From my friend Lyn Mettler at the National Catholic Register.
La Via Francigena, which literally means “road from France” or “road from the Land of the Franks,” is a lesser-known pilgrimage route compared to El Camino, which sees hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year.
“It’s an undiscovered jewel; once people do experience it, they love it — and they tell their friends, and they refer people to the route,” said Leo Locke, vice president and COO of Donna Franca Tours, which helps pilgrims coordinate journeys along the ancient road.
The route, which dates back to the seventh century, originally spanned 994 miles from Canterbury to Rome. Since about the year 1000, Christian pilgrims traversed this route on their way to Rome, some continuing on toward coastal Puglia to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Over time, the road became an important trade and communications route, and Archbishop Sigeric “the Serious” of Canterbury, increased its notoriety when he documented his journey in 990, noting 80 places that he stayed on the road.
Pilgrims on the La Via Francigena will discover the many diverse landscapes of Italy as they cross from north to south. The path winds through the Italian countryside past olive groves, golden wheat fields, rolling hills, dense forests, hot springs and rows of cypress trees, crossing into the regions of Tuscany, Piedmont, Lazio and Liguria.
There are many beautiful and historic towns and hamlets along the way, many with their original fortified walls, including Viterbo (often called the “City of the Popes” and one of the best-preserved medieval towns), Siena, Montefiascone, Capranica and Sutri. These cities and some of the ancient structures that remain have played host to not just pilgrims, but soldiers and citizens on their way to Rome.