Donna Jones walked the Way of St Francis (Stia to Rome) mid-March to mid-April 2015 and has these notes to share with future pilgrims –Sandy
I have recently returned from nearly 4 weeks walking the Via di San Francesco. This was my first camino so I will not be able to compare it to the more well known Camino de Santiago. But perhaps a fresh eye on such a beautiful walk will be helpful to others considering or planning it.
First I want to thank Sandy for his willingness to share his experiences and insights with all of us considering this path. And mostly for making us aware that it is possible. Equally important, I could not have done this walk without the kindness, knowledge and support of Salvatore Accardi. Salvatore through his business (Il Mestiere di Viaggiare) helped me identify the best routes and stopping places in this off season for my needs and identified lodging – not so easy when so few places were open. One of the best parts of his support were the GPS tracks he provided which kept me safely on the path despite sometimes, confusing, missing or erroneous signage. I used the app Motion-X GPS on my iphone to keep track.
I mostly followed the stages laid out by Sandy, with some small differences. When I could break a stage into two I took that option, as I wanted to be sure I could do it. I am 59 years old, in reasonable shape but not an athlete and my main form of exercise has jut been walking but not with a pack so I was unsure of what I would be able to do.
For various timing reasons, I did not begin in Florence so missed the first 3 stages of the walk but met a Canadian on the trail who had walked it and enjoyed it. My walk started in the small town of Stia. I walked from mid-March to mid-April and that had important impacts on my walk. Firstly, there was essentially no one else on the trail. I met the Canadian mentioned above who was walking from Florence to Assisi, an Italian who was walking from Sansepolcro to Assisi, a German couple who were walking a somewhat different route from Assisi to Rome and 3 Austrian women who were walking for a week from Assisi to Rieti. That was it for the entire 4 weeks save for my son and husband who joined me for parts of different sections. Being ahead of the season meant quiet times on the trail but also quiet times in some small places that might not have lodging open yet. Because I worked with the wonderful Salvatore, I had lodging somewhere every night despite some hostels and inns not yet open. The other big factor for this time of year is the weather. There were 2 days of walking with snowdrifts in the mountains, beautiful, not too cold but sometimes tricky footing. Mostly however there was water. Though I only had 3-4 days of rain, the rain and the melting snows meant that rivers and creeks were full and some of the stream crossings were not possible, however – there was always a way and that never slowed us for long. The best part of this time of year was that the temperature for walking was wonderful, never too hot or too cold.
Admittedly I am a novice and not young but it did not seem is an easy walk but it was wonderful, beautiful, and soul lifting. Most of the paths were wide gravel or reasonable forest paths or very quiet asphalt. Each day I made it to my planned stop in under 7 hours so was safely in daylight even without the summer hours. So many kind people, amazing little towns, beautiful scenery, delicious food, incredible history, and the opportunities to see these little places you would never come to otherwise, walking up to the sites with so much history, to spend time with St. Francis in the rocks and forest and to just be out walking in this beautiful country. So though there were narrow and steep paths with mud or difficult rocky gravel, some busy roads or less than ideal paths to avoid the busy road and markings that were not standard nor always present it was fully worth it. Good descriptions, good maps and GPS tracks if possible make it very doable though. I never got lost not felt discouraged, only tired at the end of the day, which was just right.
Here are my stages and a little bit about each one and some comments that differ from Sandy’s experience walking in the summer.
- Stia to Camoldoli – there had been a windstorm a week or so before the trip so there were trees down all through the forest so paths and creeks were sometimes blocked – though we could always climb over or under. At the top as we approached the hermitage – we encountered snow. The hermitage is beautiful and don’t miss the striking Philospher’s Gate. Stayed at Oasi Divini Maestro outside the village of Camoldoli.
- Camaldoli to Badia Prataglia was a short stage but the snow on the trail and rain made it challenging, although beautiful.
- Badia Prataglia to La Verna –The stream to ford in Rimbocchi on CAI 53 was completely impassible so we needed to walk up the road a bit to another marked CAI trail 54 to cross a bridge over the rushing water. This was a nice rocky path that climbed slowly for most of the trip then steeply to join up with the trail 53 near La Verna. Staying at La Foresteria is a beautiful experience and recommended.
- La Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano – Due to all the trees that had been blown down in the storm – some paths were blocked so we did not take the route through the forest and walked mostly on quiet graveled roads down hill through forest then small towns – lovely.
During the above stages, I was accompanied by Salvatore and I was very grateful for his help on the blocked paths, the impassible rivers and the unknown trail markings. I was ready to head out on my own now.
- Pieve Santo Stefano to Sansepolcro – Not so pleasant approaching town when passing the sand plant and walking on the edge of the busy road – but this is relatively short and quickly you are off the road and under the highway and into the lovely city of Sanselpolcro. Took my first rest day here so I took the chance to go up to Montecasale– beautiful, peaceful and worth the time to see. I took a taxi up and walked back to town.
- Sansepolcro to Citerna to Agroturismo La Burgne – lovely and mostly flat until the climb to the Citerna and then down and back up to the Agroturismo. Lovely place with very gracious hosts.
- La Burgne to Citta di Castello
- Citta di Castello to Passo Candeggio –The path was badly marked near the beginning – I was saved by my GPS tracks but others wandered for a couple of hours before getting back on the track. The lodging at Passo Candeggio was closed unexpectedly and my Italian was not good enough to understand the phone message. Salvatore saved me here.
- Passo Candeggio to Petralunga – easy and lovely – up on the ridge mostly
- Pietralunga to Gubbio – Did this in rain all day – took the full 7 hours but worth it to arrive in that beautiful city
Gubbio to Biscina – came across another stream that could not be crossed so ended up retracing our steps and finding another path on our map that connected eventually to the road to Tenuta La Biscina. Grateful for good maps and GPS.
- Biscina to Assisi – more rain and some difficult creek crossings but the walk up to Assisi is worth it all
- Assisi to Spello to Foligno – took the “hard” route out of Assisi which I think is essential. We traveled on to Foligno so that my son who had joined in Citta di Castello could catch the early train.
- Foligno to Lenano – this takes you up out of the valley – beautiful views – small villages and castles on hill tops
- Lenano to Spoleto – I always ended up on the “harder” path but was still very doable
- Spoleto to Macenano – amazing day up to the monastery then through the hillsides – very beautiful
- Macenano to Piediluco – the waterfall was on lunchbreak when I came through
- Piediluco to Poggio Bustone – as difficult as advertised but amazing views, the beech tree and wonderful sanctuary/convent at the end
- Poggio Bustone to Rieti – don’t miss climbing to the top of Cantalice
- Rieti to Poggio San Lorenzo – 100 km left to Rome!
- Poggio San Lorenzo – Ponticelli – Chiesa San Vittoria was remarkable. Stayed at the Agroturismo La Ripa about 3km out of town – wonderful though another climb to get there
Ponticelli to Montelibretti – mostly wonderful fruit orchards and views of hill towns
- Montelibretti to Monterotondo – beautiful right up until the end. The path is sketchy until you get to the lovely bike/walking path so just need to trust it.
- Monterotondo to Montesacro – wonderful views of the sheep right up until the urban area arrives
- Montesacro to San Pietro – better than hoped with lovely last bit long the Tiber
I have many more notes about all of this but really don’t know how much folks need to hear. I am happy to respond to any questions.