The European Francigena Marathon by Carol Neville

On Sunday, 27th May, I was privileged to join 2000 pilgrims walking the ancient Via Francigena pilgrim route from Acquapendente to Montefiascone. 

There was an air of excitement and unity as our bright orange crowd wound its way through the ancient streets of Acquapendente, past the Holy Sepulchre Cathedral, and into the countryside.  And, as the crowd thinned into streams of bright orange dots they blended with the spring flowers sprinkled throughout the fields.

After walking 11.3 km we reached San Lorenzo Nuovo with its neoclassical architecture. Here our passports were stamped and we stopped for a high-energy snack of banana and cake. I enjoyed the pleasure of resting my feet, eating and drinking whilst gazing at the magnificent views of Lake Bolsena.

The walk to Bolsena began in a cool forest lit up with flashes of bright orange as we snaked our way towards Lake Bolsena. Then, as we left the forest, I again felt privileged to be part of the stream of bright orange t-shirts blended with the fields of red poppies and other multicolored spring flowers.  In this part of the journey the distant views of Lake Bolsena, surrounding forests, white paths, and colourful fields ensured a pleasant walk to Bolsena.  I felt like I was part of a landscape painting.

After walking a rather long 23.5 km, Bolsena Castle in its lakeside setting greeted us and with a sigh of relief, we enjoyed a bowl of pasta! It was a pleasure to walk through the ancient, medieval streets of Bolsena, with the remarkable profile of its castle outlined against the lake. Another highlight of Bolsena is the Basilica of Santa Cristina, the place of the Eucharistic Miracle. But, there was no time to visit today – Montefiascone was calling!

Leaving Bolsena a Via Francigena sign reminded me that there was still 4.5 hours of walking to go. And I knew the long, steep ascent to Montefiascone would be a challenge, especially in the midday heat. Those of us who had walked from Acquapendente began to feel a little weary compared with those just starting at Bolsena.  But the sense of unity and community spirit kept us going. Eventually we reached the cool shade of Turona National Park with its natural spring water and I rested for a while. But, I was very disappointed to develop a sore knee 35 km into the walk and had to admit defeat.  With a mix of relief and disappointment I accepted transport to Montefiascone. 

Throughout the whole event I felt extremely grateful for Sergio Pieri’s faultless organization, especially his bright smile and ‘grande’ greeting at Rocca dei Papi. I can’t wait for next year’s marathon and feel proud to support the event. But, next year, on the 2nd June, I am determined that I will make it all the way to Montefiscone!

Carol Neville

 

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