Via Francigena

Walking on the via Francigena. Analysis and consideration

Picture of Redazione AEVF
Redazione AEVF

The European Association of the Vie Francigene provides data on the profile of the walker, the pilgrim and the excursionist who travels on the European route


Fidenza – The walker travels 4 or 5 km per hour. The pilgrim loves taking time for themselves, stopping and taking a break in unknown places. They don’t like adapting to deadlines during the walk, which is an occasion to meet, talk and listen. A journey that becomes a discovery of ourselves and others, absorbed in the great beauty of the Via Francigena. And, as Lacarrière says, “To walk these days does not mean to go back to the Neolithic era, it rather means to be a prophet”.

The European Association of the Vie Francigene analysed about 2.000 of the almost 11.000 distributed forms, which were completed by pilgrims who required the credential in 2016, in order to better define the profile of the walker of the Via Francigena. We are talking about a sample that hasn’t got the statistic characteristics of significance, compared to the universe of walkers and pilgrims of the Francigena. It is a mere evaluation by EAVF on the basis of the forms and the information coming from EAVF’s staff along the route; however, it provides useful information to better know the profile of the 3rd Millennium pilgrim. Last year, a flow of about 40.000 walkers has been estimated.

By the survey, the following points can be highlighted:

  • The Via Francigena greets an always more international public
  • All the modalities of accommodation, from hostels to facilities that offer more services, are chosen by pilgrims
  • The Via Francigena is an “intergenerational” walk, with a slot that spreads between the age of 16 to 70
  • Services and businesses are created along the route, to support it
  • The Via Francigena promotes the dialogue between territories and encourages the sense of belonging of local communities

Age groups. The Via Francigena becomes an even bigger European cultural route, which can attract people from all over the world. An “intergenerational” walk that involves all the age groups, from 16 to 70, with an increased presence of over-70 people and a strong under-20 growth, if compared with 2015. The most represented groups are the one between 40-60 years (41%). The 30-40 and 20-30 groups follow, not very distant. Walkers are autonomous, well informed, they love getting organised in an autonomous way and buying editorial products dedicated to the path.

Means of transport. The trend of walking pilgrims is confirmed (79%), increasing by 4 points with regards to 2015. The constant number of pilgrims who travel along the Francigena by bike surely represents a great opportunity to mainly broaden the usability of the Via Francigena for bike lovers. It is necessary to increase the services on the path and on accommodation, together with adequate investments on the safety of the route.

A pilgrim out of three loves travelling in group, or at least with a travel partner, since the start.

Reason for travel. The main reason for people who decide to travel on the Francigena is the walk itself, even before the destination. However, one of the true motives is the one of “learning how to waste time”, which in the modern society is almost considered inappropriate, because we are always trying to retrieve the time we don’t have. Spirituality, knowledge of the self and intimate research emerge, all of which move us closer to nature and the environment that surrounds us. The Via Francigena offers time to reflect, to think, to discover. The cultural aspect is important just as much: the walk offers a journey through history, time and the European culture. The religious reason is fixed at the 15%. The interest connected to the discovery of the territorial food and wine industry grows; it is able to cheer the stage at the end of the day and it becomes a way to know the local tradition along the Via Francigena.

The provenance. The knowledge of the Via Francigena is growing on a European scale. If it is true that about the 70% is Italian, the Via Francigena is becoming more and more an international route, that attracts pilgrims from all over the world. In Europe, the most numerous walkers come respectively from France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Austria; while, from the rest of the world, the main provenances are from the United States, Canada, Brazil, Norway; however there are increased numbers coming from Japan, South Korea, Australia, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela.

Period and starting stages. Despite the hot weather, most of the departures focuse during summer time: July and August are the months that see a greater attendance on the walk, also related to the possibility to go on vacation for a medium-long period. In spring and autumn, the presence of non-Italian pilgrims is higher. It is interesting to point out a presence of pilgrims all year round, even during the winter months of December, January, February.

Some locations on the Via Francigena are particularly strategic to start the walk, or at least this is what emerges from the analysis of data. In Switzerland, an increasing number of pilgrims starts from Losanna: a wonderful city on the Lemano lake, easy to reach and close to the Alps. In a few days of walk it is possible to reach one of the mythical location of the route, the Great St. Bernard Pass. The Pass itself is one of the other most beloved starting point location for walkers. In Italy, the main chosen cities to start are Fidenza, Lucca, Siena, Viterbo.

Walk period and accommodation. The average period is 7-8 days (50%), even if many choose to walk on the Via Francigena during, for example, weekends or spring “long” weekends. More than the 20% walks more than two weeks, instead.

The half of the pilgrims prefer to sleep in town hostels, whether religious or private. What matters is the sharing and welcoming spirit, starting from a meal at the end of the stage, which becomes an opportunity to exchange experiences. People who walk for a long period on the Via Francigena definitely prefer these buildings, more similar to the true aspect of the walk. People who travel for a shorter time prefer facilities that offer more services and comforts, such as hotels and/or B&Bs, from which a special consideration is expected towards the category of the excursionist. Surely, the increase of low-cost accommodating facilities, as hostels and hospitals, becomes the most important element for the rise of the pilgrims’ flow.

The walk as a philosophy of life. The analysis confirms a strong trend happening these years, increasing also in Italy. That is to say, the one of the walk intended in all its forms and dimensions, an “art” that since at least a couple of centuries is celebrated by very famous authors (Russeau, Herman Hesse, Thoreau, Leigh Fermor, Ollivier, Muir), but also by less known authors, at least to the Italians. It is actually a beautiful slow revolution, the one that focuses on walking, sensory, spirituality, authenticity connected to the journey. As signalled by one of the greatest expert on walks, the French writer David Le Breton, a strong positive change of the culture of walking is happening and the walker itself is acquiring a social dignity. “The foundation of walking has greatly changed in the last 30 years, relying only on its body and will and this is an anachronism in a era of speed, immediacy, efficiency, production, utilitarianism.”

2017: year of the boom and opportunity for territories. Pilgrims are already walking on the Via Francigena since the beginning of the year. For 2017, a true boom is expected, which is going to be able to increase the knowing of this European route, also thanks to an always greater commitment of institutions, associations and private operators. The lights turn on especially on small Municipalities, which compose the “minor” Europe and which have been celebrated during the recent Forum on the Via Francigena in Monteriggioni, on the last 28th January.

The territories can play a very important role to support the put online of the entrepreneurial and creative humus attracting positive energy and faith. The theme of occupation (not just the young one) is at the centre of European, national and regional politics, now more than ever. The Via Francigena and all the other routes connected to it can become great experimental platforms to create occupational flows around cultural themes, declined in all their multiple forms of sustainability and accessibility.

Luca Bruschi