My name is Cecilia and this is my Via di Francesco story. I’m 29 and was raised in Altamura – a town in Southern Italy. As soon as I finished high school, I started moving. I always felt the need for change. For many years, I lived and worked in Milan. This large and chaotic city gave me so much but it didn’t quite suit me. I was having a bad time. Suffering depression, I decided to leave my job and the city which I had worked in for five years.
My desire was to reconnect with nature, rediscover who I was and rekindle that serenity of the soul that I had lost. Initially, I thought it would be a wonderful idea to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain but then the pandemic struck in 2020 and I couldn’t go. So, after quarantine, I took my backpack and walked without a specific destination in mind. I found myself on the Via Peuceta of the Matera Way, which passes through my town.
I finished that journey, of which I didn’t plan a thing. The journey just called me and I responded. I set out to find myself, to ask questions and find answers, and to fall in love with the little things. I walked, laughed and cried. Walking alone strengthened me. It gave me back my security, self-esteem and courage. It led me to appreciate the small things, to learn from nature, to be surprised again and to love myself like never before.
Inspiration to Take on the Via di Francesco
In October, 2021 I decided to walk the Via di Francesco. There is usually no specific reason why I choose a particular path. Rather, I get inspired by the places I walk. Pilgrims I met on other walks told me about the Via di Francesco and by chance I came across its guide. So, it was destined to be my next adventure. I would have to cross three different regions to arrive in Rome – getting lost in woods, villages and hermitages on the way.
I already knew the story of St. Francis. Here in Italy he is one of the most important saints. The Via di Francesco is an itinerary that – whether done on foot, bicycle or horse – unites the symbolic spots of the life of the saint. This is why I was able to dive into its history, even if the reason I set out wasn’t religious but to discover new natural places. The heart of the path is Assisi – homeland of St. Francis – which is possible to reach in three ways.
Firstly, you have the Northern Way – from La Verna to Assisi over a 190 km route that has a total of 10 stages and a variant. The second option is the Via del Sud going from Rome to Assisi over 250 km, and a total of 14 stages and variants. The last one is La Via di Roma or from La Verna to Rome for a total of 500 km including 24 stages and variants. I chose the Via di Roma because I wanted to reach the Eternal City (the capital of Italy) on foot.
An Incredible 450 Km Journey over 23 Days
I walked 450 km in 23 days. I left from the La Verna Sanctuary, reached Assisi and continued onto Rome crossing Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. Along the Via di Francesco there are various types of accommodation. You can find B&Bs, hotels, hostels, hermitages and churches. Being a religious journey, the possibility exists of staying in hermitages and churches. I opted for these structures because they are more familiar and full of history.
Payment is made with donations. You sleep in sleeping bags and most of the time you share rooms and dinners. Often you have to respect curfews and prayers. It was a wonderful experience. I met loving people which made it emotional. The Via di Francesco is moving. I left in October and temperatures were starting to drop. On the first eight days, I was walking in rain/fog. The paths were muddy and on an emotional level it affected me.
But walking in the rain gave me the strength to not give up. I tried to see beauty in these moments: the smell of rain, the trickling sound of water and the raindrops forming designs on the colorful leaves. Seeing the sun again was even more incredible. I learned to smile even in the incessant rain. By leaving in late-autumn, I saw the woods change color and come to life. I met animals and overcame situations I didn’t think I was capable of.
Advice for Walking the Via di Francesco
The entire experience was great, strong and magical. I met very few people along the way, and this meant that I could really walk it alone and have plenty of time to talk and listen to myself. For sure, there were challenges – especially tackling them with rain and slippery paths due to so much mud – but all in all it’s not difficult. Once you are in the habit of walking for many kilometers over many days, you learn how to make the journey enjoyable.
The Via di Francesco is perfectly signposted. Its signs are characterized by two horizontal bands of yellow and blue. The yellow represents the cross of St. Francis and there are vertical signs marked in metal. In addition, there are offline GPS maps that can be downloaded directly from the site and paper guides. However, you can do the walk without maps. I suggest not using maps too much because you get more surprised that way.
This path has several stages of challenging gradients. Other parts are less difficult. Practicing on similar long distance walks that go for hundreds of kilometers over many days is highly recommended. Also, trail shoes are a must on the Via di Francesco. There are several stretches of asphalt where your feet can suffer. You don’t necessarily want to be wearing hiking boots on this type of terrain. A quality pair of trail shoes will do the job.
No matter what inspires you to take on the Via di Francesco – whether it be a religious pilgrimage, to be immersed in nature away from technology or for the pure adventure – the most important thing is to throw yourself fully into the experience. Do it without fear. You will discover your limitless inner strength and potential, your mind will become open to new possibilities and your soul will be forever curious about what lies ahead next in life.