Best of the Via Francigena

enquire now 13 Days From NZD $6,190 pp twinshare
Small group
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Following the ancient pilgrimage route between Canterbury and Rome encapsulates so many aspects of Italian history, culture and landscapes. From the Swiss border high up in the Alps, we trace the very best sections of the Via Francigena to understand the diversity and contrasts of Italy on a trail heading south, all the way to Rome and the St Peters Basilica. In between we discover classic Tuscan landscapes of rolling hills and medieval towns, whilst also experiencing the lunar landscape of the Crete Senesi near Buonconvento, the alpine views of the Aosta valley, the volcanic tufa rock countryside around Sutri and the plains of the Emilia Romagna. There will be ample time to soak up the surprising amount of historical intrigue. The little known Etruscans feature in southern Tuscany and Lazio where we walk through the Strada del Signorino, a road cut like a canyon between vertical stone walls. At night stay in a range of handpicked accommodation from agriturismi set in classic rural surrounds to an atmospheric monastery and hotels nestled into the historic centres of charming hilltop towns.

Trip highlights

  • Tracing the history of the Via Francigena from the St Bernard Pass to Rome
  • Walking some of the most picturesque sections of the pilgrim route through superb scenery
  • Tasting the local produce including organic cheese, olive oil and the famous Brunello wines
  • Exploring the fascinating towns of Montalcino, Siena, Lucca and San Gimignano
  • Arriving at St Peters Square in Rome on foot


Day 1 Arrive Aosta, welcome meeting and walking tour of town

On arrival in Aosta make your way to the hotel. In the afternoon there will be a briefing with the guide before we head out on a walking tour through this alpine town with its traces of Roman civilisation including the Augustan Arch, the Cryptoporch under the cathedral and Sant’Orso medieval cloister.

Day 2 Transfer to Bourg St Pierre (Switzerland) and walk to the Great Saint Bernard Pass (5hrs)

This morning we transfer to Bourg St Pierre (55km) through the St Bernard tunnel, before walking along a route which has been in constant use for over 2000 years, the Saint Bernard Pass. The pass is famous for its hospice and St Bernard dogs that were used to rescue weary pilgrims. Overnight at the Saint Bernard Pass. Walk distance: 11.5km/6.8mi, Ascent 1137m/3730ft, descent 2096m/6876ft

Day 3 Descend Aosta valley and transfer to Piedmont (5hrs)

From the heights of the border pass, the first part of the walk is an opportunity to take in the wonderful alpine scenery. Following our short walk we transfer by vehicle to Pont St Martin (80km) and walk through vineyards decorated by stone columns and past villages to Borgofranco d’Ivrea. Here we visit a typical Balmetto, a natural cellar used to conserve wines and local cheese. Later we transfer to the Fort of Bard (18km), a perfectly conserved military stronghold from early 1800, often with art exhibits. We overnight in a hotel inside the fortress. Walk distance: 2.5+14km/1.5+8.6mi, Ascent 75+315m/246+1033ft, descent 262+401m/860+1315ft

Day 4 Follow the Ticino River to Pavia, transfer to Parma (4hrs)

This morning we transfer to Villanova d’Ardenghi (180km) in Lombardy. Today’s walk is a particularly scenic one, through countryside scattered with woods and farmhouses en route to the Ticino Valley Natural Park. There will be ample opportunity to stop for a rest in the shade of the thick woods and on the river bank. The trail leads us to a jewel of the Via Francigena, Pavia, with its splendid old town centre full of artistic treasures that are just waiting to be discovered. We’ll take a walking tour of the town including the covered Bridge, the Visconti Castle and St Peter Basilica and perhaps have a slice of the local Torta Paradiso cake or an aperitivo at Piazza Vittoria. Later we transfer to Parma (125km) in Emilia Romagna where we spend the night. Walk distance: 12km/7.5mi, Ascent 102m/334ft, descent 107m/350ft

Day 5 Walk from Previdè to Arzengio, Olive Oil tasting and on to Lucca (3hrs)

This morning we transfer to Previdè (90 km) past the Cisa Pass, gateway to the Tuscan Via Francigena. This stage is considered among the most beautiful of the entire pilgrimage route and traverses the Lunigiana, a border area with a tumultuous history. The trail takes us through chestnut and beech woods which shelter wolf and deer, through a valley dotted with fortified towns, castles, and fortresses testament to the part this area played in military history. En route we’ll have a olive oil tasting before transferring to Pontremoli. Here we can visit the Statue Stele Museum which is housed in the Piagnaro Castle. The Stele (standing stones or menhirs) date from the 6th Century BC and continue to mystify historians. A transfer takes us to the walled town of Lucca (95km), considered one of the pearls of Italian architecture. The perfectly conserved medieval walls, the bridges over the Serchio river, the towers, stunning gardens and the tiny squares, provide a good sense of medieval and Renaissance art. Birthplace of the composer Puccini, Lucca is a cultural centre hosting many festivals attracting international artists. Walk distance: 10km/6.2mi, Ascent 512m/1680ft, descent 706m/2316ft

Day 6 In Lucca, cheese tasting, walk to Gambassi Terme, transfer to San Gimignano (3hrs)

We spend the morning exploring Lucca on foot, including the Cathedral with the Via Francigena Maze bas relief. A transfer (60km) takes us to an organic cheese maker where we can learn about their production methods and enjoy lunch. We continue on foot to Gambassi Terme, a resting stop on the Via Francigena. Here we visit the Romanic Pieve di Chianni, where Sigeric slept during his trip back to Canterbury, now a pilgrim hostel. Later we transfer to the hilltop town of San Gimignano with its impressive towers. We have a walking tour of the city including a visit to Torre Grossa, the tallest of the towers. A gelato ends our walking tour, with the remainder of the afternoon and evening free to explore from our hotel in the heart of the old town. Walk distance: 9.5km/5.9mi, Ascent 422m/1384ft, descent 391m/1282ft

Day 7 Walk via Monteriggioni towards Siena (4 hrs)

Another great day on the Via Francigena. After transferring to Strove (25 km) we walk through woods of oak and past fields of wheat and olive groves to Abbadia a Isola, a Romanesque abbey now converted into a pilgrim hostel. After a break to view the abbey we continue along the trail and ascend to the walled town of Monteriggioni. Here we can take in the surrounding countryside from the ramparts before continuing towards Siena. The trail takes us to a pilgrim rest area near Castello della Villa where we have a pilgrim lunch. The rest stop is passionately and voluntarily run by Massimo. Following lunch we transfer to Siena and have a walking tour of the city. Overnight in Siena. Walk distance: 13km/8mi, Ascent 336m/1102ft, descent 284m/932ft

Day 8 Walk to Buonconvento, transfer to Montalcino for wine tasting (5hrs)

The focus of today’s walk is through the wonderful Val d’Orcia. The day begins with a transfer to the fortified hamlet of Grancia di Cuna (15km) after which we walk through the lunar landscape of Crete Senesi to Buonconvento. The walled town of Buonconvento is considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. There is time to enjoy lunch and explore the town before we transfer to Sant’Antimo (25km) to listen to the Gregorian Chants practiced by the local Monks. Now inhabited by French Gregorian friars, their prayers and songs create a special mystical ambience. Later we transfer to Montalcino (10km) where we can taste the delicious Brunello wines for which the region is famous. The Brunello di Montalcino, made with 100% Sangiovese grapes, has Italy’s highest ‘DOCG’ classification. Montalcino is a pleasure to explore with its fortress castle dotted with towers, an impressive entrance gate and narrow winding streets laced with wine shops, restaurants and boutiques. It commands a special position above the surrounding countryside blanketed in grapevines, with breathtaking views from points throughout the town. Walk distance: 16.5km/10.2mi, Ascent 269m/882ft, descent 290m/951ft

Day 9 Walk to Bolsena (6hrs)

This morning we transfer to Acquapendente (60km) which marks our entrance into Lazio, where there is evidence of its Etruscan heritage. The walk takes us through Tuscia with impressive views of the Monti Volsini slopes as we make our way to the crater’s edge. From here we walk down to the lake and Bolsena, a charming old town on the banks of the beautiful lake of volcanic origin and is known for the miracle of Corpus Domini. Tonight we stay in an agriturismo which produces its own olive oil, wine and legumes. Walk distance: 23km/14.2mi, Ascent 424m/1391ft, descent 454m/1489ft

Day 10 Transfer to Montefiascone and walk to Viterbo (5hrs)

A transfer this morning takes us to the town of Montefiascone (15km), which has views of Lake Bolsena and on a good day you can see all the way to the coast. We head off along the Via Francigena through a section of perfectly preserved Roman paved road. En route, we may stop at the natural hot water pools of Bagnaccio, just on the outskirts of Viterbo. The town of Viterbo was originally founded by the Etruscans then conquered by the Romans and was for a time a papal residence. Today the legacy of its rich past is evidenced in the impressive buildings such as the Palazzo Dei Papi (Papal Palace), the Renaissance styled Cathedral of San Lorenzo and the medieval quarter with its alleys, towers and palaces. We explore the medieval pilgrim district on a walking tour. Overnight in Viterbo. Walk distance: 18km/11.2mi, Ascent 607m/1991ft, descent 374m/1227ft

Day 11 Continue pilgrimage to Sutri (4hrs)

We have two sections of the trail to walk today. This morning we walk out of Viterbo through Strada del Signorino, an ancient Etruscan “tagliata” – a road cut like a canyon between high vertical stone walls. After about 5km we are picked up and transferred to Capranica (25km) and continue walking past houses made of tufa and crossing sections of the Etruscan Via Cava. There are stretches through fairytale-like forests as we continue our pilgrimage into Sutri. In Sutri we visit the Roman amphitheater and little church known as “Mitreo”, both completely carved in tufa rock. Transfer to our accommodation just outside Sutri. Walk distance: 5+7.5km/3+4.6mi, Ascent 58+205m/190+672ft, descent 131+321m/430+1053ft

Day 12 Final stage into Rome (4 hrs)

Our final day of walking begins with a transfer to Insugherata Natural Reserve (24km) to walk the final section of the trail into Rome. The route takes us through a lush Natural Reserve just out of the city. We see the dome of St Peter’s Basilica for the first time from Monte Mario Park and walk to the basilica through the Vatican city. This evening we are accommodated in an ancient monastery attached to the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. The rest of the day is free to explore the Eternal City. Walk distance: 14.5km/9mi, Ascent 287m/941ft, descent 397m/1302ft

Day 13 Trip concludes

Arrangements conclude after breakfast.


What’s included

  • 12 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 3 dinners – breakfasts will range from relatively simple (pastry, juice and coffee) to more substantial (breakfast buffet with breads, fruit, meats, cheeses, cereals, juice, yoghurt, tea and coffee) depending on the hotel. Lunches will be a combination of picnic, tastings using quality local produce or local restaurants. Dinners will usually be at least 3 courses (often more) in handpicked restaurants.
  • 11 nights in 3 star hotels and B&Bs, 1 night 2 star hotel, all on a twin share basis with ensuite facilities (hotel taxes included)
  • Private vehicle throughout
  • Luggage transfer (1 piece per person, max. 15kg)
  • Olive oil tasting in Pontremoli
  • Walking tour of Lucca with Local Guide including entrance to Cathedral
  • Entrance fee to the Torre Grossa in San Gimignano plus gelato
  • Visit to the Mitrei and Tufo Amphitheatre in Sutri
  • English speaking hiking guide
  • Via Francigena credenziale
  • Emergency hotline



Images courtesy of UTracks