Join us in 2020 to walk some of Europe’s great pilgrim treks

Two months ago I sent in my retirement letter, packed up my office, and set out to live my dream — to make a full-time job of pilgrimage walking. As you may know, since 2008 I’ve been captivated by the great pilgrim trails of Europe, walking over 7500 kilometers (4600 miles) during my limited annual vacation time. While walking, I’ve always kept an eye on how I could share these walks with other people, so I began by blogging here at, then I moved on to writing guidebooks, and then in 2016 I started my travel company, Pilgrim Paths. Just then, work intervened again and I agreed to return to my first career, allowing me to squeeze out just 2 itineraries during a 2017 leave of absence.


Luke and I, posing in the mist at Cascata delle Marmore on the Via di Francesco.

Now, my retirement frees me to do pilgrim walking full-time. My 32-year old son, Luke Brown, a musician and experienced pilgrim in his own right, has agreed to give part of his year to the effort as well. So in 2020 we’ll lead groups together on three of the great pilgrim trails of Europe and next year Luke and I will both lead groups separately, expanding opportunities for people who’d like to join in high-quality pilgrim walking.

What makes our offerings different? First, instead of leaving it to chance, we gather groups of people to walk together. Ask any pilgrim, they’ll tell you that conversation is one of the best parts of pilgrim walking. Second, we take care of the arrangements, including baggage service and all translations. It’s more fun to walk when you don’t have to worry about where you’re going to sleep at night. Finally, we know the routes — literally, we wrote the book on them. We can point out to you that special fresco, that hidden treasure that otherwise might be missed. This all combines to make these the most rewarding and interesting pilgrim treks available. Here’s where we’re going in 2020:

03.Florence-AssisiFlorence to Assisi on the Via di Francesco, June 6-21, 2020 — After enjoying the capital of the Renaissance, figuratively step back in time to ancient forests and monasteries of the Middle Ages. The beautiful Casentino National Forest is the beginning and the hometown of St Francis is the end. In between is Santuario della Verna atop Mount Penna, one of Italy’s most beloved holy places. Day 1 Gather in Florence • Day 2 to Pontassieve • Day 3 to Consuma • Day 4 to Stia • Day 5 to Camaldoli • Day 6 to Santicchio • Day 7 to Santuario della Verna • Day 8 to Pieve Santo Stefano • Day 9 to La Montagna • Day 10 to Citerna • Day 11 to Cittá di Castello • Day 12 to Pietralunga • Day 13 to Gubbio • Day 14 to Biscina • Day 15 to Valfabbrica • Day 16 to Assisi • Day 17 depart Assisi (from €3,280 ppdo, €600 single supplement, 174 miles in 15 days).

Assisi-RomeAssisi to Rome on the Via di Francesco, May 9-23, Sept 21-Oct 5, Oct 6-20, 2020 — Walk among vineyards and olive groves through the region that St Francis loved, stopping at key sites in his life. Visit the thundering waters of the largest human-made waterfall and then arrive at the incomparable Eternal City of Rome. Day 1 gather in Assisi • Day 2 to Spello • Day 3 to Trevi • Day 4 to Spoleto • Day 5 to Macenano • Day 6 to Arrone • Day 7 to Piediluco • Day 8 to Poggio Bustone • Day 9 to Rieti • Day 10 to Poggio San Lorenzo • Day 11 to Ponticelli • Day 12 to Monterotondo • Day 13 to Monte Sacro • Day 14 to Rome • Day 15 Depart Rome. (from €2,870 ppdo, €550 single supplement, 132 miles in 13 days).

04.Camino SantiagoPamplona to Burgos on the Camino de Santiago, May 25-June 4, 2020 — While the entire Camino de Santiago can require 5-6 weeks to complete, we offer a 1/3 portion of the walk in 10-day sections each year, making it possible to complete the Camino in 3 years. This year we lead participants in perhaps the loveliest stretch of the Camino – from world famous Pamplona passing among quaint villages to Burgos, the gem of Castile with its World Heritage cathedral. Day 1 overnight Pamplona • Day 2 to Puente la Reina • Day 3 to Estella • Day 4 to Los Arcos • Day 5 to Logroño • Day 6 to Nájera • Day 7 to Santo Domingo de la Calzada • Day 8 to Belorado • Day 9 to Agés • Day 10 to Burgos • Day 11 Depart Burgos (from €2,050 ppdo, €500 single supplement, 136 miles in 9 days).

05.Via FrancigenaCrossing the Alps on the Via Francigena, September 6-19, 2020 — Spanning 1800 kilometers between Canterbury and Rome, the Via Francigena is a World Heritage pilgrim walk. The most challenging and beautiful section is its transit of the Alps at the Great St Bernard Pass between Switzerland and Italy. This unforgettable Alpine walk features snow-capped mountain peaks, towering waterfalls and majestic forests. Day 1 Gather Lausanne • Day 2 to Vevey • Day 3 to Aigle • Day 4 to St Maurice • Day 5 to Martigny • Day 6 to Orsieres • Day 7 to Bourg St Pierre • Day 8 Summit the Alps at Col St Bernard • Day 9 Echennevoz • Day 10 Aosta • Day 11 Chatillon • Day 12 Ponte-Saint-Martin • Day 13 Ivrea • Day 14 Depart Ivrea (from €3,165 ppdo, €700 single supplement, 164 miles in 12 days).

I hope you’ll explore our exciting pilgrimage opportunities and make your reservation to join us! Buon cammino!

Introducing: A new Stage 1 for the Way of St Francis


The Region of Tuscany’s new network of St Francis trails.

Back in 2014 when I was researching the first edition of The Way of St Francis guidebook I was faced with a challenge. Since the Tuscan portion of the walk was not yet officially recognized by the Regione Toscana I would have to rely on other guidebook writers for the route. That worked for all the stages to Santuario della Verna, where the official Umbrian route begins, but there was a problem with the other guidebooks: they didn’t have a way to walk out of Florence. The most popular guidebook recommended taking a train to nearby Sant’Ellero, a 20km ride from central Florence, and beginning the walk there.

To me it doesn’t seem right to start a walking pilgrimage with a train ride, and that’s what my friend, Jacqueline Ziendlinger felt, too. She had already translated one of the German guidebooks for me and was determined to find a good way out of Florence, so the two of us walked various trails around the Renaissance capital looking for a good route. Finally, I shared the problem with Salvatore Accardi, pilgrim travel expert in Rieti, and he passed on his own solution. I included that in the book as Stage 1 — Florence to Pontassieve — and was proud (thanks to Salvatore) to write the first guidebook that led pilgrims on foot all the way from Florence to Assisi and Rome.

Five years later the Regione Toscana has finally adopted the Way of St Francis as an official, Tuscan pilgrim route. They now actually have FIVE routes to La Verna, including two from Florence. Best of all, they’ve approved a brand new walk from Florence to Pontassieve as the first stage of one of their routes, a stage that lines up exactly with the itinerary of my book and the Dutch and German books. Last month I had the opportunity to walk the path and it’s an improvement, saving a total of 4 kilometers and avoiding a few of the annoying hills of the original route. The walk was pioneered by Leonardo Cortese of Pontassieve, who should get credit for creating a great new route for pilgrims. I had the pleasure of staying overnight at his place in Pontassieve, Leonardo’s Rooms, which I highly recommend for pilgrims. I’ve included a slight variation of it as my new Stage 1 route for my book’s 2019 reprinting.

Revised Stage 1 Profile

Profile of the new Stage 1 route. Now only one hill of 100m height.

The new stage begins at Basilica Santa Croce as did the old, but turns south immediately and for the next 7km follows the Lungarno — the riverside bicycle and pedestrian track that now will carry pilgrims all the way to San Jacopo al Girone.

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The now-official Stage 1 route follows the north bank of the Arno River to San Jacopo al Girone.

From there it heads up the hill and momentarily touches the old route, comes back to Compiobbi where it rejoins the river, heads to Sieci as before, then follows a gravel road and path alongside the railroad tracks right into central Pontassieve. Total distance is only 18.9km and, for all but 150m, the track is free from highway shoulder-walking.

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After Sieci the new route follows the railroad tracks instead of heading up toward San Martino.

There is one drawback. The old route has some amazing views back to Florence, which now are replaced with constant views of the Arno, which is not a terrible tradeoff. The primary advantages other than distance are that there is less walking on pavement and far fewer hills.

If all goes as planned, next spring the Regione Toscana will way mark the route for walkers. Over the next few days I’ll update the full set of 2019 GPX tracks so all of this year’s pilgrims can enjoy this new and improved exit from Florence. Meantime, tracks for the new stage can be found on Wikiloc here.


Walking along the Arno River on the new Stage 1 of the Via di Francesco outside Florence.