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

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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.

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

5 thoughts on “Introducing: A new Stage 1 for the Way of St Francis

  1. Sandy, wait a second! We just finished our first Camino (Camino Frances) in Spain and now we’re told there are more Caminos. Seriously, sounds great and something we’d love doing. Kudos to you for researching a way out of Florence–that was a huge challenge you faced. Nice job. Don’t know if I mentioned but I just came out with a new book on Amazon this week–“It’s Your Camino: One Couple’s 500-mile Pilgrimage Across Spain.” I know what you’re thinking–there have been so many books on the topic and you’re right. But I told this story with a fair dose of humor and history (Spanish Civil War, Knights Templar). Martin Sheen, at the actor and producer of “The Way,” loved it and offered his blurb. Again, appreciate the hard work. Maybe we do the Camino Primitivo next time and then the Way of Saint Francis. Thanks. Ken

  2. Good to know. When we walked out of Florence in 2016, we followed GPX tracks that you gave but took detours when we didn’t like the way, knowing that we’ could rejoin the route with the help of the app we were using. Whether we were on a detour or on the track, there were some stretches when we passed along busy road sides that didn’t have sidewalks (anyway, we didn’t feel safe walking these parts). The hills, we didn’t mind at all.

  3. Sandy
    I took Leonardos alternative route in June and although I can’t compare to the guide”s Stage 1, I thoroughly enjoyed following the Arno out of Florence

    Congrats and thank you for striving to always make the experience for the pilgrims better
    Cathy

  4. Sandy, thanks so much for keeping everything up to date! Your contributions to Franciscan pilgrims are greatly appreciated. We’re walking a portion of the Via Francigena this year, Fiorenzuola to Siena, but will probably be back on the Way of St. Francis in the future. Your guidebook is fantastic. Leslie Ruth joins me in sending all our love.

  5. So happy you posted this!!! I am planning on doing this next April and was going to start in LaVerna. Now I’ll start in Florence. Will this new route be in the new edition of your Guidebook?
    Thank you,

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