The Best Pilgrimage Walks: Via Francigena vs the Camino

Pilgrims making their way towards Rome on the Via Francigena | S-Cape
Pilgrims making their way towards Rome on the Via Francigena | S-Cape
Walking the Via Francigena with UTracksWalking the Via Francigena with UTracks After having completed a self guided walk in Spain on the Camino - Sarria to Santiago last year, Kerren from our New Zealand office was very keen to do part of the Via Francigena walk so that she could compare the two famous and very different European pilgrimage walks. And so she set off to discover that walking in Italy is beautiful! It was great for her to do this on a pilgrimage trail. As well as the beautiful towns and scenery, this pilgrimage walk in Italy comes with great food and friendly locals. Below, Kerren made a quick comparison of the two walking holidays to help anyone considering these two walks to choose the right one for them.

The Trail

This is perhaps one of the best pilgrimage walks and it is beautiful: going through medieval towns with narrow cobblestone streets and you get to walk past olive groves, vineyards and hazelnut farms. We even sleep at an agriturismo on the Francigena Way: Orvieto to Rome trip! The Italian towns are very beautiful with old medieval walled centres on hill tops. There are also quite a few things to see in them as well. Kerren says “The towns are a real highlight of the trip and quite different to some of the towns I visited on the Sarria to Santiago walk which were just small local towns.” one of UTracks' best pilgrimage walks - UTracksOne of UTracks' best pilgrimage walks starts at the border between Switzerland & Italy

A Quiet Walk

While she knew that the Via Francigena was not as developed as the Camino de Santiago she didn’t expect to come across so few people along the track. “Some days we didn’t see another trekker at all so this really is a quiet walk.” The Via Francigena shows hikers a very authentic part of Italy, away from the known tourist spots, and the majority of the other walkers are Italian.

Setting

The Spanish Camino has quite an industry around it – with restaurants offering pilgrim meal deals, small cafes next to the path and lots of shops selling Camino memorabilia. The Via Francigena pilgrimage walk is far less commercialised. Especially the first couple of days on the trip are quiet, which means it is wise to stock up on food & drinks in the morning or evening before the next day’s walk. There is a mix of farms and forests, so it is a varied walking holiday. With interesting local history, great towns and pretty farmland along with wonderful Italian food it is a great walk to do! best pilgrimage walks in Europe with UTracks travelThe views on one of Europe's best Pilgrimage walks Walking the Via Francigena with UTracks travelWalking towards Lucca on the Via Francigena

Signage

The way markings on this walk are irregular, especially when compared to the Spanish Camino. On the first segments of the walk it is important to pay close attention to your maps & route notes, or ask the friendly locals for directions. Getting lost for at least once seems to be all a part of the fun that is walking in Italy and you will probably meet other walkers who’ve also got lost! “Montefiascone marks 100km until Rome and from there signage became increasingly more” recalls Kerren. Way markings vary from a red & white mark on a tree, to a pilgrim symbol, to a special Via Francigena signboard.

What to Bring Each Day

Compared to the Camino de Santiago, there are limited places to stop and fill your water bottles along this pilgrimage walk. So, as the saying goes, to be prepared is half the victory and our advice is to bring plenty of drinking water (2L minimum per day), food & snacks.   So which is the best pilgrimage walk?
“To conclude, I can say that the Via Francigena is a very different walk from the Camino de Santiago. Both are hugely enjoyable, I would recommend you try them both.”
The Via Francigena trip to Rome is great to extend with some extra days in the Italian capital, which is an amazing city that everyone needs to see in their lifetime. If you are generally interested in the quieter walks, we advise to do the Via Francigena walk sooner rather than later as it has potential to become really popular.  

Getting the Testimonium of Travel

The Testimonium is only given to pilgrims who present a credential (credenza) showing stamps for at least the last 100 km for walkers (from Montefiascone) or the last 200 km for cyclists. On all of the UTracks trips that follow the Via Francigena you will automatically receive the pilgrim's passport. You can ask the hotels to stamp your credenza, but you can also get stamps at the local tourist offices and in churches. The Testimonium is available in Rome from:
  1. Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi just outside St Peter's Square at Piazza Papa Pio XII 9.
  2. Basilica di San Giovanni dei Fiorentini at Piazza dell'Oro 1.
  3. Palazzo della Canonica in Vatican City. Enter via the Petriano Gate (Ingresso del Petriano) from Piazza del Sant’Uffizio.
  4. Centro San Lorenzo (ask for the Pilgrims' reception Ad Limina Petri) at Via Padre Pfeiffer Pancrazio 24.
  :: See an overview of all Via Francigena walking & cycling holidays with UTracks  
Camino, Italy, Spain, Via Francigena, walking holidays

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