Taking that first step on the way to Rome, it does not matter where one sets off or if you are a great athlete. The Via Francigena, the historic route from northern Europe leading to the Eternal City, is for everyone. Set out on the Way and follow in the footsteps of the pilgrims who, even before the year 1000, travelled down the Italian peninsula. They came from the British Islands, from the Fench Kingdom, from the farthest Regions of the Emperor. From the mountain pass of the Great St. Bernard, through the valley of Aosta, they entered the beautiful country of Italy, with its cities rich in both history and art.
Follow the trail markers that from the Canterbury Cathedral cross, onto the Pilgrim’s Way, the British countryside until the white cliffs of Dover. Once crossed the Channel, the Way ventures into the gentle landscape of Picardy and into the Champagne lands, area stud by ancient cities: have a stop in Reims, and visit its Cathedral, and at the Clairvaux Abbey. Then the Way enters Switzerland, from Sainte-Croix à Vuiteboeuf, for then followuing the quiet Venoge unitl the Leman Lake.
Walk through the vast area of the Po Valley, taking you along the banks of the river Po. Visit the area’s cities: Vercelli, Pavia, Piacenza – each will surprise you. From Fidenza walk up into the hills and begin the long climb that takes you to the Cisa pass through the Apennines and its great forests. Imagine what emotion archbishop Sigeric – whose footsteps you are following – felt when he first caught sight of the Mediterranean Sea and the deserted beaches of Versilia. Discover the cities that the Francigena has brought prosperity and wealth: Lucca with its hundred churches, San Gimignano famous for its the towers, and breathtaking Siena nestled within the characteristic hills of Tuscany.
Contemplate the memorable landscapes step by step, following the mountain mule tracks, dirt roads and rows of cypress trees. Walk in the smooth stones of the Roman Via Cassia before reaching Viterbo, surrounded by its magnificent medieval walls. Let your eyes marvel at the geometric shapes of the cultivated fields, the mirroring of the rice fields in the spring, the wind combing the ripe corn, the vines heavy with grapes in late summer, the bare, parched Sienese earth in the autumn: every day and every season they give evoke new emotions, under the clear skies of the peninsula.
Take time to stop and listen often to the tales of history along the route. Visit the crypts. Contemplate quietly in shadowy aisles of Romanesque churches. Take in the warmth of the sun in the churchyard. Open the shutters every morning onto spectacular scenery. Taste new and incredible flavours every night. Day after day, your goal gets closer and it becomes difficult to believe that your journey through the Roman countryside has to end. Remember to leave space in your memory for the city of seven hills and to its eternal monuments.
You’ll be surprised at the strength of your steps, which have slowly and consistently, metre by metre, taken you over a little more than two thousand kilometres in three months on foot: the Via Francigena is an unforgettable experience. It is the journey of life.