Questions About Walking the Via Francigena

You’re probably about ‘Via-Francigena’d’ out by this time, however I thought I’d write just one more blog on the subject. A long-time cruising friend along with several other folks who followed us on the Via Francigena have asked some questions about the walk. Rather than trying to answer individually, I thought I’d share the questions and answers in a blog post.

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1. Are you happy with the route you chose?

As far as doing the walk ‘in reverse’ from Rome to Canterbury instead of vice versa, we were very glad we did it this way. We didn’t worry about being in the EU (at least the France and England portion) beyond our 90 days and it was a non-issue at the France/England Customs/Immigration points when we passed through although we’d been in the EU for nearly four months. We met several non-EU pilgrims who really had to hustle to complete the walk in the allotted timeframe, decided to risk being there more than 90 days or decided not to through-walk the path because of visa issues.

Towards the end of our walk, we relied on the app rather than the VF route to save several days and many miles. Our goal was to walk from Rome to Canterbury. We’re glad we did and, yes, we’re happy with the route we chose. We’re pretty sure old Archbishop Sigeric the Serious didn’t opt to take the longest, most arduous or most scenic route. He just wanted to get there and get back.

By the way, because of my medical issues en route, we adopted our Plan B option which was finding a central base camp and leaving our heavy packs at a hotel while we walked legs of the path and then returned via bus or train to the hotel. Though we incurred extra travel expenses, we’d consider doing this again on occasion as a way to ease the journey and lessen our fatigue. There are services that provide luggage/pack movement from one location to the next for a significant fee… much more than the train/bus expenses we incurred.

2. How much of the walk was on pavement vs. non-pavement?

I’d say it was about 40/60. In some areas, there were no alternatives to walking on the roadside (pavement), although other than a few times outside cities, the roads were primarily secondary country roads. Many of the canal paths were paved. Mostly, however, the path took us on footpaths through fields and forests, along logging and farm roads, some of which were paved, but more often were gravel or hard-packed dirt. Between the VF route, the Alison Raju route and the app, we always seem to find the best, shortest and safest route to walk.

3. What kind of elevation gain/loss did you experience?

Closer to Rome, there were several elevation gains and losses as we climbed and then descended from walled cities which were always situated on a hilltop. When we climbed into the Apennines and then into the Alps, the elevation gains were really significant. Climbing over the Passo della Cisa, for instance, was an elevation gain of 2600’ (800m) in one go. Trekking up to Grand San Bernard Pass required an elevation gain of nearly 4,000’ (1200m). The VF official app (free at the Apple app store) provides a leg by leg description of the walk a well as an elevation gain/loss graph.

4. How did that [elevation gain/loss] affect your daily distance planning?

We averaged a little over 15 miles per day walking. The two legs from Aosta to Grand San Bernard were under 10 miles/day and it was tough going even with the reduced mileage. We did find, however, that the longer we were on the trail, the easier it was to climb the hills and make our daily distance goals. The official VF guide, by the way, usually called for shorter distance legs when significant elevation changes were involved.

5. What was your approximate cost for the trek?

We kept a record of daily expenses and spent an average of €118/day for food and lodging. We could have traveled much more inexpensively if we’d opted to stay in hostels, share bathrooms and/or stay in religious facilities. On the other hand, we could have spent a whole lot more if we ate 3-course meals in restaurants everyday and stayed in 5-star hotels.

6. It seems like you didn’t eat a lot on your walk, did you lose much weight?

We definitely ate a lot less than we usually do and seemed to be no worse for the wear because of it. There were times we went to bed a bit hungry due to lack of open restaurants or stores at which to purchase our dinner or supplies. Marcie lost about 13 pounds and David lost about 8 pounds. David would like to gain a bit back; Marcie is working hard to keep the weight off.

7. What gear did you take? Was it the right gear? What would you change?

David has done a review of the specific gear we took and what we used and didn’t use, as well as a couple of things we could have used, but didn’t bring. Each time we trek, we learn a bit more about what to take and what could make our walking lives easier. Check out David’s blog here.

8. How easy was it to follow the Via Francigena path?

Some sections of the VF were easier to follow than others. Italy was especially well marked with VF signs. Switzerland was good also, as was England. France, not so much, but using the VF app kept us on the path. And, remember, we were walking the path in reverse and sometimes the markers were placed in such a way that you missed them because they were facing in the wrong direction. We learned after awhile to keep looking behind us as well as forward so we didn’t miss any markers. We got offtrack a few times, but mostly due to inattention on our part while we were chatting or lost in our own private thoughts

9. How did you prepare for walking the Via Francigena?

There were several aspects of preparation for making this long trek. Other than the travel logistics, there was gear to consider, physical conditioning and even learning some Italian. Check out the section on Planning & Preparation on our newly updated Via Francigena page on the website.

If you have more questions, ask away. We love to share … the good, the bad and the ugly.