Starting to pull together many little pieces to form “The Way of St. Francis”

Every day I gain a better appreciation of the challenges an author faces as he or she begins to pull together a book. In particular, I’m coming to appreciate how guidebook authors gather a huge quantity of information and sift it together to create a useful guide.St Francis Walkjpg

Many pieces of information will need to come together for my upcoming book, The Way of St. Francis, due to Cicerone Press at the end of this year. The first is identification of the route itself.

Last year I walked from Assisi to Rome with friends and I loved every step. It was great to see sites related to St. Francis of Assisi, and of course it’s alway fun to walk with fellow pilgrims Sebastian, Jacqueline and Andreas. Beyond our walk form Assisi to Rome, though, as you can see on the map to the left there’s more to the St. Francis walk in Umbria. From Umbria’s perspective the goal is clear — Assisi. The tourist department of Umbria has selected two very specific tracks to the hometown of St. Francis. From the north– starting in Tuscany actually, at Della Verna, a walker can proceed south to Assisi. Walkers can also trek from Rieti to Assisi, approaching it from the south. It makes sense that the Umbria tourist office would focus on walks that stay primarily in Umbria, with Assisi at its heart. St. Francis’ home town attracts over four million tourists each year, after all.

Even with this clear, central track there are choices to be made before I begin my book. In the “northern” route to Assisi the map shows an option. One can either walk to Perugia on the way to Assisi, or straight from Valfabbrica to Assisi, bypassing the capital of Umbria and the many historic and culinary sites in the ancient city, known now as the “Chocolate Capital of Italy” (it’s also a sister city of Seattle!). Choosing to take this option is not a big obstacle, but one choice among many. I’ll walk both routes and make a final decision about including the Perugia option this summer.

A second choice is what to do with the southern loop, which is a circular route through “The Holy Valley” of Rieti, an area filled with important and interesting St. Francis sites. The challenge of a loop through the Holy Valley is obvious — anyone who walks through to Rome only has the choice of one or the other side of the loop. So there’s another minor dilemma to solve. Last year my friends and I walked through Poggio Bustone, the east side of the loop, and weren’t disappointed. It’s a lovely town and important to St. Francis pilgrims.Cathedral in Florence

The bigger challenge actually is how to connect this central, Umbrian itinerary to Florence in Tuscany on the northwest and Rome in Lazio on the south west. To me it makes great sense to start in Florence, a city rich in examples of Renaissance art and architecture. Also, it’s much easier to get to Florence than to the tiny and remote sanctuary of Della Verna in eastern Tuscany where Umbria’s itinerary begins. And it makes sense to end in Rome, which is one of the major pilgrim destinations of the world. Many Santiago de Compostela pilgrims feel disappointment when they arrive in Santiago, a mid-sized town with only a day or two of fairly minor sites to explore. Rome, in comparison, is nothing short of spectacular. For religious pilgrims there are too many saints’ relics to see in a brief visit, not to mention absorbing the Vatican City and sites of Ancient Rome. So I’m following the lead of a recent German language guidebook and will include the entire Florence to Assisi to Rome walk in my upcoming tome. This creates a 30-day pilgrimage from, through and to three of the most wonderful cities in the world.

With this choice the itinerary is almost complete. To connect the northern Umbrian sites to Florence we can fortunately rely on the fabulous hiking trail known as the Grande Escursione Appenninica (GEA), which is one of the major Italian mountain trails, covering part of the distance between Florence down to the northernmost St. Francis sites in the Umbrian itinerary. Sadly, there’s not a clearly marked trail from Florence to the first walking stage and the German guidebook puts pilgrims on a short train ride for the first day. When I arrive in Italy I’ll start looking for a good walking route that connects Florence to the little town of Camaldoli for connection to the GEA path. I may have my Austrian friend, Jacqueline, along for a few days to help with that effort. It’s about six days on foot from Florence to Della Verna.

Connecting to the route to Rome has its own challenge. I’ll need to decide what to do with the “loop” — get to Rieti through Greccio or through Poggio Bustone? Though I enjoyed Poggio last year, going that way deletes two important sites from the itinerary (Greccio and Fonte Colombo). I’ll check those two out this summer, too, to see if it’s worthwhile to travel that way somehow. In addition, there’s one day on the Lazio portion without a good overnight stop, so this summer I’ll scout out an overnight at Farfa Abbey instead of going through Ponticelli as the Lazio itinerary suggests. This adds a day, but potentially gives an interesting and inexpensive overnight just three nights out of Rome. To confirm my choices I’ve already made contact with the tourist offices in Umbria and Lazio, both of which are very interested in spreading the news about these walking paths.

st-peters-basilica_6809_600x450

The joy of planning this guidebook is knowing that pilgrims who choose this route have ahead of them a memorable and beautiful pilgrimage. To me this route should be of particular interest to experienced pilgrims who’ve already walked the Camino de Santiago and are looking for a new and challenging walk. The Way of St. Francis has some clear highlights — Florence, Assisi and Rome — that in my opinion surpass the wonders of the Camino de Santiago. It has some disadvantages, too. The route is “young” and the infrastructure is “almost” there. This makes it something like the Camino de Santiago must’ve been in the 1980’s before the height of its reemergence today, when over 250,000 pilgrims walk it each year.

Exclusive of the relatively primitive infrastructure this route has something that makes it very special. A shining light along every step is the memory of St. Francis of Assisi. Even 800 years later his name brings a smile to the faces of local Italians, and his simple words of love and faith and unity with creation are satisfying words for our hungry souls.Itinerary

I’ve already begun an online study of accommodations on the various routes and have a master list of hotels, hostels, restaurants and cultural sites to visit. On May 21 I’ll fly to Rome, head to Perugia for a month of language classes, and walk this new/old route and its various options twice, carefully noting the best paths, accommodations, food sources and notable sites to visit. Tens of thousands of words, thirty-five maps and 150 photos later I’ll be ready to send The Way of St. Francis to Cicerone Press for publication. I hope it will be a good resource for pilgrims who seek a walk of spirit and adventure and joy.

24 thoughts on “Starting to pull together many little pieces to form “The Way of St. Francis”

  1. Very exciting to hear about all of this, and yes, amazing all of the decisions to be made. Having been to Florence many years ago and loving it, I’m excited about you connecting this beautiful town to the Way. Looking forward to hearing more!

  2. Enjoy! Sounds like a fun and fulfilling journey and hopefully the book will be a bestseller! m I’m very interested in all that you have ahead of you on this journey….learning Italian, walking the path, insights for fellow pilgrims. I’m sure you will have a fantastic time. Italy is a beautiful country with wonderful people and places to fall in love with over and over again.

  3. Hi Sandy, I hope it never turns into work – the Camino has felt like that from time to time and it takes all the joy out of it. I wish you all the best.

  4. Hi Sandy, you don’t know me, but I have been reading your blog because I am hoping to walk part of this route this year, maybe in October. I have ordered the German guide book you mentioned and I’m very grateful for the information you have included here.
    I walked the Camino Frances in Spain in 2012 and last year I walked part of the French route from Le Puy to the Pyrenees.
    I would like to visit Rome soon for other reasons, and I am collecting information to see if I can walk the route you are about to talk about in your book. Of course it will require more planning than the very popular routes to Santiago, but it sounds fascinating.
    (I am an Australian, and by chance I discovered last year for the first time that I have a cousin who lives near Seattle. 150 years ago a couple of brothers and their families in Ireland decided to leave, some went to New York and some to Australia, hence the way it turned out.)
    Of course I would be grateful to hear of any more information you have, and I’ll let you know if I ever manage to set out on the St Francis way.

    • Hi Paul ~
      Sounds like you’ve caught the pilgrim bug. You won’t be disappointed with the Way of St. Francis, and if you have the German guidebook you’re pretty much set. If you’re walking on to Rome you’ll want to have the Lazio guides “Piediluco to Rieti” and “Rieti to Rome.” These are a little hard to find on the Internet, but let me know and I will send you if you want them and I’ll send you the links. If you have any specific questions don’t hesitate to ask. Buen camino! –Sandy

      • Hi Sandy, thanks, and I would be grateful for those links. Are they published guides or websites?
        I read somewhere that you can catch the bus from the edge of Rome to a pilgrim hostel near the Lateran church. However, walking right into Rome sounds better to me! Paul

      • Great, Paul. I’ll send you those guides. The website on which I found them doesn’t seem to be around anymore and the files are enormous, so I’ve saved them myself and can send you the links. Yes, walking into Rome is just fine . . . there’s an excellent route that follows the river and a couple of parks most of the way. Not much traffic or noise. It’s quite pleasant. You’ll get an email from me in just a bit. Cheers ~ Sandy

  5. Hello Sandy!
    My name is Marina, I live in Burgos in the Santiago’s Pilgrims way and I’m a huge fun of it, It really changed my life, This year we have lots of pilgrims but unfortunatelly lots of bedbugs too….(it is a nightmare!)
    So this year instead of walking to Santiago, I feel like walking to Rome, I’ m planning to walk part of the Saint Francis way (from Assisi to Rome) in late August!
    It is difficult because I don’t seem to find much information, I really like that because it gives you a lot of room for adventure but at least some, to know where to go!
    I’ve just come across your site and read about the Lazio guides from Piediluco to Rieti and Rieti to Rome,
    Could you be so kind to pass me the links? I would really apreciate it and I could post you some comments or some feedback when I finish.
    Looking forward to hearing from you
    Marina

  6. Sandy
    My husband and I will walk Rieti to Assisi in May 2015 in 5 days. This is a spiritual pilgrimage that I have planned for 2 years in honor of St. Francis. I’ve been concerned with the lack of trail development and markers. You’re book couldn’t have come at a better time for us. Will we be able to get a copy by April?
    Right now we’re working with Franciscan communities here in Chicago to find lodging in convents and monasteries. Your suggestions would be most welcome.
    Nancy

  7. Hi Nancy ~ I’m glad you’re walking the route next year! The stretch from Rieti to Assisi is beautiful and you will enjoy it. Most of it is pretty well marked. Be aware, though, that there are a couple of routes in this stretch and you’ll need to make a choice (di qui Passo San Francesco and Via di Francesco). I chose the Via di Francesco which is pretty well marked, especially in Umbria. The overnights are: Rieti to Poggio Bustone to Piediluco (where you enter Umbria) to Arrone to Ceselli (or Macenone) to Spoleto to Trevi to Spello to Assisi. While in Rieti you all want to take the bus or taxi to Greccio which is nearby. There are options for convents and some monasteries along the way. For info on the route go to http://www.viadifrancesco.it. My book comes out in fall 2015, but let me know and I can send you GPX tracks, accommodation lists and other details if you like. Buen camino!

  8. Sandy,
    Is your guide from Florence to Rome, Way of St. Francis, gone to print? I am looking to take the trek next April 2016. Thanks
    Dave

  9. Hi! Thank you for the blogpost. I think of hiking Via de Francesco on my own- do you think a tent will be necessary? I’m trying to look for cheap accommodation, if you have any suggestions, let me know!

      • The last two weeks of July. Will your book be out by then? Do you also happen to know if there are similar parishes for the route from Assisi to Rome?

  10. Great information. We are planning to walk from Assisi to Rieti in May 2016. Your book sounds like it will be very helpful.

  11. Sandy,
    Hi, my husband and I are leaving for Florence next week and will be starting the walk from La Verna to Rome. We have some books but the maps are not as detailed as we would like. Is a book or website that you can recommend that we may be able to get better maps with gps coordinates? Thank you in advance. Patty

    • I understand the need for good maps! This was one of the biggest problems in my research. Sadly, there is not a great printed map resource available, without having to carry about 30 bulky and expensive paper maps along. My book contains maps that, in my opinion, are plenty adequate for the walk. It also gives instructions on how to download the GPS tracks and the Open Cycle base map for the walk. The instructions are also listed here: https://caminoist.org/2014/08/24/vsf-gpxtracks/

  12. Sandy,
    Sorry I should have stated that your book will not be released in time on Amazon for us. Will it be sold in book stores in the US on September 30? We are leaving the following day.
    Patty

    • Hi Patty ~ For some reason it’s taking Amazon US a long time to get the book, which has been available for a couple of weeks on Amazon UK. I have a limited supply of books and can sell you one through this website. Click on “Purchase Book” (https://caminoist.org/book/) and follow the steps. One will be sent to you via USPS right away. — Sandy

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