Fed up with the same old holidays? Keen on trying new experiences, connecting with nature and yourself while discovering some hidden gems of the Bel Paese? Then, let’s hike on the Via Francigena. This is an ancient route that crosses Europe from Canterbury to Rome, and it will surely offer you breath-taking landscapes and unforgettable memories, in particular in the regions of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio.
You don’t have to be an expert hiker in order to undertake this pilgrimage, since most of the trail is rather easy to walk on, wide and shadowy. Check out the official Via Francigena Itinerary website (www.viefrancigene.org) for all the information that you might need about the walking path and accommodation. You can design your own path, but if you’re looking for a hike surrounded by stunning sunflower fields and gazing at the crystal clear waters of the Bolsena Lake, then we shall start from Orvieto.
Orvieto is a charming city in the region of Umbria, famous for its astonishing cathedral. The Duomo is a masterpiece of the Tuscan gothic architecture, started in 1290 and then shaped and sculpted by the talented hands of brilliant Italian artists such as Lorenzo Maitani, Ippolito Scalza and Gentile da Fabriano. The gothic majesty of the cathedral is counterbalanced by the delicacy of its details and the harmony of its flying buttresses proudly rising towards the sky.
Walking through the picturesque streets of Orvieto, you’ll find the perfect place for you: whether you want to pop into one of the most sophisticated leather bags boutiques or you just want to go for a drink at the fancy Antica Bottega al Duomo. The flags of the districts and the typically medieval look of the city will make you live an authentic Renaissance adventure.
San Lorenzo Nuovo and Bolsena
From Orvieto, the easiest way to set off for the Via Francigena is to take a bus to the village of San Lorenzo Nuovo (https://www.busweb.it/autobus_Orvieto-Fs_San-Lorenzo-Nuovo.html), where you can start walking towards your second stop: Bolsena, about 11 km walk away.
You’ll be amazed by the beauty of the surrounding fields and woods, and the sight of the angelic Bolsena Lake will most surely charm you.
If you are passionate about the Middle Ages, then you’ll love Bolsena. Located on the eastern shore of its namesake lake, this little medieval town will steal your heart as you’ll peek at the spectacular landscapes through the cobbled streets.
Finally, if you want to enjoy a delicious and fresh ice cream, head over to Lolla Gelateria, on Corso della Repubblica 59. This ice cream shop has been awarded as one of the 100th best ice cream shops in Italy. There are many flavours to choose from, even the potato ice cream! No jokes, give it a go!
You should be aware that, at this point, the trail could get slightly harder as you’ll have to walk uphill and downhill. Try to keep your backpack as light as possible, in order not to have a heavy burden on your shoulders and back. Just pack the bare necessities, try to wash your clothes and bring the lightest sleeping bag you’ll find.
Another useful tip is not to bring professional hiking boots. A pair of good quality trainers will do it. Just make sure they properly and comfortably fit you. They shouldn’t be too loose but not even too tight, otherwise, they’ll hurt you walking downhill. If you can, try and go walking for a few hours a week before leaving, so that you’ll get used to your shoes and get ready for the pilgrimage.
You might get tired at this point, but don’t give up yet! Every path has its ups and downs, and if you’re planning on walking for a week it would be better not to stop. Just keep on walking, otherwise it will be harder to get back on track. It might be very helpful to do some stretching before going to bed; this way you’ll make sure to have a nice sleep, wherever you are staying. Try to get up as early as possible in the morning, so that you’ll get to walk when it’s still nice and cool outside. Avoid walking between 12 and 3 pm under the burning sun! But, most importantly, always stay hydrated.
Now, let’s get back on the trail, off to our third stop: Montefiascone. You’ll still have to walk up and downhill, but you’ll have the chance to rest along the way and recharge from the drinking fountains. After a few miles, you’ll find the Poggio Frusta church, where the 100km stone is. Here you’ll be at exactly 100 km from Rome.
If you keep on walking for about 18 km, you’ll reach Montefiascone. You’ll still have to walk uphill for a few last miles, but if you walk with some friends you won’t feel as tired and you’ll have someone to share your experience with.
The best time to visit Montefiascone is in August, in particular, on August 9th, when everyone celebrates the Wine Day. You’ll have the time of your life drinking good wine, dancing to the beat of traditional and pop music and meeting people from all over Italy and the world.
The legend of Montefiascone
If you’ll look closely at the wine shops in the town centre, you’ll notice the phrase: “EST! EST!! EST!!!”, which in Latin means: “here it is”. The story behind this goes back to 1111 when the German bishop John Defuk stopped at Montefiascone on his way to Rome. Being a great wine lover, Defuk asked his servant to find the best wine in town. The servant found an excellent wine and he wrote the phrase “EST! EST!! EST!!!” outside the tavern. According to the legend, Defuk saw the phrase and drank himself to death and was then buried in San Flaviano’s church in Montefiascone.
Via Appia Antica
At this point, it’s up to you to decide whether you are an expert hiker and want to keep on walking until Rome on the Via Francigena. Otherwise, if you feel like these past 50 km have been quite a challenge for you, we would advise taking a bus to the entrance of the Via Appia Antica. This ancient Roman route will allow you to reach the capital within about 15 km. Check out the rometoolkit website to find out the easiest way to reach the Eternal City (https://www.rometoolkit.com/whattodo/appian_way_transport.html).
This trail is nice and flat, so it will definitely be easier for those of you who don’t like walking up and downhill. Just be mindful of the sun: there are very few trees and you might get sunburnt. Never forget to wear a hat, put your sunscreen on and stay hydrated.
If you are a history buff, you’ll love walking down this route: it will be like reliving the past 2300 years of our history throughout the ruins that surround the path. If you look right and left, you’ll be able to admire what still stands of Ancient Rome’s glorious days. Walking down history, you’ll reach the Appia Antica National Park, where you’ll have the chance to visit San Callisto’s Catacombs.
Finally, after all this walking, sweating, sightseeing, laughing and possibly crying, you’ll have made it to the capital of the Roman Empire. And it will be a priceless achievement.