Day 20: Formello to Vaticano — 35km (21.7 miles)
I arrived today in Rome, and rather than a long winded post I’ll share instead a series of photos and captions that describe the day.
Day 20: Formello to Vaticano — 35km (21.7 miles)
I arrived today in Rome, and rather than a long winded post I’ll share instead a series of photos and captions that describe the day.
Day 19: Sutri to Formello — 30 km (18 miles)
At 10:30 today I made a choice that I immediately knew was a mistake. I said “no” to the simple question: shall I put my rain gear on? Within 10 minutes I was completely drenched, including inside my boots, which will take days to dry. The only good thing? Tomorrow is the last day I’ll need them.
This rainy cloudy day began in the sunshine. I was down at Hotel Sutrium’s breakfast room by 7:00 and helped myself to a breakfast of sweet bread, yogurt, juice and coffee, then I was out the door at 7:30, ready for another 30 km (18 mile) day.
The distance is a little longer than I’d rather walk, but after Viterbo there were 90 km left to go, which the guidebook split into days of 25, 25, 25 and 15 km. That meant four days for 90 km, which I was confident I could do in three days of 30. That’s eight hours per day of walking, but I’m in the groove and not really worried about the exertion.
The first part of the morning was spent on the trail to Monterosi, which was no real problem. As I arrived into town I was delighted to see Aura and Maribeth, two Dutch pilgrims I hadn’t seen since Sarzana, just getting ready to leave. As we said goodbye they asked which direction I was going and when I pointed up they hill they said, “Oh, you’re going on the road.”
I hadn’t really thought about that since I was just planning to follow the guidebook’s directions and make the distances as direct and short as possible. But before long, as predicted, there I was on the road.
By road I mean the Via Cassia, the same road followed in various forms by the Via Francigena for hundreds of kilometers from Northern Italy. I came to discover, though, that the Via Cassia this close to Rome is a four lane, access controlled freeway. Walking on the road would mean walking in the feeder/distributor lane next to the freeway, in tractor paths alongside the freeway, on old stretches of the former Via Cassia beside the freeway, and in some cases right next to the oncoming traffic on the freeway.
If it sounds perilous, believe me it was. But perilous became ridiculous when, walking alongside the freeway it started to rain. Cats and dogs rain. Buckets. Torrents.
And there I was, as the first raindrops fell, beside the highway having decided the rain wouldn’t last and — I would not put on my rain gear.
Any veteran long distance walker will tell you the biggest problem of rain is getting the insides of your boots wet. Wet boots mean wet feet. Wet feet mean blisters. And wet boots may stay wet for days if there’s not a good way to dry them out.
As the rain let up and I walked along the road to Campagnana di Roma I heard the fateful “squish, squish” of my feet inside my boots.
Well, I did have my sandals along. When I made it to Campagnana at about 1:00 I found a pizzeria near a cafe, settled down to a lunch of hot tea and pizza, took off my boots and socks, and let my feet sit in the breeze on the cold pavers of the piazza so they could dry. After lunch I put on my warmest wool socks and my sandals (deduct style points) and strapped my dripping boots onto the back of my pack.
And then everything about my day changed. The road between Campagnana and Formello was gentle and quiet, leading via the sanctuary of Madonna Della Sorba to the charming town of Formello where I’m spending the night. With the rain gone, my feet dry in my sandals and the road quiet and calm, my mind started to make a shift.
I started to enjoy the day. Then I went deeper. I started to enjoy the walk. Then my mind started to open up. I thought about this beautiful month I’ve had, and I gave thanks. I thought about Theresa, my beloved back home, and gave thanks. I thought about my kids and my old and new churches, about my friends and about many issues. And I felt a warmth coming over me, a sense of well being, of gratitude and joy.
The afternoon’s itinerary through the sanctuary takes the pilgrim into a deep, green valley surrounded by a deeper green valley contained inside a deep and green nature preserve. The sanctuary itself is a church that remembers a simple and unusual miracle from hundreds of years ago that goes like this:
A young swineherd with a mangled hand was out watching his pigs one day when he noticed one pig stray from the group, walk into the woods, and return an hour later. It did this each day until finally the boy decided to follow it to see what it was doing. He found it on its hind feet, standing up against the trunk of a sorba tree (hence the sanctuary’s name), worshiping at a small icon of the Virgin. The boy ran to the village to tell the people what he had seen. No one believed him, but when he put his mangled hand into his pocket, he pulled it out and discovered it was completely healed. The startled and suddenly convinced villagers built a shrine around the tree, and the icon worshiped by the pig hangs behind the altar of the church that remembers the miracle.
So a day that started in a ridiculous manner ended up being one of the most precious. It turned from a mistake into a meditation. A little miracle of centuries ago and a quiet walk reminded me of the miracles in my own life. I had dipped myself into this quiet vale with its hidden shrine and when I came out I was restored.
Since putting The Way of St Francis guidebook together and publicizing that free GPX tracks are available for use by pilgrims, I’ve had many requests about how to set up GPS devices and smartphone apps with the GPX tracks. Rather than answer each one individually, I’ve decided to put together this blog post that will hopefully answer most people’s questions.
I should say first, though, that the whole purpose of my guidebook is to ensure you can walk the Via di Francesco without need of either a guide or a GPS unit. I worked hard to make very specific route descriptions, and I’ve double-checked the descriptions to make sure they’re clear and correct. However, you may want the added security of a GPS and I get that. So here’s how to get going.
Maybe most people already know this, but just in case you don’t, having a GPS unit for hiking is a lot different than having one in your car. In the car, once you’ve set your destination a nice voice guides your every turn until you arrive. Not so with a hiking GPS! In the GPS world that function is called “routing” and it’s a feature that doesn’t yet exist yet on the standard hikers’ GPS. Instead, a hiking GPS will simply have a map and a cursor that shows you where you’re at on the map according to GPS satellite coordinates. That’s not particularly useful, because you still don’t know how to get from Point A to Point B.
That’s where tracks come in. A “GPX Track” is A recording (or computerized plotting) of a specific route. While I was walking the Via di Francesco in summer of 2014 I recorded my track, which means that every several meters the GPS unit would automatically plot the latitude and longitude of my location. Then it strings the recorded locations together into a “track.” At the end of the day I would carefully preserve my daily tracks for later use in the putting the book’s maps together and to be able to share with other pilgrims. The tracks are very useful because they allow a walker to see precisely where I walked and follow that on the screen of their GPS or smartphone so they don’t get lost.
Hurray! So, all that’s needed is a GPS or smartphone and the GPX tracks, right?
If you buy an American-made GPS, you should know that it probably has great maps of the United States. Perhaps Canada, too. But if you’re walking the Via di Francesco, you’ll want to have a good map of Central Italy that includes roads, towns, topography and, importantly, hiking trails. That means finding a good hiking map that will work with your Garmin and then downloading onto the unit.
I’ve found that the best GPS hiking maps in Italy are all based on the Open Cycle Map source. When I walked in 2014 I downloaded that onto my GPS and it worked great.
Here’s where smartphone hiking apps have an advantage. Since their purpose is hiking, they often come with preloaded Open Cycle Maps! That’s a big plus, since it saves you the step of downloading the map.
So now you see the basic three steps:
Right now, a German website is the best place to find our Open Street Map.
Great job. All that’s left is to load the GPX tracks. Since you’ve done the map already, the GPX tracks are easy. Just download them onto your computer, plug your Garmin into your computer again, and click and drag them to the file marked GPX in your Garmin. You can access these tracks once they’re downloaded and you’ve ejected and turned on your Garmin by going to “Existing Tracks” in the main desktop.
There are literally dozens of smartphone hiking apps — too many to review — but I’ve focused on MotionX GPS because of its strong user ratings and because it already has the Open Cycle Map as part of its MotionX Terrain setting. MotionX GPS is an iPhone app, so if you’re on the Android platform you should look at something like Gaia or the dozens of other apps out there.
The process of loading GPX tracks on MotionX GPS is also quite simple. Here’s how it works:
It’s also possible to send multiple GPX tracks at the same time, but the process is basically the same.
12. There’s still one more step. Unless you have a great international data plan, you’ll want to download the maps for the stages you plan to walk. Just follow the directions on the phone and do it with a good WiFi connection to save data.
So, that’s the process. What you have now is a screen on your device that shows your actual position on a map. As you walk you can refer to it as needed so you don’t get lost. One word of caution: these units can drain a lot of battery life. Bring along a power supply of some kind — an external battery, for instance — that you can plug in and juice up your battery when needed. In the case of the smartphone, turn off all unnecessary programs and processes, like WiFi and your cell signal (by putting it in Airplane Mode) and that saves your battery life.
Questions? Most of this is elementary computer management, so please don’t contact me for computer questions. Find your local computer geek who can walk you through all this using the above directions. Most of all — enjoy!
I’ve lately fielded several requests from people about how to secure a pilgrim’s credential for the Via di Francesco. Although I give pretty specific instructions in the guidebook, The Way of St Francis: From Florence to Assisi and Rome, the process has changed slightly and it requires a little Italian and some computer skill to get it just right.
First, what is a credential? Experienced pilgrims (and few others) know that a credential is a pilgrim passport that identifies the pilgrim, allows them to stay overnight in pilgrim-only accommodations, and, if they meet the criteria, to receive a completion certificate at the end of their walk. The pilgrim secures a stamp (tinbro) at or before the start of their walk and then has it stamped each evening at their place of lodging — one stamp per overnight as proof of having walked the previous day.
What credential do we recommend for the Way of St. Francis? There are three main routes to and around Assisi (we won’t go into details here), but the credential of the Via di Francesco is the only one that is officially approved by the Region of Umbria, the Conference of Umbrian Bishops and the Franciscan Family of Orders at Assisi. It’s also the biggest and prettiest, which means a lot since you’ll be lugging it around everywhere you go and it’ll be a keepsake from the walk. So for those and other reasons, this is the best option for walkers along the Way of St Francis.
You should know, too, that your completed Via di Francesco credential qualifies you for a completion certificate — a testimonium — in Assisi or in Rome. A lovely memento of your walk. I should say too that we’re working to make this process much easier. Credentials will be available in Florence soon, but the wheels of change move slowly in Italy!
So, how do you get it now? Here are the easy steps to follow:
Also, you can simply pick it up at the pilgrim office in Assisi, if that’s where you’re beginning your walk.
That’s it! I hope this is helpful. Below are some photos of testimonia I received in Assisi and in Rome. Buon cammino!
I’m thrilled to be offering old and new friends the opportunity to walk with Theresa and me from Assisi to Rome September 3-15 of this year. I’m working with my friend, Bret Thoman of St. Francis Pilgrimages, and we’ve put together a super itinerary for our group. You can download the PDF and registration form here to learn the details. Suffice to say, it will be the walk of a lifetime.
Since our brochure didn’t have enough room to show some of the most amazing photos of the walk I thought I’d post photos to whet your appetite! The pics come from either my 2013 or 2014 hikes. I’ve also added a little text to explain more of what the days’ journeys will be like.
September 3: Arrival in Assisi. Meet Theresa and me along with fellow pilgrims at an orientation session in St. Francis’ lovely hometown. There’s a pilgrim mass each evening in the lower Basilica of San Francesco, so we’ll enjoy that before having a fine dinner together inside beautiful and beloved Assisi. If you’d like to explore Assisi a little more, you should plan to arrive a day or two early. We can help you make arrangements to have a guided tour of town, or you can simply walk and discover. Enjoy the churches, museums and castle of the town, or just enjoy the Italian sunshine and amazing views to the valley below.
September 4: Assisi to Spello – 11 miles. Spectacular views of the Tiber River Valley greet us as we walk along the slopes of Mount Subasio to beloved Spello, a hill town famous in its own right. On the way we visit Francis’ beloved Carceri Hermitage then relax for lunch or a beverage in Spello. Since the scenery would be very similar for the next two days of the walk, we skip two stages ahead to sophisticated Spoleto, whose historic cathedral holds one of the few handwritten notes of St. Francis (Overnight Spoleto). Option: Avoid the first stiff climb up Subasio with a taxi ride to the Carceri Hermitage where you rejoin the rest of the group.
September 5: Spoleto to Macenano – 12.7 miles. Pass Spoleto’s medieval castle and cross its dramatic Ponte delle Torre bridge into a vast forest. A brisk 45-minute climb takes you to the Monteluco Franciscan convent, and then a long downhill wilderness trail leads you along dramatic gorges into the Valnerina recreational area. Freshen up at your hotel in convenient Macenano and walk to a sumptuous dinner at the ancient Abbey of San Pietro in Valle, a gentle 1.5km above Macenano. (Overnight in Macenano)
September 6: Macenano to Piediluco – 15.5 miles. We walk through farms and pastures to majestic Marmore Falls and serene Lake Piediluco, where St. Francis preached. A climb up to the tiny hill town of Labro gives a peek into life in a medieval village untouched by time. A private van carries you three miles from the shores of Piediluco to the hill town of Labro (Overnight in Labro).
September 7: Labro to Poggio Bustone – 10.5 miles. We leave behind high pastures and walk up to the St. Francis Birch Tree, where tradition says a beech tree protected St. Francis during a harsh winter storm. Walk downhill through lush forests to the hill town of Poggio Bustone, site of the spiritual transformation that began Francis’ ministry (Overnight in a comfortable Poggio Bustone pilgrim hostel). Poggio Bustone dangles on a steep mountainside and its narrow streets are little changed in centuries.
September 8: Poggio Bustone to Rieti – 11 miles. — A quiet and green walk through the gorgeous village of Cantalice and then the Franciscan sanctuary of La Foresta where legend attributes a key miracle to St. Francis. The day ends in nearby Rieti, capital of the Sabine olive-growing region of Italy and itself an historic Roman town (Overnight in a Rieti hotel). Theresa and I loved quiet and scenic Cantalice, with its winding alleys and hidden piazzas.
September 9: Rest Day in Rieti. Central Rieti is a shopper’s paradise, but also has a colorful history since before Roman times. There’s lots to do in this town that is capital of the Sabine olive-growing region, and we’ll stay two nights at a lovely hotel in the heart of Rieti’s old city. The local area is steeped in St. Francis lore, as well, so we’re offering another possibility for those interested:
Option: Rieti/Greccio guided tour. A local expert guides you through the Underground Rieti Salt Road and takes us in a private van to the nearby Franciscan sanctuary of Greccio, the scenic mountainside convent where Francis and local villagers created the first Christmas nativity scene. (Overnight in a Rieti hotel).
September 10: Rieti to Poggio San Lorenzo – 13.5 miles. Walk along the Roman Salt Road through quiet farms of the Sabine Region to the tiny, Roman village of Poggio San Lorenzo (Overnight in Poggio San Lorenzo). This is a mostly flat day’s walk and the scenery of woods, farms and olive groves is much different from the previous days’.
September 11: Poggio San Lorenzo to Ponticelli –14.4 miles. A day of forested ridges, olive groves and sheep pastures with views to castles and quiet villages (Overnight in Ponticelli). The word “undulating” is best to describe the terrain here. With a combination of rocky soil, lots of sun, and regular rain, olive oil from the Sabine area is prized among Italian varieties. Most of the non-agricultural areas are protected forestland, meaning the day’s walk is quiet and far from automobile traffic.
September 12: Ponticelli to Montelibretti – 8.2 miles. Forests and olive groves punctuate today’s walk, with constant views of towering Castello Orsini on one of the nearby forested mountaintops (Overnight in Montelibretti). The Orsini family was a powerful, medieval clan of Roman nobles and their castles and secured the Sabine area and reminded visitors of the power of nearby Rome. Today the castle is restored as an opulent hotel, whose grounds include a lovely swimming pool and excellent restaurant.
September 13 Montelibretti to Monterotondo – 10.3 miles. With Rome near, the territory changes to olive groves and vast fields of grain as you walk through the Gattaceca Nature Reserve. In clear weather the first glimpse of St. Peter’s is visible in the far distance. Enjoy an evening stroll (passegiata) through the delightful Old City (Overnight Monterotondo).
September 14: Monterotondo to Monte Sacro – 12 miles. After half a day’s walk in the peaceful Marcigliana Nature Reserve you will follow sidewalks into the outskirts of urban Rome (Overnight Monte Sacro). The path carefully avoids the congestion of Italy’s largest city and allows a quiet walk through small and large farms. The transition to the outskirts of Rome is abrupt and for the first time on the trek we walk sidewalks next to busy streets — with ample gelato stores along the way!
September 15: Monte Sacro to Vatican – 9.5 miles. Though Rome is bustling around, you will share quiet paths with bicyclists and strollers along the Ariane and Tiber riverfronts until rounding a bend in the Tiber at Castel Sant’Angelo for our final entry into glorious Vatican City. It’s the Holy Year and we will have reservations to walk through the Holy Doors of St. Peter’s Basilica. Pilgrims share a final dinner together at a delightful Roman restaurant (Overnight Rome). Will you plan another day or more to enjoy Rome?
We still have a few places available on the trip. I hope you’ll join us for what will certainly be an unforgettable trip!
After walking an annual pilgrimage in Europe for the last many years I’ve often been asked by friends, “When are you going to invite others to join you?” Well, the time has come! I’m inviting you to join me September 3-16 in a beautiful and holy walking pilgrimage from Assisi to the Eternal City of Rome! I’m hosting the tour, will walk it with you each step of the way, and am delighted to have the help and support of St. Francis Pilgrimages to make the ground arrangements and support our group. Since this year has been declared the Jubilee Year of Mercy it’s an especially meaningful year to be a pilgrim to Rome!
This walk is very dear to me. I travelled it first with friends in 2013 and had a total blast. Jacqueline, Sebastian, Andreas and I explored the relatively undeveloped route with little help from guidebooks, which led to a contract with Cicerone Press to write a guidebook. I returned to the walk in 2014, armed with Italian language lessons, a friend’s camera, a new GPS given me by my church, a laptop, and a dictation app for my iPhone. Then my beloved Theresa Elliott joined me from Spoleto to Rome.
While I was in Italy I made some great friends among local pilgrimage supporters, including leaders of Sviluppumbria, which promotes economic vitality in the Region of Umbria. Led by Chiara dall’Aglio, Sviluppumbria sponsored a book launch on November 5 of last year in London. Since then, my guidebook, The Way of St. Francis: From Florence to Assisi and Rome has received great reviews and sets the bar as the first English language guide covering the entirety of this amazing pilgrimage trail.
Something that would make this path even more special would be to share it with you. Here’s how it would work: we meet in Assisi, enjoy an evening of exploration and then come together for the pilgrim mass in the Basilica of San Francesco. The next morning we walk up St. Francis’ beloved Mount Subasio, enjoying spectacular views of the Tiber River Valley below. We finish the day in the medieval village of Spello before taking our van 50km south to the lively and cosmopolitan town of Spoleto.
We enjoy an evening in delightful Spoleto and the next morning head across the ancient Bridge of the Towers to the Franciscan convent of Monteluco. Overlooking a dramatic gorge along the way, before long we cross into the Nera River Valley nature preserve, staying in the tiny village of Macenano. The following day it is up to the Marmore Falls, followed by serene Lake Piediluco, and then an overnight in picturesque Labro. We walk to the remote and peaceful Birch Tree of St Francis, then on to Poggio Bustone, site of Francis’ spiritual transformation. We rest in Rieti, then begin the final days in our walk to the Eternal City. Our time ends with our arrival in Rome and application for our official Pilgrim Testimonium, a certificate of completion granted by the Vatican to all, like us, who have walked more than 100 kilometers to get there. Here’s our route on Google Maps. Oh, and I forgot to mention that we will walk through the Holy Doors at St. Peter’s Basilica, open only in Jubilee years like this one.
Amazing! Of course there are also some costs for this walk of a lifetime. It’s important that all participants be strong walkers since we will frequently walk on mountainous trails, occasionally with difficult footing. That means training and advance work to be certain we’re able. A good pair of hiking boots or shoes is essential. We walk rain or shine, so a well-equipped backpack with rain gear is a must. Of course there is the financial cost, too. It’s $2,150 for the ground portion of the trip, which includes all hotels, breakfasts and dinners each day of our journey. We’ll also send you a free copy of my book and will work individually with you to assure you are prepared for the journey.
We will need eight pilgrims to make this happen. I hope you will be one of our band of trekkers! Oh, and did I mention that Theresa will be joining us, too? Another of the many great reasons to come along!
If you’re ready to join in this unforgettable journey, please download and return the AssisitoRomewithSandyBrownRegistrationFlyer. Any questions? Feel free to write a comment and I’ll get right back to you. Thank you, and buon cammino!
I’m just back after spending three weeks (Nov 18-Dec 8) researching updates to The Way of St Francis: From Florence to Assisi and Rome. It was great fun to retrace my 2013 and 2014 footsteps, but this time with a car. During the three weeks I revisited almost every town on the itinerary as well as several important Franciscan sites I hadn’t had the opportunity yet to visit, such as Montecasale, Greccio, Fonte Colombo and Montefalco.
The result is a link on the Cicerone website update page that includes helpful new information on several parts of the walk:
Ideally, people will access the update page and carefully replace old information with new before taking the walk. Here’s a direct link to the new info also: WayofStFrancis2015updates (pdf).
As always, many people contributed to supply information, including Gigi Bettin, Salvatore Accardi, Rita Giovanelli and others. Also, it was great to meet up with friends like Feliciano, Alec, my language teachers at Comitato Linguistico and Graziella. I enjoyed making new friends, too, like Jorge Fernandez and Simone Minelli. And as always Jacqueline Zeindlinger had important suggestions. Thanks, all, for your help!