Via Francigena

Via Francigena: good practices for territorial development

Picture of Redazione AEVF
Redazione AEVF

The continuous establishment of Slow Tourism, on foot, by bicycle and on horseback, has encouraged the proliferation of the European paths in the media and, therefore, touristic use, one being the Via Francigena. Declared a European Cultural Route in 1994, the Via Francigena crosses four countries (England, France, Switzerland and Italy), starting from Canterbury (EN) and arriving in Rome (IT), becoming a cultural, political and, above all, local connector. The Via Francigena is strengthened, day by day, by the relationship that it and its pilgrims establish with the territory, its inhabitants and the local communities crossed: a friendly and warm welcome that favours intercultural exchange. Particular attention is paid to the care of the path: ensuring safety, markings and hospitality for the pilgrims.

The European Association of the Vie Francigene (EAVF), established in 2001 and now networking with 135 European entities, it is the body of the Council of Europe responsible for enhancing the path. Among the tasks of the EAVF is dialogue with all the bodies of a territory: institutions, associations, economic, cultural and touristic categories, universities. Today, thanks to this active cooperation, the Via Francigena is populated and brought to life. The European Route is growing within territorial development policies on a national, regional and local level, encouraging investments in infrastructure development. In this context, various associations scattered along the European path, which, through the passion of volunteers, animate the route; as well as private partners able to offer services to pilgrims, tourists and travellers. Research institutes and universities join this European network by promoting studies, analysis, research and publications.

Since the visibility of the Via Francigena has increased considerably over the last few years, many private entities have joined together to offer hospitality, catering, gadgets, guides and promotions, organization of activities, educational tours and activities along the way. Our partners, for example, must be mentioned: SloWays, Walden Travel, Idea Marketing. The close collaboration between local institutions, associations and private individuals has generated the emergence of interesting sports and hiking events along the 1800 km of the Via Francigena. Some examples include: In France, the annual “Pas à Pas” walking tour, since 2011, involves local people, tourists and associations in order to get to know the route in Franche-Comté-Bourgogne. Each year, 400 walkers gather to hike 15-20 km, also involving local governments. On the front line the mayors walk beside the pilgrims; the “Samedi de Quasimodo” had the same effect, an annual itinerant event, which first took place in 2002, aimed at networking local and national institutions to monitor the route, to make it known and to raise the awareness of administrations to the safety of the path. All this happens through walking, in among the nature of the Swiss Alps; in Italy, the so-called “European Francigena Marathon” event, which has occurred since 2012 in Lazio, involves over two thousand people each year. 42,195 km (the distance of a marathon) along which you can get to know the path, taste typical products, be surrounded by nature and walk freely. These events, published on the EAVF communication channels (in three languages), reach a very high number of enthusiasts. They are promoted on the website within a European Festival that networks over 700 events a year between April and October.

Each of these events becomes a driving force for new activities born there, encouraging the birth of accommodation and refreshment points. Take for example the small Italian village of Orio Litta, of 2,000 inhabitants, that, for the past ten years, has seen tourists from all over the world cross its streets, eat at its restaurants and find accommodation in its hostels. Each of these activities also facilitates the attention of local communities to the preservation of the environment. Numerous environmental awareness initiatives have emerged in recent years where groups of people find themselves walking, cleaning the route and caring for the maintenance of signage: a recent example is “I love Francigena“, a series of walking days along the way, with free and open registration, which interacts with residents, pilgrims and tourists in the affected regions; it also raises awareness for the safeguarding of the site.

The territory crossed by the Via Francigena is valued through emphasizing its authenticity and rurality, panoramas, otherwise difficult to perceive. The relationship that is created between the traveller and the Way itself allows you to get away and take time for yourself, creating a close link between body and mind. Yoga and meditation practices are also spread along the way, and sports practices that combine well-being with a slow pace. A project linking spa resorts along the Via Francigena is under construction, inviting walkers to take advantage of it during their travel experience. Water (in this thermal case) becomes an element for regenerating, purifying and getting back into shape after a long journey.

Luca Faravelli