Via Francigena. The Road to Rome

Tourism during COVID. Why not recovering tourism with help of the Via Francigena?

 The coronavirus as an opportunity to understand a new way of sustaining tourism activities and approaching the world.

I am one of those who travel on foot; one of those, who normally reach 10,000 steps per day. I am one of those who, even with a simple walk of a few kilometres from home, - or even better in the hills - sets thoughts, ideas and creativity in motion. The path positively influences my body and mind.

Like everyone else, I live with a great difficulty and a sense of fragility during this period of social isolation and, above all, of limited physical activity linked to the coronavirus. I try to take my 30 minutes of air per day, within a radius of 200 m from home, not having isolated country paths to travel freely. I uneasily go to a supermarket once every 10 days, wearing gloves and a mask, paying maximum attention to personal hygiene.

For a few days already I have stopped following news related to the coronavirus almost compulsively: from international to Italian press, from local newspapers to closed groups with alleged virology experts. I inquire and update myself, however, trying to put things in perspective since this period will be long. Better to get used to a different lifestyle, trying to transmit positive energy to the outside.

I struggle to understand when we return to hug each other. I'm scared. A lot. I live with it trying to find a new rhythm and a daily balance while I see around a sick world that fights with dignity and strength, struggling to get up. I have a disarming sense of helplessness.

After an initial phase that led us to think that from 3 April we would resume our former life with trips out of town, trains, planes, meetings, evening aperitifs, trips to plan, we soon moved on to a phase of a very different reality proposed to us by the experts. Many things will not return as before and it is necessary to transform our way of life, getting used to a new resilient and responsible approach. However, many things could change positively, such as greater attention to environment, air quality and reduced emissions, circular economy, a new way of imagining the future. Finally, the time, that before was never enough for me to finish my daily commitments and duties, takes on a new value.

A new phase has begun of imagining or planning new post-coronavirus tourism scenarios. How to start it again. How to react. How to restart an important sector which today is worth around 10% of GDP. It is still early to find alternative solutions even if the reflections converge that it will be necessary to change the perspective, to find out how to renew and benefit from a boom of proximity tourism and travel to smaller towns.

The European Route of the Via Francigena represents a perfect synthesis of what could be a splendid renaissance of experiential, cultural, sustainable and outdoor tourism. It offers high quality tourism focused on human beings. We are talking about a 3,200 km route that crosses Europe from north to south and, at the time of Brexit, puts four countries in a network: England, France, Switzerland and Italy. Out of these four, two are not in the European Union, but represent a melting pot of extraordinary cultures that go well with the Via Francigena.

Today this route unites 16 European regions and 615 municipalities, many of which are villages or small territorial groupings located in rural areas. Along the way there are also thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises, environmental and cultural guides, experts, cultural associations that find a reason for growth thanks to the Via Francigena. With reference to the last year, it can be calculated that benefits generated only by walkers along the Via Francigena was more than 20 million euros.

  • Why not including the Via Francigena in all strategic territorial development plans of the regions and municipalities crossed?
  • Why not taking the Via Francigena as an example of tourism relaunch on a national scale in England (35km), France (1000km), Switzerland (200km) and Italy (1900km) creating a long European backbone?
  • Why not inserting it as a "flagship product" in promotion policies of national tourism agencies (together with all the paths that are currently experiencing a relaunch phase), with adequate communication campaigns?

You could hardly find a better product than this cultural itinerary that combines transnational and interregional dimensions, beauty with sustainability, culture with art, gastronomy with spas. And above all, it has a unique soul, bringing travellers to its main destination – St Peter’s Square in Rome. The soul of the Via Francigena represents an important added value, even more now and in the future – during the time of post-coronavirus – providing us solace to inner suffering. The Via Francigena also helps to give us precious recomfort and to satisfy our immaterial needs, becoming a metaphor of the contemporary life.

Based on these courageous ideas, let us rethink tourism together with institutions, cultural operators, private sector and civil society. Tourism centred on people, routes and slow movement is a new way of seeing the world.

I want to go back to walking on the Via Francigena and to share its extraordinary beauty.

Luca Bruschi

Director of the European Association of the Via Francigena ways

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