Via Francigena is a pilgrimage and historical route that starts from Canterbury Cathedral in England and reaches the Eternal City.
It follows in the footsteps of the pilgrims, who in ancient times came from the far corners of the Roman Empire to reach the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul.
Starting from England, the road passes through France, Switzerland and goes all the way from Italy to Rome.
Of all the stages, we chose Tuscany because of the beautiful scenery and amazing small medieval towns. And we did not regret it, she left us breathless!
Logistics – Via Francigena Tuscany
From Bulgaria this time the arrival was super easy, with a direct flight to Pisa. We got to the starting point of Lucca without any problems the next morning by train. After the final in Siena, we returned by train to Pisa.
The nights were organized in small apartments in the towns we passed through.
In general, Via Francigena is not as popular as its famous counterpart in Spain – Camino de Santiago. There are much less information and materials on the Internet about the places through which the route passes.
In terms of marking, Tuscany was more or less well-marked, but there was much to be desired. The pilgrims we met along the way were considerably fewer.
Not to mention that there were days when we were the only ones on the road, which is not so bad considering the crowds in Spain, among which you walk and your mouth hurts to greet Buen Camino.
The plan was to cross all of Tuscany in a week, and unfortunately, we ran a lot of places without giving them the attention they deserved. But that’s why we saw so many objects!
One of the main rules of the pilgrim is to leave early and arrive early so that you know what can happen to him on the way and not to spend the night under the starry sky.
We obtained a pilgrim passport from Lucca, but unfortunately, we could not put stamps everywhere because of its relative unpopularity on the route. In some places, they looked at us quite surprised when we asked about them.
Stage 1 – Lucca – Autopascio – 18.5 km / 4h
Degree of difficulty: ★☆☆☆☆
Easy stage with historic and religious buildings along the way.
Lucca was worth a visit for at least a day, and we had very little time. We identified the main sights and made a paparazzi tour around them.
We turned onto the beautiful Piazza dell ‘Anfiteatro, surrounded by buildings in the shape of ellipse. It was here in the past that the Roman amphitheater of the town was located.
There was a coffee break in front of the majestic facade of the Cathedral of San Michele in Foro with a giant 4-meter Archangel Michael perched on top.
We couldn’t miss the beautiful Torre Guinigi tower. These towers were one of the reasons we chose Tuscany. So impressive, different, and memorable is their silhouette.
The Torre Guinigi Tower, like its cousins in San Gimignano, was built by a noble family in order to show their high rank in society.
This one is especially famous for the oaks on its roof. The family kitchen was located downstairs and the roof was used as a garden.
The route to our endpoint for the day – Altopascio was quite urban and there were no memorable landscapes.
Due to the morning tour in Lucca, we were late and had to crawl the last kilometers in great heat.
Instead, there was a beautiful graffiti that grabbed our hearts. It illustrated how generations of pilgrims have changed from antiquity to the present day.
Stage 2 – Autopascio – San Miniato – 29 km / 7 h
Degree of difficulty: ★★☆☆☆
Long stage passing through more wooded areas.
We couldn’t take our eyes off the long rows of cypresses rushing like flames into the sky. Incredibly beautiful were the huge surreal aloe bushes, which were surprisingly used by a member of our group for allergy treatment.
Giant cedar trees, typical of the Italian landscape, also appeared. Of course – the nice wineries – mansions where you can try a wine and which were also one of the reasons to attack Tuscany.
The most famous landmark on the way was the Medici bridge – Ponte a Cappiano. Covered bridge with two towers, which due to major military defeats, has long been under repair.
The final destination for the day was the medieval town – San Miniato.
Unfortunately, it was quite wet and damp while we were looking at it, but that did not overshadow its attractive charm.
We wandered the pretty cobbled streets, past the many churches, squares, and souvenir shops. Wonderful iron ornaments, flower pots, irresistible Renaissance, and Baroque architecture.
The night in Il Viandante, San Miniato was memorable with a real medieval charm and a great deal of authenticity from the era.
The big attraction of the town was the tower of Frederick II, built in the 13th century, where the ruler kept his secretary imprisoned until his suicide.
Destroyed during World War II so as not to be used for positions such as surveillance and shooting, today it has been renovated and proudly rises on the highest hill in San Miniato.
Stage – 3 San Miniato – Gambassi Terme – 24 km / 4 h
Degree of difficulty: ★★☆☆☆
This was probably the most beautiful and most difficult route.
The views were unique. The greenest green. Endless lush emerald meadows along the Elsa river valley. Unique panoramic views in all directions. Cypresses as guards built on the horizon. Romantic vineyards with magnificent ancient buildings. Slope strewn with poppies, splendor!
Bemused in the pastoral idyll around and photos of the stunning nature, despite the forecast, which we knew for hours, we were caught in very heavy rain, and there was nowhere to hide.
There was a critical moment when I was petrified by the buckets of water pouring down on us, but my friends cheerfully walked past me, talking and taking selfies as if nothing was happening, and that gave me the courage to move on.
It’s great to cross our routes with friends!
In Gambassi Terme we slept in one of the most unique places I came across during our adventure hikes – You face and touch the towers of San Gimignano !! The host was extremely kind and the apartments were furnished in my favorite vintage style.
Stage 4 Gambassi Terme – San Gimignano- 13.4 km – 3 h
Degree of difficulty: ★☆☆☆☆
The pearl of the trip was planned for today – San Gimignano. The most visited tourist destination in Tuscany. Manhattan of the Middle Ages!
Thanks to Via Francigena, the route was dotted with abbeys, churches and even a small cave, recreating the night of Bethlehem.
The last kilometers before San Gimignano are marked by the iconic silhouette of the famous towers of the medieval town.
San Gimignano is known as the city of beautiful towers and in fact, many of them are preserved today.
Again, this is due to rivalry between two warring families who built ever higher and taller towers to show their status. In the Middle Ages, the number of towers reached an impressive 72!
Inside, behind the fortress walls, there were magnificent examples of Gothic and Roman architecture.
San Gimignano is also famous for its saffron, white wine and ham.
We visited the two famous squares Piazza della Cisterna and Piazza Duomo, photographed the 14 towers preserved to this day, and visited the medieval fortress Rocca of Montestaffoli.
We tried the famous ice cream in the center of Gelateria Dondoli, where we waited patiently for the turn of the traditional queue.
Overnight in another very nice place: Donna Nobile furnished with great taste and in the typical regional style.
We ate at a restaurant recommended by the owner nearby: Il Ceppo Toscano, which enchanted us with its delicious menu and unusual atmosphere in an underground cellar.
Stage 5 San Gimignano – Monteriggioni – 31.3 km – 7 h
Degree of difficulty: ★★★ ☆☆
We left the iconic San Gimignano behind and headed to the next cult destination – Monteriggioni.
Since we had one problematic knee in the group, and the forecast was for rain, we decided to shorten the route and diversify it.
We took a train in the morning to another important name in Tuscany – Volterra.
In addition to the scenes shot here by Twilight, the town is rich in many attractions: the Roman amphitheater, cathedral, baptistery, Piazza dei Priori, Medici fortress, and many others.
We couldn’t resist and tried the delicious local pizzas at Il Giardinetto.
We returned by train to Colle di Val d’Elsa and continued from here to Monteriggioni, which was approximately 10 km.
While organizing the logistics, I was quite surprised why there is no available accommodation in the town. It turned out that there were very few and the few places to spend the night there were at space prices.
It was early afternoon and the heat caught up with us in the fields before the town and we finally made it to our place to spend the night – Fattoria il Casone in the vicinity of Moteriggioni. We were satisfied with the neat and clean rooms and the rich breakfast. On the recommendation of the hosts, we had a superb dinner at Futura Osteria.
In the distance were the famous walls of Monteriggioni, whose silhouette again could not be mistaken.
Monteriggioni is located on a small hill and is emblematic of the surrounding elliptical fortress wall and its 14 towers.
The main street connects its two gates and on it are the most important buildings and squares for the town.
It is interesting here when they make reconstructions of holidays or historical events and the place comes to life with colorful medieval costumes.
Two interesting facts about Monteriggioni are that he was mentioned in Dante Allegieri’s Divine Comedy and that he played a significant role in the cult computer game Assassin’s Creed II.
Stage 6 – Monteriggioni – Siena – 20.6 km – 5 h
Degree of difficulty: ★★☆☆☆
And so the day of the Grande Finale.
On the way to Siena, we noted the beautiful castle of Chiocciola.
The pilgrims suddenly became more frequent. I even sent a group who did not know in which direction to turn the manual. One hiker made us laugh a lot because he was walking in the opposite direction and asked us if this was the road to Santiago de Compostela (there are still many kilometers to go, brother!).
We entered Siena through the cult gate: Porta Camollia, the traditional entrance to Via Francigena in the city.
After gathering strength after the difficult transition, we started a massive sightseeing tour.
Piazza del Campo is one of the most famous medieval squares in Europe. It houses the Palazzo Pubblico, which houses the local parliament, the Torre del Mangia tower, and the Fonte Gaia fountain.
The Torre del Mangia tower with the strange name – The eater’s tower, most likely comes from the man who rang the bell and his passion for extravagance or greed.
The Fountain of Joy (Fonte Gaia) was so named because of the national joy and love poured on it at its opening in 1342. The wolves from which water pours symbolize the Capitoline wolf, who nursed Romulus and Remus. The son of Remus founded Sienna, and therefore the wolf was a common motif in urban architecture.
The square is best known for the twice-yearly horse race at its edges – Palio di Siena. Jockeys dressed in colorful medieval clothes symbolizing different parts of Siena. Due to the dangerous turns around the square, it is not uncommon for one of the horses to throw his rider and it is customary for lone horses to finish in the finish.
Siena Cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and its facade is one of the most impressive in Italy with incredibly beautiful details.
Stage 7 Pisa
After a shocking return by train to Pisa, when we targeted the railways and had a great chance of missing our flights, we landed safely in the city of Galileo Galilei.
Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Wonders) is one of the most famous squares in Europe with amazing medieval architecture.
Its silhouette is dominated by 4 architectural masterpieces, declared as UNESCO sites – the Cathedral of Pisa, the Baptistery, the cemetery, and of course the Leaning Tower.
The bell tower or the Leaning Tower is world-famous thanks to
its unfortunate tilting due to unstable base and soft soil.
The builders tried to compensate for the slope by placing less
stone blocks on one side and therefore it has a slightly curved shape.
Several attempts have been made to stabilize it, which have succeeded
a little to get her back to her original plan.
Hence Gallileo makes his own known experiment with balls of varying weight in defense of his theory that the time they fall does not depend on their mass.
Via Francigena in Tuscany is an extremely beautiful route, combined with a lot of history and beautiful architecture. With its vast green slopes, wineries, medieval towers, and fabulous legends, it will remain in my mind with its unique nature and unforgettable cuisine.