When to go
The Via Francigena runs through areas with very different climatic conditions, from the 2500 metre high Great Saint Bernard Pass, fields of the Po valley, from the Apennine Cisa Pass to the Tuscan hills.
The best seasons to travel the entire route are May and June or September and October. To avoid the warmer months, especially in the stretch of the Po, where shade is limited and the climate sultry.
Keep in mind that the Great St Bernard is usually only open from early June to early September, because of the snow which makes it impassable for most of the year. The Cisa Pass can also be snowy during the late fall or early spring.
The cycle path is divided into stages with an average length of about 50 kilometers, with a total of 23 stages. The division of the stages may, however, can be adjusted according to the degree of training and preparation of cyclist. Adding 5 or 10 kilometers is very motivating when your destination is a well-equipped and welcoming pilgrim accommodation.
Compared to the pedestrian path, which is mainly on dirt roads, the bike trail is comprised of various low-trafficked paved secondary roads and avoids bumpy dirt roads as much as possible. The route is about 70% paved, and those that are dirt are, for the most part, “white roads” with a stable surface. When there are no alternatives, there are short sections on roads with heavy traffic.
The route is therefore suitable for experienced adult cyclists who have a good level of fitness. It is not recommended for families with children or inexperienced or untrained individuals. The first part of the route, until Fornovo, is characterized by minimal differences in elevation and is quite easy. The second part, which includes the Apennine Cisa Pass and the ups and downs of Tuscany and Lazio, is rather challenging, and requires a good level of fitness.
In many stages shade is scarce. During the summer it is advisable to protect the head and to use sunscreen. It is a good idea to leave very early in the morning to avoid the hottest hours.
Water and dining and lodging along the way
Access to water and food in some of the stages is very good, while in others quite rare or even absent. You have to carefully evaluate the availability of water and bring enough with you to last the stage. During an average stage in the summer it is recommended you drink at least two liters of water, possibly supplemented with minerals, to decrease the risk of heat stroke.
Most of the towns crossed by the Via Francigena have bars or shops that sell groceries. Their presence is indicated in the description of each stage.
Pilgrim accommodation generally gives priority to the traveler on foot. It is therefore advisable to inform yourself about availability of beds and if there is a safe place to park your bike.
On the marked path, which is mainly on dirt and minor asphalt roads with less than optimal road conditions, a hybrid bike or a mountain bike is recommended. It should be equipped with lights and reflectors, as required by safety rules. Two bags on the rear and one on the handlebar is sufficient for luggage, as you will not need a tent, cooking equipment or a sleeping bag. Essential are: padded shorts, technical T-shirts, a bicycle jacket with reflective strips, and a change of clothes for the evening. Do not forget a set of replacement tubes and repair kit in case of a puncture.
The use of technological devices can be very helpful along the way. Modern smartphones and tablets have become multifunctional devices, which allow you to see the location on maps using GPS, read the guide or a novel in the evening, take pictures and shoot videos, read mails, surf the Internet and call home on Skype, watch TV, read the newspaper or listen to music. All for a very low weight, which is critical for those traveling by bicycle. We suggest researching what technology to bring and how to use digital mapping and GPS.