San Gimignano & Via Francigena Walks

Beautiful San Gimignano

Beautiful San Gimignano

Moving our base camp to San Gimignano

Hotel Graziano in San Gimignano

Hotel Graziano in San Gimignano

After saying goodbye to our Swedish friends in Siena, we moved our base camp to the Hotel Graziano in San Gimignano about an hour away by bus. The highlights of this comfy hotel were its proximity to the VF and a bus stop, its proximity to Coop (a well-stocked supermercato) and the fact that it had cable TV including CNN in English. Little things mean a lot. The breakfasts weren’t bad either.

San Gimignano (Jim-in-NYAN-o) is a small, walled medieval city which sits high on a hilltop. It was an important stop on the Via Francigena for pilgrims heading to Rome. Many of its buildings are in excellent condition and, in fact, the central historic district is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent only a few hours in the historic center. The tourist crowds were unbelievably thick. You know the drill with thumbnails… just click on them to enlarge them.


Day 15 – Monteriggioni to San Gimignano

Having already walked from Siena to Monteriggioni, we now needed to walk back to Monteriggioni from San Gimignano. We caught an early bus to Val d’Elsa the next morning, then had to transfer to a bus that took us to Monteriggioni.

day15-gravel road.JPG

The path was varied tracks … cart roads, rocky paths, forest walks, highways and secondary roads and lots of extreme ‘ups’ and of course, the requisite downs that always follow. It was a nice day for walking, sunny at first, then overcast and cool.

We saw three deer today… fleetingly. They’re small and fast. This guy was outside a villa fence and couldn’t figure out where to go to continue on his way.

We saw three deer today… fleetingly. They’re small and fast. This guy was outside a villa fence and couldn’t figure out where to go to continue on his way.

There are churches, chapels, grottoes and shrines, big and small, about everywhere you turn. Some are lovely and well-kept, others have been abandoned somewhere along the way and though they still stand, they’re a bit worse for the wear.

Chiesa della Madonna del Carmine could use a little TLC, it seems.

Chiesa della Madonna del Carmine could use a little TLC, it seems.

Castel Pietrato is an old castle that’s been reclaimed into a winery and classy B&B. The owner invited to look around. What a lovely place!

Castel Pietrato is an old castle that’s been reclaimed into a winery and classy B&B. The owner invited to look around. What a lovely place!

We saw 14 pilgrims walking along the route today. Sometimes we stop to chat, but more often than not lately, we just say ‘buongiorno’ and keep to the path. Though we enjoy the walking, it’s always a wonderful feeling to get to where we’re going at the end of the day, have a glass of wine or a cold beer and relax… then plan our next day’s walk.

Day 15 – Monteriggioni to San Gimignano

16.68 miles walked/ 38, 797 steps

Leg distance: 16.5 miles / 1073 miles to Canterbury


Day 16 – Castelfiorentino to San Gimignano

The logistics for Plan B are getting a bit more complicated. This morning we caught a bus to Poggibonsi and then a train to get to Castelfiorentino, met up with the VF path, then walked back to San Gimignano. Some of the route was through the countryside, with vineyards spreading in all directions as far as the eye could see. Other times, we trudged along a path beside the highway. Paths along side the highway, still trump walking on the road.

Info kiosks with info in Italian as well as English, dotted the path and pilgrim rest stops were always welcome. Sometimes just a quick sit-down and a slug of water were all we needed to refresh and head back on the path. Of course, stopping at a ‘bar’ for a mid-day cappuccino helped, too.

Benches, picnic tables, water fills and info kiosks are always welcome sights.

Benches, picnic tables, water fills and info kiosks are always welcome sights.

We passed by Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta a Chianni church in Gambassi Terme. It is mentioned in Archbishop Sigeric’s chronicle as a place he stopped on his return from Rome ( c 990-994).

We passed by Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta a Chianni church in Gambassi Terme. It is mentioned in Archbishop Sigeric’s chronicle as a place he stopped on his return from Rome ( c 990-994).

We’d seen small signs along the path for miles inviting us to stop at Bar Centrale in Gambassi Terme for a coffee and a snack. Not sure what we were expecting, but there really wasn’t much on offer at Bar Centrale. Perhaps the wrong time of day? Still, we enjoyed sipping a coffee in the sun outside the bar.

Welcome to Bar Centrale in Gambassi Terme which did provide a ‘timbro’ for our pilgrim passports.

Welcome to Bar Centrale in Gambassi Terme which did provide a ‘timbro’ for our pilgrim passports.

It’s not OZ, it’s San Gimignano.

It’s not OZ, it’s San Gimignano.

Finally, beautiful San Gimignano was in view… on a hilltop, of course. With a cold beer at the end of the walk as our incentive, we ambled along, lingering in the old city to take in the ambiance of the place. Great day!

Day 16 – Castelfiorentino to San Gimignano

15.04 miles walked / 35,010 steps

Leg distance: 13.5 miles/ 1059 miles to Canterbury


Day 17 – Castelfiorentino to Ponte a Elsa

A butterfly fluttered by and brightened up the day.

A butterfly fluttered by and brightened up the day.

Cool and cloudy to start had us in our rain gear when we left. Periods of warm sun and we were shedding layers, only to have showers and wind pipe up which requires us to don the rain gear again. It was a complicated travel day. A bus ride to Poggibonsi, then a train ride to Castelfiorentino where we walked a mile or so to join the path. When we finished up our day, we boarded a train from Ponte a Elsa back to Poggibonsi, then took a bus back to the hotel. The extra travel certainly adds cost, lots of extra steps, additional planning and extra time to our days, but at least we’re making progress.

There were lots of hills today. Steep, steep, stop-to-catch-your-breath, muscle-burning, leg-tiring, up-up-up hills.This doesn’t look all that steep, but believe me, it was!

There were lots of hills today. Steep, steep, stop-to-catch-your-breath, muscle-burning, leg-tiring, up-up-up hills.This doesn’t look all that steep, but believe me, it was!

We’re still considering a donkey!

We’re still considering a donkey!

Sometimes, we followed a beautiful track through fertile, rich farmlands on old cart roads. Other times, we trudged along thick forest paths on muddy tracks. At one stop in the middle of nowhere, there was a VF book to sign, which we did. Nearby, we discovered a medical kit for injured travelers.

A Via Francigena book for pilgrims who pass by to sign.

A Via Francigena book for pilgrims who pass by to sign.

Ponte a Elsa is not a particularly pretty town. It seemed tired and overworked. Most of the bars and shops were closed for riposo when we arrived and we had to hunt for a place that was open so we could have our end-of-trail cold beer and a snack. The train station was pretty depressing… old and unattended. No ticket machines or agents available. Luckily, we had the TrenItalia app on our phone and bought our return tickets on-line.

Ponte a Elsa ‘stazione’ was pretty much deserted.

Ponte a Elsa ‘stazione’ was pretty much deserted.

A train ride, a bus ride, a walk and we were back at the hotel, packing our bags and getting ready to move to a new base camp tomorrow.

Day 17 – Castelfiorentino to Ponte a Elsa

14.81 miles walked / 34,438 steps

Leg distance: 13.5 miles / 1045 miles to Canterbury