 10 euros per night).
Accommodation prices in the Ostello will vary between 15-25 euros per night. In both places, the accommodation is in shared rooms.
Of course, beyond the accommodations suitable for pilgrims, there are many possible accommodations, whether hotels or B&Bs.
For those who don't have a budget problem, there are many charming b&b places to stay along the way.
The big difference in accommodation between Camino de Santiago and via Francigena is mainly in the level of supply.
If you are traveling on a low budget it is more difficult to find low-budget accommodation on the Via Francigena compared to Camino de Santiago.
I found myself many times adjusting my walking and the distances according to the places to stay in via Francigena because some accommodations were closed, but maybe that's because I was traveling in the off-season.
There is no accommodation for pilgrims in Switzerland for those with a low budget. You can stay at campsites for those traveling with a tent.
On the Camino de Santiago, the food is basic but good, with most pilgrims opting for the pilgrim menu, which is generally consistent everywhere and includes 3 courses.
Usually, a starter of mixed salad, spaghetti or soup, followed by meat or fish with fried potatoes, and a dessert of flan cake or one fruit.
Of course, many fine dining restaurants in the Camino de Santiago offer delicious food at a higher cost.
In contrast, the Via Francigena does not have a special menu for pilgrims.
You can choose whether to eat out every day or cook for yourself.
It's better to combine the things and cook to save costs over time and to taste the local cuisine.
You will be able to feel changes in the regional cuisine in Italy according to the districts you pass through.
The food is amazing all over Italy. Delicious fresh pasta starters, meats and cheeses near Parma, and exceptional Tuscan cuisine.
And how is it possible without mentioning the pizza?
The wine in Italy is great, but certainly not as cheap as in Spain.
In Italy, a 2-course meal with pasta for the first course, meat or fish for the main course along with half a liter of wine, was on average 25-30 euros.
Travelers who have experienced the friendship of the Camino de Santiago should understand that the Via Francigena does not have anything like the same number of pilgrims and cannot be expected to have anything like the same abundance of amenities.
But in my opinion, it makes the Via Francigena more interesting - and more authentic.
You won't get carried away in the "Camino bubble": you'll be in contact with ordinary local people all along the way. If you speak a few words of their language, you can participate in their lives for a few moments each day.
You may have the opportunity to stay on a working farm, in a family home, or attend the daily prayers of an active monastery or convent.
You might even end up talking to people along the way who have no idea what long-distance walking is and are curious to find out where you're going and why.
The Camino de Santiago is one of the most famous long walks in the world. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims come from all over the world every year to walk the Camino de Santiago.
This Camino is developed and well-maintained. There are signs everywhere, rest stops in almost every section, and so on.
In the Via Francigena, in some parts, at least until you get to Tuscany, it feels more like a long trek than a Camino.
There are many stages where you will go 12 or 15 kilometers without seeing a town on the way, without any stopping place intended for pilgrims like on the Camino de Santiago, the route itself is less developed.
You will be walking much more on asphalt than on a path at least compared to the Camino Frances.
The Via Francigena has a useful app that includes GPS of the entire route with a map that indicates the way, which is very efficient and recommended.
I think because the camino de Santiago are much more popular and busy, the local associations and support groups make a greater effort to reroute walkers away from the main thoroughfares.
On the Via there are some long and unpleasant sections on the edge of busy roads with no verge, which really put a dampener on the enjoyment of the day’s path.
While I averaged about 25-30€/day on the Camino Frances, the Via Francigena was more like 45-50€/day.
Of course, if you stay on camping sites, buy food in supermarkets, and cook for yourself, you can save on costs.
That's what I did in Switzerland to lower the costs.
It is possible to significantly reduce your daily expenditure, so it varies a lot.
But what is certain is that walking the Via Francigena is much more expensive than walking the Camino de Santiago.
If the daily average in Italy is 25-35 euros.
In Switzerland, if you are not camping and cooking, the daily average per person will already be between 70-75 euros per day.
The shell associated with Saint Santiago has become an identification mark for those people who walk the road - the Camino.
Some wear it around their neckת and some hang it on their bag. The shell accompanies the pilgrims throughout their journey.
It appears as a road sign leading to the city of Santiago de Compostela, and you can see it imprinted on paths, buildings, etc.
The shell is not the only road sign on the route. Yellow arrows appear along the paths to keep the direction of the pilgrims.
Via Francigena has a completely different marking.
In Switzerland, the road is signposted, and you follow route 70. In Switzerland, it feels more like a long walk rather than a pilgrimage.
In Italy, after Aosta, the markings change and start to be better.
The marking of the Via Francigena in Italy is a tape with a red stripe and a white stripe on which you can see a small picture of a pilgrim.
As you get closer to Tuscany, you will start to see large brown signs with a picture of pedestrians or bicycles that will guide you to Rome.
Rome itself doesn’t at all compare to walking into Santiago. Rome is larger than life, which is what I love about the city. Its grandeur has always lived up to my expectations.
Santiago on the other hand is smaller and more quaint. And when you walk into Santiago you feel the end of your journey.
Receiving your Compostela is an experience. Everyone understands what you have just been through. You sit in front of the church and you can revel.
In many ways, Santiago de Compostela is a city designed around the Camino. Rome is not. It has the size and the beauty fitting for the end of such a journey, but walking into St. Peters square just isn’t the same.
It’s significant, but people look at you and don’t understand.
Some will ask and you will explain, and they are impressed, but ultimately Rome is designed for tourists, not pilgrims.
Receiving your testimonium is less celebrated. Well, sometimes. Some people I know had wonderful experiences receiving their testimonium. Others didn’t even have someone look at their stamps, they were just handed the testimonium.
It is certainly not the same satisfying experience at all.
I had a strange and different feeling when I arrived in Rome than when I arrived in Santiago.
In Santiago, I felt on top of the world.
I felt as if everyone was waiting for me at the finish line just for me to arrive and finish the Camino to congratulate me on the journey.
In Rome, you arrive at the basilica, perhaps the most impressive in the world, but with a million tourists.
I even felt uncomfortable sitting on the floor in front of the church because no one had done it compared to Santiago.
Don't expect the same welcome in Rome.
The comparison between Via Francigena and Camino de Santiago is necessary.
I met people along the way, and 90 percent of them had walked one Camino in the past before they decided to walk the Via Francigena.
I realized that most of the people who walk the Via Francigena have already experienced the Camino and done it before.
I'm not saying that you have to do the Camino de Santiago before it really has nothing to do with it.
It makes sense to think about it because people who have done a certain Camino in the past want to experience something different, and the Via Francigena is perfect for that.
Are they so different after all?
The differences between the Camino de Santiago and the Via Francigena are mentioned when we try to investigate the logistical factors (signs along the way, costs, number of pilgrims, social life.).
The similarities probably outweigh the differences.
Both pilgrimages are a clear demonstration of the amazing past, culture, heritage, and tradition that we want to discover and experience.
In conclusion, I can conclude that the Camino de Santiago is the best option if you want to meet many other pilgrims from all over the world, and have a social experience at a more affordable price.
However, if what interests you is to follow a route with fewer people, to peacefully discover one of the most touristic places from a different point of view, there is no doubt that the Via Francigena is the one you should choose.
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