Francigena Route in Tuscany: alternative travel experience

The “Via Francigena” is one of the most ancient roads of Europe connecting it northern continent to Rome. In the Middle Ages it was crossed by hundreds of pilgrims to reach "the Holy City", where the apostle Peter was buried. It wasn't then and it isn't now a single road. It is an itinerary made up of many paths and alternative routes, which the pilgrim can take depending on his own spiritual path and the moment of the year.
Together with the “Camino de Santiago” it is in fact among the most considered routes for the European pilgrimage. The Via Alta is the itinerary that connects the two paths, facilitating the passage of pilgrims between one spiritual path and the other one.
Just like in ancient times the Via Fracigena is not just a way for pilgrims. Nowadays anyway, more and more people (regardless of their religious belief) venture this new kind of vacation.
A strong feeling of peace is what a lot of people reports to have felt during this kind of holiday in Tuscany. Immersed in beautiful and evocative landscapes, often undertaken in solitude walking on the Tuscan part of the Via Fracigena is an unusual way of spending some time off and reconnect to oneself while visiting on of the most beautiful region of Italy.
Those who travel with friends strengthen the relationship with their traveling companions and discover a feeling of harmony they had never experienced before. It is also a good opportunity to meet many new people: there are many that people decide to walk on the Via Francigena to re-find themselves and a approach new people from all over the world.
In few words, walking the “Via Francigena” is a unique experience, good for heart and soul.
The route of Francigena that crosses Tuscany is the most beautiful in Italy thanks to the variety of its landscapes. Particularly valued is the stretch of road that goes through the “Val d'Orcia”, that has been declared a “World Heritage Site”.

History and curiosity of the Via Francigena

At the time of the conflict with the Byzantines, the Lombards needed to secure the Kingdom of Pavia to the southern Ducats through a widely known path. They found old Roman cobblestones that allowed them to pass unnoticed. This route starts from the Apennines until you get to Lucca, then keeps on along the Elsa (Valdelsa) and Orcia Valley (Valdorcia) until you reach Latium and Rome.
After the fall of the Lombards, these stretches of cobblestones were used by travelers and merchants who moved between north and south of the Peninsula.
When the Franks settled in Italy, it became the main link with northern Europe and took the definitive name of "Via Francigena" (the root of the name is related to name of France). Later it became the main route for pilgrims from northern Europe to reach Rome, and conversely for Italian pilgrims to reach the Camino de Santiago.
In ancient literature the name “Via Francigena” is found in the diary of the Bishop Sigeric, who at the request of Pope John XV, noted the stages of his journey from Rome to Canterbury in 990. That’s why, the Via Francigena is also known as the “Sigeric Itinerary”.
In modern literature we talk about “Via Francigena” especially in travel stories, but also in novels set in different periods.
The current route of the Via Francigena is about 1800 km and it is made up of 80 stages, that one can travel on foot, by bike or even on horseback.

“Via Francigena” - slow holidays in Tuscany: the pleasure of slow travel

As we say, "Slow and steady wins the race" and this is perfectly suited for those who decide to take the Via Francigena.
A philosophy, we can say, that promotes a slow and sustainable tourism, which has nothing in common with “touch and go” tourism typical of our “live fast” society.
In the last few years the Tuscany Region strongly supported eco-friendly holidays, characterized by environmental protection, quality of life and rediscovering small villages rather than big cities.
The Slow Travel Fest, a slow travel festival, which takes place in Monteriggioni in September, was dedicated to this subject. The perspective of this initiative is to create a meeting point made of music, art and especially excursions along the Via Francigena.

Going along the Via Francigena in Tuscany means take a break from your life

Walking on the Via Francigena is an opportunity to switch off from the frenzy of daily life. Many people travel to Tuscany for their holidays and on the Via Francigena just to "slow down the times", enjoy life, discover unknown places and make new acquaintances.

You can take advantage of this experience to detoxify yourself from modern technology. You do not need smartphones and tablets, the way is indicated by road signs and, in just case, you can always ask for directions and maybe make friends.

“Via Francigena” - active holidays in Tuscany for the whole family

Tuscany is a great destination for active holidays: if you want to be on the move with your family, here you can hike on mountains, rent a kayak or a bike or go horse riding. As we say, "In Tuscany there’s everything: sea, mountains and hills", so you actually have the chance to do anything you prefer.
The “Via Francigena” is a suitable holiday destionation also for those travelling with children, as there are many easily passable paths, where children will breathe fresh air and even meet some wild animals such as fawns or hedgehogs.

The steps of the Via Francigena in Tuscany - things not to be missed

The Via Francigena in Tuscany has fifteen stages.
Not all of them take days to be finished, so no matter how much time you’ll spend staying in Tuscany, there’s probably one right for you.

1° leg: Passo della Cisa – Pontremoli

Km: 19,3
Duration: 5 h
The Passo della Cisa is a pass of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines, 1.041 meters high above sea level. The path is therefore a typical mountain one, made of steep ups and downs, which lead up to the Valle del Magra (Del Magra Valley).

Main things to see:

  • Chiesa di Nostra Signora della Guardia at the Passo della Cisa (photo)
  • Xenodochio di San Benedetto di Montelungo
  • Castello del Piagnaro a Pontremoli (photo)

2° leg: Pontremoli – Aulla

Km: 32,9
Duration: 7 h

The path that goes from Pontremoli to Aulla passes through picturesque woods and narrow streets, which run along the small villages of Lunigiana.

Main things to see:

  • Filattiera and Pieve di Santo Stefano a Sorano (photo)
  • Villafranca in Lunigiana
  • Castello Malaspina at Fodisnovo (photo)
  • San Caprasio Abbey in Aulla (photo)

3° leg: Aulla – Avenza

Km: 32,4
Duration: 8 h
In this path you can see the ashes of castles and forts of the Lunigiana hills, from where you can glimpse the scenery of the Ligurian Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Main things to see:

  • Brunella Fortesse at Aulla (photo)
  • Brina Castle at Sarzana
  • Madonna Della Neve Sanctuary at Podenzana (photo)

4° leg: Avenza – Pietrasanta

Km: 27,7
Duration: 6.15 h
The road that leads from Avenza to Pietrasanta extends along the vineyards of the Apuan hills and the hills of Lucca, where the view of the Tyrrhenian Sea is increasingly prevailing.
More about Tuscan wine

Main things to see:

  • Church of San Pietro in Avenza
  • Cathedral of Massa
  • Castle of Aghinolfi of Montignoso

5° leg: Pietrasanta – Lucca

Km: 31,9
Duration: 7.15 h
The landscape is varied: from the sea view of the hills, to the valleys and woods.

Main things to see:

- Cathedral and Church of “Sant'Agostino di Pietrasanta” (photo)
- Abbey of San Piero di Camaiore (photo)
- Ashes of an ancient castle near Montemagno

6° leg: Lucca – Altopascio

Km: 18
Duration: 4 h
The route is flat and allows you to easily see many historical and religious buildings.

Main things to see:

  • Cathedral of San Martino at Lucca (photo)
  • “Pieve” of San Quirico at Capannori (photo)
  • Castle of Cerruglio and “Pieve” of San Piero in Campo at Montecarlo (photo)

7° leg: Altopascio – San Miniato

Km: 25,3
Duration: 5.40 h
On this stretch of road you walk partly on the ashes of an ancient medieval path and partly among the beautiful Cerbaie Forests.

Main things to see:

  • Complex of Ospitalieri (photo)
  • Cappiano Bridge (photo)
  • Galleno Castle

8° leg: San Miniato – Gambassi Terme

Km: 23,7
Duration: 6 h
Here the path leads to the Valdelsa, perhaps the most beautiful part of the Tuscan Francigena, surrounded by endless rows of vineyards and olive groves.

Main things to see:

  • Fortress of Federico II at San Miniato (photo)
  • BeGo Museum at Castelfiorentino (photo)

More about museum in Tuscany

  • Montanaione Convent (photo)

9° leg: Gambassi Terme – San Gimignano

Km: 13,3
Duration: 3h
The path here meets the warmth of the thermal waters. Gambassi is the first Tuscan thermal village crossed by the Via Francigena. It ends at San Gimignano, the city of the towers and of Vernaccia wine.
More about spa in Tuscany

Main things to see:

  • Permanent exhibition of the glass activity of Gambassi
  • Sanctuary of Pancole close by San Gimignano

10° leg: San Gimignano – Monteriggioni

Km: 30
Duration: 7.30 h
This stop is one of the most touristic, since it connects the two most famous medieval villages of Tuscany.

Main things to see:

  • San Gimignano (photo)
  • Archaeological park of Dometaia, close by Colle Val D'Elsa
  • Abbadia Isola (photo)

11° leg: Monteriggioni – Siena

Km: 20,4
Duration: 4.30 h
Also in this stretch the path is varied. You cross the white roads of the Montagnola Senese, small wooded areas, then flat plains until you reach the center of Siena.

Main things to see:

  • Monteriggioni (photo)
  • Hermitage of San Leonardo a Lago close by Monteriggioni (photo)
  • Ancient village of Cerbaia close by Monteriggioni

12° leg: Siena –Ponte d’Arbia

Km: 28,4
Duration: 6.20 h

In this stage of the Via Francigena you cross the Val d'Arbia and the Crete Senesi, some people defined this view “lunar” somehow.

Main things to see:

  • Siena
  • Grancia di Cuna presso/closeby Monteroni d’Arbia
  • Pieve di San Giovanni Battista di/of Lucignano d’Arbia (photo)

13° leg: Ponte d’Arbia – San Quirico d’Orcia

Km: 27,4
Duration: 6 h
The Francigena meets for a short stretch the Cassia that leads to Montalcino, run along the vineyards of the famous Brunello wine. Then it enters into the beautiful Valdorcia, Unesco heritage

Main things to see:

  • Percenna Castle at Buonconvento
  • Church of Santa Maria Maddalena at Torrenieri (photo)
  • Abbey of Sant’Antimo at Castelnuovo dell’Abate (photo)

14° leg: San Quirico d’Orcia – Radicofani

Km: 32,8
Duration: 7.15 h
This path crosses the authentic heart of Tuscan thermal. Here in fact there are the famous thermal baths of Bagno Vignoni.

Main things to see:

  • Horti Leonini di San Quirico (foto)
  • Piazza delle Sorgenti di Bagno Vignoni (foto)
  • Rocca di Tentennano di Castiglione d’Orcia (foto)

15° leg: Radicofani – Acquapendente

Km: 31, 8
Duration: 7 h
In the last Tuscan stage of the Via Francigena, you cross the hills that separate Tuscany from Lazio, accompanied by the panorama of Monte Amiata.

Main things to see:

  • Radicofani Fortress (photo)
  • Collegiate Church of Saints Leonardo and Cassia at San Casciano dei Bagni (photo)

So, if you love nature, the movement and you are a fan of "slow" tourism, then come and walk the Via Francigena in Tuscany!

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