Via Francigena (Canterbury to Rome)

Overview: the Via Francigena

GSB Panorama

A panorama of the Grand St Bernard Pass. Photo: Michael Krier

A 1900 km historic route running north to south from Canterbury to Rome.
N.B. a new association, the Confraternity of Pilgrims to Rome, came into being in late 2006. It now has its own website: http://www.pilgrimstorome.org.uk/

The Route. The Via Francigena is one of the classic pilgrimage routes.  A 1900 km journey, through England, France, Switzerland and Italy from Canterbury (or even London) to Rome.  There is also a branch starting in Arles and leading via Vercelli which joins the Caminos de Santiago.  It follows the general direction taken by pilgrims to Rome in previous centuries although alternatives paths are used in places where the original route has now become a modern road.  The “Via Francigena” (i.e. “French Way”) is first mentioned in a parchment in the abbey of San Salvatore al Monte Amiata in 876 AD.

Waymarking. Not waymarked at all in France. Waymarked as TP70 (a long-distance walking route) all through Switzerland; and in Italy the pilgrim route is now reasonably well way-marked throughout (in both directions).

Terrain.  Long!  The surfaces are normally easy to walk on with much on minor roads (a number of farm tracks are in fact tarmac now). Much of the initial part of the route through France is quite flat.  The highest point of the route is the Great Saint Bernard Pass at 2469m. Cyclists will need to take minor roads or dedicated cycle tracks for much of the route.

Weather/When to go. Allow about three months to walk the entire route (it is 85 days without stops).  May to October is best but remember to time the crossing of the Great Saint Bernard Pass between June – September.  The area near the Italian coast is very busy in August.  There is a wide range of temperature according to height, latitude and season.

What to see. There is a wide variety of landscape and towns. There are traces of pilgrim activity in the past, numerous interesting small chapels and churches along the way.  Among the most exceptional sights are the cathedrals in Canterbury and Reims and St Peters Basilica in Rome.  Towns on the route include Arras, Reims, Besançon, Lausanne, Aosta, Vercelli, Lucca, Siena, San Gimignano, Viterbo and Rome.

Accommodation.  There are plenty of B&Bs and hotels, but little refugio type accommodation, especially in France, some youth hostels and  campsites and monasteries.  In Italy, however, and in a few places in Switzerland, an increasing number of parishes now provide very simple accommodation in church halls, former schools etc., where a sleeping bag is needed though at present most of them cannot accommodate large numbers of pilgrims at any one time.

  • The CPR has recently published the first of a two-part guide to accommodation (of all types) and services on the Via Francigena, along the lines of the CSJ’s guide to the Camino francés; this covers the section from Canterbury to the Great Saint Bernard Pass (part 2 will deal with Italy).  Available through our Bookshop.
  • Eurovia (www.eurovia.tv) publishes a (hard-copy) guide to accommodation on the Italian section of the route, particularly the simpler end of the scale.  This, the Unterkunftsliste, is in German but its layout makes it very easy to use).
  • Details of accommodation (of all types) for the Swiss and Italian sections of the route are given in the Guide-Vademecum, together with places offering discounts to pilgrims, provided by the AIVF (Association Internationale Via Francigena) pilgrim association: Web site: http://www.francigena-international.org/

Guide books:

*     GUIDA – VADEMECUM dal Gran San Bernardo a Roma (900km) + Spur road from Arles-F to Vercelli with 42 and 19 stages. Published July 2003 70pp. by AIVF .The Guide-Vademecum was originally in two parts, though the section from Canterbury to the border of France and Switzerland is no longrer available) is similar to the CSJ guides. Very compact crammed with detail on accommodation, distances, phone numbers, altitude and historical sights in the towns and villages. If anything it is even less narrative than the CSJ guides and a little similar to the Michelin Red Guides in structure. The Italian Vademecum also has details of the route from Arles to Vercelli which may interest some of our Camino veterans.
*     TOPOFRANCIGENA A.Canterbury-Grand St-Bernard 1000km: 40 geo-cultural pocket-sized colour map-cards 150g prepared by Adelaide Trezzini with Giovanni Caselli providing the graphics View
*     TOPOFRANCIGENA  dal Gran San Bernardo a Roma (900km) was published in 2005. The Topofrancigena is a set of maps (again in two parts Canterbury to St Bernard Pass, first published 2005 + later editions) of the route. The Canterbury to St Bernard Pass section consists of 40 pages in full colour, with alternative routes, very loosely bound so old pages can be discarded. The maps show town or villages with accommodation and churches and historic sights.

*     All the above publications are published by and available from the ASSOCIATION VIA FRANCIGENA (see their website).  The Vademecum and Topofrancigena from London to St Bernard are also available from our on-line Bookshop.
*     Paul Chinn and Babette Gallard, The Lightfoot Guide to the Via Francigena, Pilgrimage Publications, 3rd edition 2010. In 3 volumes, Canterbury to Besançon; Besançon to Vercelli; and Vercelli to Rome plus a separate volume, the Lightfoot Companion, covering the historical, cultural, art-historical aspects of the route.  Available through our Bookshop. Mainly inteneded for cyclists, but it gives good route-finding information with GPS references and details of accommodation and services.
*     Paul Chinn and Babette Gallard, The Lightfoot Guide to the Via Domitia, Pilgrimage Publications 2010.  This covers the section from Arles to Vercelli for those who wish to start in France and link into the route coming from the Great Saint-Bernard Pass in Vercelli.  Available through our Bookshop.
*     Alison Raju, The Via Francigena: Canterbury to Rome – Part 1, Canterbury to the Great St Bernard Pass, Cicerone Press September 2011, ISBN: 978-1-85284-487-5, £14.95.  (Part 2, covering the Italian section, will be published in late 2012).  A complete route-finding guide including accommodation and services, what to see and the historical background to this route.
*     Guida alla Via Francigena: 900 chilometri a piedi sulle strade del pellegrinaggio verso Roma, Monica d’Atti & Franco Cinti.  (“Terra di Mezzo.” Piazza Napoli 30/6, 20146 Milano.)   ISBN: 88-8938-565-0 plus subsequent editions.  Concise route description of the section from the Great Saint Bernard Pass to Rome, with details of acommodation and services.
*     La Via Francigena  Guida per il pellegrinaggio a piedi dal Gran San Bernado a Roma, Luciano Pisoni & Aldo Galli, ADLE Edizioni,  Padova, 2004.  ISBN: 88-8401-046-2.  €12.  Guide to the Italian section of the route comprising a book and 28 laminated A4 size maps, with walking instructions and accommodation details on the back of each one.

Maps: Some very good maps of the Italian section are now available –

Monica D’Atti & Franco Cinti, La Via Francigena.  Cartografia e GPS.  Dal Monginevro a  Roma lungo l’itinerario storico, Milan: Terre di Mezzo Editore, 2007.  ISBN: 978-88-8985-60-9 and later editions.
3 large sheets of maps in a set, covering the 800km from the Monginevro Pass over the Alps to Rome at a scale of 1:30.000, i.e. nearly two and a half inches to the mile.  In full colour there are 40 detailed maps covering all the stages of the journey, with the walkers’ route traced on them, height profiles, types of roads/paths used and complete GPS data.  Designed initially to accompany the authors’ own guide book (see above) the only drawback (at present) is that those wishing to follow the “Sigeric route” (i.e. cross the Alps via the Great St. Bernard Pass) will have to wait till Vercelli (150km into the Italian part of the route) before they can use them.

The Testimonium. A parchment in limited edition, created and offered by the AIVF, is available from the sacristy of St Peter’s Basilica, to pilgrims who have walked at least from Acquapendente (130km) or cycled from Lucca (400km).

Other Links
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/via-francigena/
http://www.wanderingtheworld.com/francigena/index.htm
http://www.francigena-international.org/newsite/upload/Welch_04.pdf
Thanks to William Marques, February 2005; and Alison Raju, October 2007, March 2010 and July 2011.