Via Francigena, the historic route that starts outside Canterbury Cathedral and ends at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, has been welcoming more and more European walkers in recent years among European walkers, who had previously only aimed at the classic Camino de Santiago.
This may be because the Via Francigena crosses as many as five states, 16 regions and more than 637 municipalities amidst historical beauty, breathtaking panoramas and Unesco heritage sites.
On the Italian section, one of the best-loved parts is without a doubt the Tuscan one, which alternates rolling hills and historic towns. In the charming heart of Italy, we discover together five legs along the section of the Via Francigena from Passo della Cisa (the Cisa Pass) to Acquapendente.
Pontremoli (Leg from Passo della Cisa to Pontremoli)
Medieval village, jewel in the crown of Lunigiana and ‘gateway to the Apennines’, Pontremoli has a unique charm, not to mention the many sights to visit. Dominated by the Piagnaro Castle (which can be visited, as can the interesting museum of the Lunigiana Stele Statues located inside), the small town is all to be explored: wandering through its narrow streets, adorned with flowers, admiring the details of the stone houses is definitely the best way to take a quick plunge into the past.
Val D’Elsa (Leg from San Miniato to Gambassi Terme)
One of the most evocative stretches of the Tuscan Via Francigena winds through the Val d’Elsa rolling hills and its river park: practically everywhere you look, your eyes will catch a spectacular view.
Apart from the delightful San Miniato – famous for its churches but above all for the San Miniato truffle, also known as the white truffle of the San Miniato hills – and the starting point of the leg, the entire route is dotted with castles, fortresses, hostels, and abbey complexes built over the centuries along the Via Francigena. All set in a postcard-perfect Tuscan context.
The 14 towers of San Gimignano (Leg from Gambassi Terme to San Gimignano)
San Gimignano surely needs no introduction. Known as the Borgo delle Torri (Village of Towers), it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best known villages in the world, both for the richness of its historical and artistic heritage and for its countless towers.
The 14 noble towers still intact (they were originally 72) contribute to the preservation of the town’s feudal atmosphere and appeal and, of course, to its unique charm. A charm that needs to be discovered, on foot, like true pilgrims, thanks to the centre of this town that is full of charm in every corner, including churches and museums and splendid views of the valley below.
Siena (Leg from Monteriggioni to Siena)
This popular and rather short leg crosses Bagno Vignoni, Pian del Lago and the castles of Chiocciola and Villa, where there is also a traditional refreshment point for pilgrims tackling the route. But the focus is only one, Porta Camollìa, the traditional Francigena access to the splendid Siena.
The narrow alleys and the stunning Piazza del Campo (universally referred to only as ‘il Campo’) are just some of the reasons why UNESCO identifies Siena as the perfect and ideal example of a medieval city.
The Campo was built at the intersection of the three main roads leading to Siena and was intended as a neutral ground for celebrating political and civic festivities and events: a masterpiece of harmony and beauty, and absolutely unique. And it is only one of the architectural elements that make Siena so magnetic: the Duomo, the Torre del Mangia, the Pinacoteca art gallery, the culinary delights to enjoy in its trattorias. All the beauty of the big city and the charm of the small village lie in a compact city centre.
Val D’Orcia (leg from Ponte d’Arbia to San Quirico d’Orcia)
The archetypes of Tuscany are all here: beautiful hills, Brunello di Montalcino vineyards as far as the eye can see, medieval villages with their castles and perfectly preserved churches… plus a touch of the mystical. In fact, walking along this leg of the route you will also pass by the Abbey of Sant’Antimo (Castelnuovo dell’Abate about 9 km from Montalcino), one of the most beautiful monuments in Romanesque style, with references to Lombard and French models in a majestic three-nave church which is said to have been founded by Charlemagne, an absolute emblem of the mystical.
Walking through these valleys, one can breathe in – and definitely fall in love with – a region that offers beauty for all eyes and all tastes at every step.
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