Tips, advice and our experience with Via Francigena | Things important to know
In this post we are going to share with you our tips and tricks that we were able to come up with while doing the Via Francigena. Also our main impressions about this trail and some advice that may come in handy before you start. We are going to share what season is the best to hike it, what accommodation to choose, the weather patterns you can meet, whether it is possible to wild camp and all the difficulties and highlights of this trail. Hope that you´ll find some useful information here.
And before we start we wanted to remind some of you that may not know what is the Via Francigena. Via Francigena is an old pilgrim and trade way that stretches from Canterbury, England and goes through all of France coming to the city of Rome, Italy. It is around 1800km but nobody knows an exact number for sure. So most of the trail goes through France but we were specifically interested in Italy, so we did only the Italian part of the trail. We started in Aosta valley in the North of Italy, followed it for several days and then continued it in the province of Tuscany.
Best season to hike are the months of May and September-October
So the first thing we wanted to discuss is the weather conditions and what is actually the best season to do this trail. We did this trail in July and we honestly wouldn’t recommend it especially for Tuscany. Field terrain is very challenging in the hot months of the summer because there is little to no shadow and sometimes you have to walk several kilometers with no shadow at all and that is cruel believe us. The heat exhausts you and leaves you with no powers and for us it definitely felt much more challenging than for example hiking Tour du Mont Blanc in the mountains on a difficult terrain but on cooler weather it felt much more easier. So if we would do it again we will probably choose the month of May, we think it’s one of the best months to do this trail. As the weather would be cooler and fields would be greener with more flowers so it would probably give even prettier landscapes around you. But also we think the months of September-October would be great but not sure about the harvest season on the vineyards. So it may be a bit of disturbing time. But if you can choose these months instead of July and August, these are the hottest and the cruelest months.
Switzerland part of the trail better to do in summer
And in case if you are willing to do the whole trail of Via Francigena, be aware of the Switzerland part of it which is probably the most challenging part that goes through the mountain peaks and mountainous terrain in Alps. This part is actually better to do in summer because there is obviously quite a lot of snow so divide the trail wisely in order to have the best conditions possible and have the most enjoyable experience.
The difficulty of the trail is overall easy
In terms of difficulty of the trail it was an easy level for the most part and we think it is actually one of the easiest trails we took so far because the landscape is not mountainous, a bit hilly in parts but overall flat. If it wasn’t for the hot weather it would be very easy to do.
There is not enough water sources on the trail
Water was another problem on the trail. Sometimes we had to walk 10 kms without water fountains to resupply. So it is definitely not enough water fountains on the way. If you have GPS navigation it’s better to flag water fountains that you find on the way in advance. So you can calculate how much water you need to take. Sometimes we had to ask for it in the private houses and the people were fine with allowing us to do it. So it is another option.
Supermarkets are easily available on the way
Talking about food supplies it is not a problem at all because every day you pass through the villages and supermarkets so you can resupply easily. And because we prefer cooking our own food it was very important for us. Not to say about plenty of bars and restaurants on the way.
Best food discoveries in Italy
And going a little bit off topic we wanted to share with you our best food discoveries in Italy. And on the first place definitely goes ice-cream. To be honest with you guys we have never eaten so much ice cream in our lives and we don’t consider ourselves big fans of it. But here in Italy it is so good that it is so hard to resist. Our most favorite flavor has been the cherry one so far because we have never met it before anywhere in Spain. So the fruit flavors are our favorites. Here in Italy even in the usual supermarkets you can find the excellent quality ice-cream and you don’t have to search for it in any special gelaterias to try it where it can be quite expensive. The focaccia bread was another great food discovery of Italy especially we like the pizza Margarita variety of it. But be aware that when you see the name pizza it doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to be the classic pizza with the thin base, it can be very thick and very fatty. Because the focaccia bread is very different from pizza so don’t confuse it. We found that Italians tend to call many things pizza when in reality it is not. And here applies the same rule as with the ice-cream, in our experience in little bakery shops they tend to make it fattier and we don’t like that. So to our taste buying the bread in the supermarkets was fine and with less amount of fat which is really important.
Trail marking is good
The marking of the way was overall good and it’s comparable to Camino de Santiago level so you will generally have little to no problems with that. But we were always using GPS navigation anyway just in case. But here we weren’t really searching for any alternatives.
Stealth camping was generally possible
As you may know about us already we like to be stealth camping all of the time and this time wasn’t an exception. And on this trail we found it was very easy to find a spot every day because the terrain is the field and it is normally has the forest close to is so it was always possible. Just the hills were making it a bit more challenging. Make sure to find fields with mowed grass with no hay rolls, no cattle pasturing on it and as far from the private properties and villas as possible. And then the chances that you get disturbed by anyone is really low.
Wild camping rules are different in every province
The rules of wild camping in Italy vary from province to province and really hard to know for sure. But we know that in most of the region probably it is not legal. But here as always applies a general rule of setting up a tent in the dusk and leaving early in the morning. It works for most of the cases.
Lots of private land where the entrance is forbidden
What we stumbled upon here were many signs saying that it is a private property and the entrance to the land is forbidden. And some signs had the rope on it actually crossing the path where you need to go. But in the end we decided that it was more related to the cars than for the walkers or pedestrians. So with time we didn’t mind it that much. But of course if you see the real gate in front of you then you know you are not welcome on this land.
Campgrounds are rare
Of course sometimes when we had a chance we stayed in the campgrounds as well but we can’t say that they are really available on the whole trail. Usually they are far off the way, there are just several of them where you can stay. But the option of staying in the tent is definitely the cheapest of all.
Hostels and albergues are quite expensive
We can see here that the hostels are quite expensive and it is actually much more expensive than on Camino de Santiago. And we feel like the infrastructure of the albergues is not very developed here. So if you are going on a budget it won’t be the option for you.
Italians speak good English
It was a surprise for us having experience living in Spain where not a lot of people can actually speak good English. We have been in very remote locations and even there we could be understood and receive an answer on any request with a little exception. When we had some troubles explaining ourselves Spanish was very handy as some words are very similar and people are able to understand them. Knowing French language sometimes helped as well. So the more languages you know the better. Here most public transportation, train stations have everything doubled in English.
Buy bus tickets in advance
And while we are touching the transportation topic we wanted to point out one important thing about the bus tickets. So if you find yourself in need to take the bus always buy your tickets in advance. They are normally sold in the tobacco shops, it is called tabacchi here. And if you are going to travel in the same region you can buy a bunch of them and then use it when you need it. They don’t have a day limit use so it is nice. Because at first we had several cases getting on the bus when we really needed it. And the schedule of the bus was only one or two buses a day and we really needed to get to one place. So we were at the bus stop, the bus was coming , we hoped on the bus and the bus driver wasn’t accepting us saying that we don’t have the tickets and he is not selling the tickets. And it was mind-blowing. So from this experience we learnt that it is better to have them with you just to be calm about it. Because sometimes the bus drivers are selling the tickets but it is double the price so it is still not worth it and better to buy it in advance.
Highlights of the trail
What we liked the most and it was the highlight of our hike were the parts of the trail going through the old forest of ancient oaks. And even in the forest we are staying now there are a lot of them. It is full of huge oaks and acorns. We haven’t seen such old trees before and some of them can even be more than 800 years old. That is very fascinating for us, there are not a lot of places left on Earth where you can experience that. Meeting animals was another highlight of our hiking trip and it wouldn’t be the same without them. Hares and especially the baby hares are very frequent to see and it was one of the first places where we could meet them so often. Also roe deer were accompanying our trip, we slept close to them almost every night when we were stealth camping and they made it really special. Even though there is not a lot of forest and many fields they are taking advantage of every tree line so you can meet them very easily. Roe deer babies are very relaxed especially if you are observing from a distance and you sit calm. Also we met otters in the lakes, partridges in the fields, birds, lizards etc. Old rocky bricked parts of the trail were very special as well but they are left only in few places unfortunately. But when you walk on it – it makes you feel going back in time and it’s an amazing feeling. Also we met the most amount of castles, old ruins, fortified sited, old architecture and old little villages that we’ve seen on any trail. This trail is full of history so if you are a lover of old authentic places this may be the trail for you.
Things we didn’t like about the trail
And so coming to the end of this video we wanted to finish with the things we didn’t like about the trail, there weren’t many but still it is important to know. So our main concern about Via Francigena are the parts of the trail going through the fast car roads which are very dangerous and are not adapted to the hikers at all. And we have seen the actual signs saying that the safe part of the trail ends. And they are basically taking off the responsibility if you continue hiking on the road. We have never seen it before on Camino for example, never. And with time we probably understood why, because the car drivers seem to not care about the speed limits and rules whatsoever. And when we’ve seen the speed limit sign of 30kms/h the people were going like 60kms/h and if you see 60kms/h they can go probably 100kms/h. That was absolutely crazy and it is not good at all, it is dangerous. Having said that we should note that on some of these dangerous parts there were sidewalks along the car roads so it wasn’t that bad. But on most of such parts there weren’t any. So we guess they are still working and developing the infrastructure, on the path itself to be completely safe for the hikers. But for now it is not completely ready yet. To our taste there wasn’t enough forest, river and natural parts in general. There are a lot of vineyards, olive trees plantations and clear fields used for agriculture, so it is definitely not enough wilderness.
Hope you have the best experience possible with this trail and our tips and advice were useful for you. Let us know about that in the comments below. Make sure to watch our 14 day series of the Via Francigena trail that you can find here on our website.