There is something truly magical about a pilgrimage route – following in the footsteps of thousands of pilgrims on the same earthy country or ancient cobblestone path that has been traversed since the earliest of times. This is what I’m thinking about as I stride out in a rhythmic meditation on Day 2 of my journey on the Via Francigena through Tuscany.
After a hearty breakfast we were waved off by the friendly owners of our first agriturismo (farm stay) and made our way from the quaint town of Gambassi Terme into a fog softened landscape glowing in the morning sun. The trail is a wide gravel county road and it led us past vineyards and farmhouses. Being mid-October, the grape harvest was winding down and the wine was being put into barrels for the fermenting process. Tuscany is well known as a top wine-producing region and we have already sampled wines from Bolgheri, Chianti and Montalcino.
Cypress lined roads, alongside beautiful rolling hills, led us to the town of Pancole. Here we took a break at the Santuario di Pancole – Sanctuary of Pancole. Built in 1670, the sanctuary marks a miracle of the Virgin Mary who appeared to a poor deaf and mute girl and cured her.
Continuing through this photogenic countryside, we came across sections of the ancient Roman road said to be over 1200 years old. Occasionally we saw boxes (like letter-boxes) marked with the Via Francigena pilgrim sign that stores some first-aid supplies or regional maps generously left by walkers or locals for future pilgrims. This is usually accompanied by a log book with messages from people all around the world who have come to walk the Via Francigena.
Walking alongside a large olive grove we met an elderly farmer laying nets under his olive trees, which were ready for harvest. The ‘new’ oil that is produced is said to be the best of the season and usually available from November; the golden nectar is good on just about anything you drizzle it on! A friend in our group speaks some Italian and we enjoyed a chat and a laugh with the old farmer through her interpretation. We invited him to share our picnic lunch of cheese, cold meats, olives (of course), sundried tomatoes and fresh fruit.
Not far from San Gimignano we came to the working monastery, Pieve di Cellole. Mass was being held, so we are unable to venture into the church and the little shop that sells local pottery and produce. However, the grounds are beautiful and we took some time to rest and soak in the panoramic view over the surrounding farmland.
As we began our winding approach to our destination, we fell into a silent appreciation for the captivating hilltop town of San Gimignano – its stoic towers dominating the skyline. This UNESCO listed medieval town has a wonderful charm and for the next hour we enjoyed getting lost in the narrow, boutique-filled streets.
We climbed to the top of the tallest of the town’s towers – Torre Grossa – and admired the spectacular views over the town and surrounding hills. This is only one of many UNESCO listed towns we visited on this journey, but this was my favourite. Finishing the day with a tasting of the local wines, we toasted to a great day, good company and the walking adventures to come on the Via Francigena.
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The Via Francigena is a 1000-year-old pilgrimage route that extends in its entirety around 2000km from Canterbury in England all the way to Rome. Its name is a nod to the fact that it travels through France, but during its history the route was also known as the Via Romea (way to Rome) for the city where it ends.
We focus on the Tuscan section with itineraries that take you through the heart of the Via Francigena, on a journey that is spiritual, cultural and historical. You’ll walk through UNESCO listed towns and villages immersed in the most beautiful Tuscan landscapes. The routes through Tuscany are divided into manageable sections of between 13km and 25km a day.
The Via Francigena is a lot quieter than the Spanish Camino, so prepare for more of an adventurous, but equally rewarding journey.