Hiking the Via Francigena | Allie Peden
In May 2019, Allie from our Sydney office completed our Francigena Way: Lucca to Siena trip with some girlfriends. She put together this helpful blog post full of tips for active travellers who are planning on walking this photogenic section of the Via Francigena.
Lucca and Siena are two cities that you have probably heard about or even dreamt of visiting, with good reason. On Day 1 of the UTracks walk I recommend getting to Lucca early so you have plenty of time to explore its lovely old town, which is surrounded by walled gardens, and some of its churches (there are close to 100). Lucca is best explored by bike, and there are many rental companies in the town for active travellers to choose from.
Lucca really does have something for everyone. It's great for shoppers, with lots of renowned leather stores, truffle boutiques, vintage and high-end fashion. If you’re in Lucca on a Wednesday or Saturday the market at Via dei Bacchettoni in the main square is a great place to shop for souvenirs and fresh produce for upcoming lunches on your walk.
Local produce in Tuscany is always fresh and delicious and includes grapes, apricots, pears, truffle, olive oil, breads, Pecorino cheese, dried Salami, Prosciutto and Mortadella – a picnicker's dream! Tip: bring a beach sarong to use as a picnic blanket on your walk and a lunch box to stop your food from spoiling. It’s not hard to find a scenic field to stop in for lunch breaks, especially in spring and summer when wildflowers are in bloom. The abundance of red poppies in Italy makes you feel as if you’re in a Van Gogh painting.
Each day on this section of the Via Francigena between Lucca and Siena we walked through picturesque countryside with olive groves, medieval towns and rolling vineyards. When you pass through the Chianti fields, a stop at a local vineyard for wine tasting is an absolute must. A couple of kilometres from San Giovanni, the Podere La Marronaia winery is a great option. We chose an option that allowed us to try four wines, some olive oil and a unique biscotti infused with Chianti wine. This was the perfect way to finish up that day's walk!
The town that most surprised me on this section of the Via Francigena was San Gimignano, which is surrounded by 13th-century walls. I loved exploring its cobbled alleys, medieval towers and the 12th-century Duomo di San Gimignano. There are two places during the walk that I would recommend more time if a rest day was wanted – one is San Gimignano because of its atmosphere, shops, bars and excellent range of restaurants, from Michelen-star to family-friendly restaurants.
The second place I would recommend another day at is at an agriturismo in the countryside near Gambassi Terme, on day 3. Agriturismos are farm house resorts that are often in picturesque locations. This one was surprisingly luxurious, boasting outstanding restaurants and facilities. For meit ticked all the right boxes, from the old stone building itself, the pretty canopy-covered bed, its pool amongst the vines and lovely restaurant overlooking northern Tuscany’s rolling hills. For those who want their rest day to provide relaxation this is the perfect place to stop. The restaurant provided the best dinner of the walk - I still dream about my meal of steak tartare, truffle tortellini pasta and the outstanding wine.
As far as ending points for walks go, Siena is pretty special. It's a vibrant medieval city jam-packed with history. Its heart is its central plaza, called Il Campo, which is where the famous Palio horse race takes place twice a year on 2 July and 16 August. If you want to coincide the end of your walking trip with one of these dates, you should book your trip well in advance.
I would recommend this section of the Via Francigena to wine lovers and history buffs. It is such a scenic section, with delicious meals available at the end of each day’s walk. The handpicked accommodations were also exceptional, from historic 14th-century hotels to agriturismos with pools you can recharge your batteries in after a long day of walking or cycling.
>> Find out more about the different sections of this historic pilgrim route in our Quick Guide to the Via Francigena
>> Learn more about the cycling or walking the Via Francigena