Via Francigena: how to prepare for a pilgrimage

The journey along the Via Francigena trail (also know as the way to Rome) can be physical or spiritual. In any case, the idea is to remove distractions and to concentrate on the pilgrimage, whatever your purpose is. People go on pilgrimages for different reasons. Sometimes the journey is religious, in the footsteps of a medieval pilgrim, but more often modern pilgrims have no specific reasons, but go on the journey to meditate, to reconnect with nature, to face inner problems or to challenge themselves. Whatever your purpose may be, you need to prepare your journey in advance and this post you’ll help you to plan and pack, making the best of your adventure along the Via Francigena.

Define an action plan

One of the first things to do is to select a period. Summer is usually busier and incredibly hot, but days are longer, so you have more daylight hours available. Winter is solitary, cold and wet, physically more demanding but absolutely mystical. Autumn tends to be kinder than spring, but you’ll miss the blossom. The second thing to decide is how many days you can dedicate to the pilgrimage. Even if you have just one day, don’t worry, there are plenty of legs that can be achieved in one day, especially from May to September that you should have at least 14 hours of daylight. Allow time to complete the journey gracefully, don’t be in a rush because this is a less-is-better journey. Clear your mind and allow some breaks into your routine to fully experience the pilgrimage. Lastly, decide how to explore the Via Francigena: by bike, on foot or horseback.
[Photo Credits: Kinzica Sorrenti]
[Photo Credits: Kinzica Sorrenti]

Choose your destination and route

Once the period and the length of the journey are decided, work with an initial itinerary that suits your goal and interests, planning a stretching but achievable daily walking distance and looking for natural, significant and/or scenic stopping points along the way. Research your geographical route, use our Francigena infographic to better understand the trail and use Google Maps to outline some. The Tuscan Via Francigena can be divided into 15 sections, you can choose a single leg of the Via Francigena or the entire path. It covers 354 kilometres (220 miles) and you need around 3 weeks to complete the entire route on foot. The trail touches towns and villages immersed in the most beautiful Tuscan landscapes from Pontremoli in the north to Radicofani in the south of Tuscany. Where to find out all about the Via Francigena:

Francigena Tuscany by bike

Start a walking plan ahead of time and prepare your feet

If you want to completed the 354 kilometres (220 miles) pilgrimage route in Tuscany without put yourself in danger you should walk around 5 km (3 miles) a day, a year or months in advance of the pilgrimage to physically prepare, especially if you are not in good physical shape. If you have just one month to exercise, walk 6-16 km every couple of days increasing that to daily in this remaining fortnight. The Tuscan section of the Via Francigena is shorter than the Camino De Santiago (St. James Way), but the trail is much more challenging, so a good physical preparation is highly recommended. Nevertheless, if you decide to pick just one of the easiest legs, you don't need to prepare in advance. Get good, rigid, ankle-supporting walking or hiking boots. Buy them in time to try them before you go. Make sure your boots are as comfortable as possible. You'll be living in these boots! francigena tuscany pilgrims

Book your transport and accommodation

Book your train tickets online to reach Tuscany, as early as you can to secure the cheapest fares, but usually to reach a starting point along the Via Francigena you need a regional train, that are cheaper and connect most of the cites. You don’t need to pre-book a regional train online because the price is fixed and the seat reservation is not possible. Free or wild camping is not legal in Italy, unless you obtain the permission of the landowner first. You can seek out accommodation along the way too, but to avoid wasting precious time, we suggest you to book your accommodation through our official BookInToscana website, that select the accommodations along the Via Francigena. Pilgrim Tuscany Francigena

Pack your things

It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove. (Antoine de Saint Exupéry – The Little Prince)

Find the lightest and most comfortable backpack. It should ideally weigh 10% of your body weight, or an average of 7-8kg (15-18lbs) and the best option is a 40 litre rucksack. WHAT NOT TO BRING: get rid of all books (except your Via Francigena guide) and don’t take ‘extras’, Tuscany has many shops if you need to replace something. WHAT TO BRING: Take the minimum when it comes to clothes. If you can, limit yourself to:
  • 2 sets of underwear
  • 2 tops (lightweight quick-drying blouses/shirts)
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 pair of hiking shoes
  • a shirt and pants for the night (it is necessary if you'll sleep in hostels)
  • a hat
  • a fleece for cool evenings or days.
  • a basic first aid kit: consider that along the Via Francigena is easy to find pharmacies. Thus, you can bring a very basic first aid kit.
  • a head flashlight (that let you keep your hands free)
  • a swiss army knife
  • A water canteen (1 liter or two half-liter). The best thing is to hook them to the belt to them comfortable. There are also hydration packs that encourage you to drink more and drink consistently without removing it from the backpack.
  • A rain poncho: choose a models with the front opening. A poncho is particularly useful both for yourself and your backpack, they are comfortable when you wear them, and when the intensity of the rain decrease, it can be opened to avoid sweating.
  • mosquito repellent
  • sunscreen
  • Marseille soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant.
  • pilgrim passport
The hat and the sunscreen are very important, sunstroke is painful and can be dangerous. For the hat, take one that protects against the sun and rain. If you take one made out of cotton, in summer you can soak it in water from time to time to keep your head cool. How to pack For a pilgrimage The Pilgrim passport is a personal document that hikers on the Via Francigena fill out during their journey as a souvenir of the road they have travelled. By presenting this document to participating parish churches and municipalities, pilgrims can receive special stamps on their passport. How to receive the 'pilgrim passport’:
  1. Purchasing it online (€3,00).
  2. Purchasing it at Centro Didattico Pieve di Sorano - Filattiera - Info Point Via Francigena, near the parish church of St. Stephan of Sorano, via Ponte Nazionale, 54023 Filattiera MS (Massa Carrara, Italy), tel. +39 0187.457523, mob. +39 331 5740114 or +39 348 8097918, info@farfalleincammino.org Spring-Summer opening times (from 8th April to 27th September): • Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: 9:30am – 12:30am • Saturday, Sunday: 9:30am-12:30am/3:00pm-5:00pm • Monday, Tuesday: closed.
  3. Purchasing it at Lucca Tourist Office, Vecchia Porta San Donato, piazzale Verdi, 55100 Lucca, phone +39 0583 583150, info@luccaitinera.it Opening: October-March 9:00am-5:00pm April-September 9:00am-7:00pm.
  4. Purchasing it at Monteriggioni Tourist Office, piazza Roma 23, 53035 Monteriggioni (SI), phone +39 0577 304834, info@monteriggioniturismo.it. Opening: 16th February-31st March: 10:00am -1,30pm/2:00pm-4:00pm, closed on Tuesday; 1st April-15th September: 9,30am-1,30pm/2:pm-7:00pm; 16th September-31st October: 10:00am-1,30pm/2:00pm-6:00pm; 1st November-15 January: 10:00am-1,30pm/2:00pm-4:00pm, closed on Tuesday; Closed on 25th December and from 16th January to 15th February.
Pilgrim’s Passport Francigena Toscana

Pack your sense of adventure

Along the way you'll come across signs with a range of different symbols and logos, but the official route has its own specific signposts.  You'll be leaving behind the world as you know and you are going to meet new people and places, enjoy this inner and outer adventure. Do you have any further suggestion to give? Have you already prepared before for a pilgrimage? Leave your comment below!