Latest book updates and important news from the Via di Francesco


Russell Jackson’s guidebook at the end of his Way of St Francis pilgrimage, as seen in his post on the Way of St Francis (official group) page on June 12, 2016.

As The Way of St Francis: From Florence to Assisi and Rome enters the heart of its inaugural pilgrimage walking season it’s been an exercise in joy (and a little worry) to watch pilgrims from all over the world use this new resource as they make their way on the Via di Francesco in Italy. On our Facebook group — which has become a gathering place for over 400 pilgrims to share questions and stories about their present, past and future pilgrimage adventures — I’ve enjoyed celebrating pilgrim achievements and wincing at the occasional pitfall. What I’ve learned is that the trail is ever-changing due to weather and human-made changes, that it’s vitally important for pilgrims to follow the directions (!) and that pilgrim guidebooks are a group effort. The book really benefits from pilgrims’ actual experiences and I’ve taken many suggestions to heart in the new update I’ve prepared. So, make sure to follow the directions — and then send me your suggested book updates.

If you’re planning to walk in 2016, please download and use this update. The update will also soon be available on the book’s Cicerone page. Here you go:

Author Update June 2016

Highlights of the update:

  • Credential and testimonium — important new information about how to receive these.
  • Additional directions for Pieve Santo Stefano to Sansepolcro — a logging operation has obscured the path and pilgrims have reported difficulty in the 500m after the Euro Hotel. These new directions should reduce confusion.
  • Lodging updates throughout.

Now for the important news. We have learned from pilgrim stewards in Umbria the very good news that this year the Via di Francesco route in Umbria will be combined with the route of Di Qui Passo San Francesco (sometimes known as “Angela’s Route”). This means that the large blue/yellow signs for the Via di Francesco and the painted yellow “Tau” signs for Di Qui Passo will be replaced with new way mark signs all throughout Umbria. In most cases the routes are already identical, but in some cases the two routes have diverged. Most importantly, the “Challenging Route” on Mount Subasio between Assisi and Spello will be replaced with Angela’s route. The “easy route” remains the same. Also, our guidebook’s route on the bike path between Trevi and Spoleto will become a formal, way marked, option for pilgrims who want to save a day and don’t mind missing Poreta. After Spoleto, the Via di Francesco route, which our guidebook follows, becomes the sole route and Angela’s route will be mothballed. We will post updates on the revised, combined route as we receive them from Umbria. It’s outstanding news that these routes will be combined. The fact that Italian pilgrim stewards are becoming more united in their trail markings is great news for pilgrims from all nations.

I’m in love with Italy, and other closing thoughts on VF 2016

Roman street utility cover. Somehow even covered in grime there’s a certain majesty to it.

In 500 kilometers I walked less than a third of the 1700 km Via Francigena. I missed the days in England (though I visited Dover and Calais last year), all of famously unmarked France, expensive but beautiful Switzerland, and the mountainous northern stretches of Italy. But I did enough to confirm that the Via Francigena (VF) is one amazing walk.

What surprised me most was that the VF track stops at some surprisingly lovely and memorable towns. I’d expected to enjoy Lucca, Siena and San Gimignano. I didn’t realized I’d also fall in love with lesser known places like Piacenza and Monteriggioni and San Miniato and Formello. In fact, if an Italian town has an old quarter —  a centro storico — I fall for it and I fall hard. Even industrial Viterbo, which I was ready to hate, has a charming center made of labryntine streets with little cafes and piazze that lend it that same irresistible charm.

And even Rome. It happened again as I was walking through Piazza del Popolo onto Via del Corso on my way to do some shopping. I suddenly remembered I love this town too. I mean, I love it.

When I came to Rome the first time it was on a bus tour. We were driven in and out of town as quickly as possible with warnings of “watch out for gypsies!” ringing in our ears. I can’t say I ever saw a gypsy, but I did get the impression that Rome was not a nice or friendly place. It wasn’t until I discovered Trastevere in April that I saw Rome’s softer side.

What I saw in that charming Rome neighborhood was a Roman version of Italian village life, the relaxed and intimate daily routine that puts your life into the lap of your neighbor. You open your shutters in the morning and your across-the-street neighbor waves as she’s beating out her rug. You water the plants on your terrace and your behind-you neighbor asks if you’re going to the outdoor market later. You see the same people each day at the market and the cafe and the post office and the concert. You welcome the tiny intrusions into your privacy, knowing you are part of each other’s story.

Italy does community so much better than America. Italians are very critical of their own country, but they’ve got an ingredient that we lost years ago with a suburbanization that is buried deeply under a thick layer of cocooning in front of the TV. As much as we love our privacy I believe we isolated Americans would love true community even more. This the kind of lifestyle we were made for, and even the gaping tourists are charmed by it.

That’s not to say Italy is flawless. I admit to making a rude gesture or two into the rear view mirrors of Italian drivers who nearly ran me down on the thin white line that doesn’t suffice for a sidewalk. I found restaurant prices around famous landmarks in Siena and Rome to be fabulously unreasonable. Too much cigarette smoke in lovely outdoor cafes. Too few healthy food options for breakfast and lunch. Still, I love Italy, and the VF was one good, long baptism into its beauties.

I promised folks I would give an overview of the trip along with some brief commentary on lodging, which is all very helpful for me since otherwise it all becomes a blur. Here you go:

0. April 25-26 Arrive Piacenza and rest day. Overnights Domus San Martino. A nice little boutique hotel in a very charming Italian town. I chose to start in Piacenza due to its favorable rail connections and proximity to a major airport (Milan) near the northern stretches of the VF.

1. April 27 Piacenza to Fiorenzuola d’Arda (32km). Overnight Ostello Parrochia San Fiorenza. I was alone in this very basic, donativo hostel of about six beds above the school yard. I learned that this stretch of the VF is quite flat, mostly in asphalt, well-marked but somewhat monotonous.

2. April 28 Fiorenzuola d’Arda to Fidenza (22.5km). Overnight Affitecamere al Duomo, a private guesthouse with simple bedrooms and shared kitchen and bath. On this day I injured my right ankle and had a painful walk to get into Fidenza across miles of asphalt, zigzagging through the countryside to avoid the busier roads. A seldom discussed disadvantage of asphalt walking is the “crown” of paved roads, which are designed to drain water to the edges. Walking all day against traffic, as is recommended, means repetitive stress from the road camber, which I think exacerbated my foot problem.

0. April 29-30 Parma rest and recuperation days. Overnights Astoria Residence Hotel. I limped to this budget hotel by the train station and learned my actual townhouse-sized room was in another building about a half mile away. Fortunately the hotel had loaner bikes, and an old one-speed became my ticket to mobility. Parma is very nice. And the cheese…..

3. May 1 – Train to Sarzana; Walk Sarzana to Avenza. Overnight B&B Giardino Antico. Still favoring my foot, I wasn’t quite ready to head back to a hostel. Once I found this little B&B with its friendly and helpful hostess, I was very happy with my choice.

4. May 2 – Avenza to Pietrasanta. Overnight Ostello San Pietro — basic, but one of the few hostels on the VF with a green lawn. Another cute, small Italian town. This one sporting a large and sunny piazza.

5. May 3 – Pietrasanta to Lucca. Overnight Ostello Misericordia, Lucca. Such a long walk into Lucca, and the VF frustratingly skipped nearby neighborhoods with cafes and stores. Nice hostel with double rooms and a kitchen.

0. May 4 – Rest Day in Lucca. Overnight Camere con Visto. Since hostels allow pilgrims only a one night stay, I booked a room at this great little spot very near the Duomo and across from one of Lucca’s top restaurants. I felt a little guilty about a rest day in Lucca, but I loved the town and am glad I tarried there.

6. May 5 – Lucca to Altopascio. Overnight Ostello Cavallieri di Tau. Once I found the hostel it was back to the library to check in and get keys. Here the old piazze seem deserted and the action takes place out in the new piazza with all the cars. A great bakery there, though, with a cafe that opens at 04:00 and good wifi.

7. May 6 – Altopascio to San Miniato. Overnight Convento San Francesco at San Miniato Alto. Even with GPS working I found it difficult to locate this convent. Once I found it though it was a charming arrangement, with pilgrim rooms right above the cloister. There’s a nice sense of community with the friars and their volunteers, but I never did have time to climb the big tower that can be seen for many miles.

8. May 7- San Miniato to Gambassi Terme – Ostello Sigerico. Though a mile shy of the actual town, the deficit was made up by the excellent volunteer hospitaleri and the detailed tour of the adjoining historic church. Two bars catering to pilgrims, the first with some crazy good calzones.

9. May 8 – Gambassi Terme to San Gimignano – Monastero San Girolamo. I got the feeling that the town’s other pilgrim hostel was the happening place, but I scored a private room here and had a good conversation in Italian with the smart and friendly head nun.

10. May 9 – San Gimignano to Monteriggioni — Castello Casa per Ferie Santa Maria Assunta. This hostel is the only show in town, and if the priest is away, getting a key to it is no easy feat. Once in, it was a perfect place to rest and enjoy the tiny, walled village with its two cafes. Remember that there’s no store in town and the cafes open late.

11. May 10 – Monteriggioni to Siena — La Mercato B&B. I never liked hostels in big cities, so I booked this B&B just off the Piazza del Campo. It was a good find in spite of the chilly breakfast attendant. Siena’s cathedral? One of the most spiritual places I’ve ever been.

12. May 11 – Siena to Ponte d’Arbia — Hostel at Centro Cresti. The only lodging mistake I made. I switched rooms because I believed the floor under me might literally cave in. The hostel itself sits right on a highway and the only access to town is across a dangerous bridge. Next time I will walk the few extra km to Buonconvento, a charming town with more to do and see, whose hostel just had to be better.

13. May 12 – Ponte d’Arbia to San Quirico d’Orcia — La Palazzuolo Hotel. With wet boots and rain gear I was in no mood for another hostel, and I can’t believe I found this room in a nice hotel above the historic center for €50. Everything was dry by morning!

14. May 13 – San Quirico d’Orcia to Radicofani — Ospedale degli Santi Pietro e Giacomo. After the tortuous climb up to Radicofani the hostel was a delight. Within minutes of calling the number on the hostel door I was met by my host and led into the centrally located and historic building. Two bathrooms, plus a small kitchen.

15. May 14 – Radicofani to Acquapendente — Quasi Toscana B&B. Friendly Roberta was my hostess and her guest room had the personal touch of someone who takes pride in her home. I’m glad I arrived in time for the Infiorata, but sad the displays were rained out.

16. May 15 – Acquapendente to Bolsena — Casa Preghiera di Santa Cristina. Everyone else opted for the other hostel in town, ending up sleeping on mattresses on the floor. So this entire hostel was shared by just three of us. Nice hostess, good bathroom and kitchen facilities.

17. May 16 – Bolsena to Viterbo — Overnight in Piegaro. After walking the 30ish km to Viterbo I hopped on the train to my friends’ house near Lago Trasimeno. If you’re looking for a central place to park yourself while touring Umbria, choose the Antica Vetreria in Piegaro. Tell them Sandy sent you.

0. May 17 – Rest day, Piegaro. Overnight B&B Orchard, Viterbo. This was a true gem, and the host, Matteo, was beyond nice. Located in the old city, it was a good home base to explore Old Viterbo.

18. May 18 – Viterbo to Sutri. Overnight Hotel Sutrium. Just off the main piazza, I scored with a room facing the back side. Very basic, but handy and comfortable enough. Because I forgot to pay before I left and the hotel owners didn’t know how to make my credit card info work via telephone it took awhile to sort out the bill. Since I can’t do an IBAN transfer like a European I asked my friend Sebastian in Cologne to send the money via his account. Lesson: even if you give your credit card on don’t assume the hotel has used it to bill you.

19. May 19 – Sutri to Formello. Overnight La Francigena Casa Vacanza. I loved this little house. Right on the trail in the pedestrian zone. Heated. I had a hot bath!

20. May 20 – Formello to Vaticano. Overnight Air BnB. Everything was full by the time I started looking, and I was surprised to discover that Rome’s pilgrim hostel does not take reservations. You’re supposed to show up at 15:00 and stand in line for a bed. Knowing I’d be late after a long walk I took the safe route and found a place on AirBnB.

A note about Guidebooks: I came to Italy armed with every English language guidebook I could find, all of which fit neatly inside my phone.

I expected the Lightfoot guide to be most helpful, but then came to realize it is purely directional guidance and accommodation listings with scant information about historic towns or buildings. It’s like being told how to get there, but not knowing where you are once you arrive.

I found the Cicerone guide by Alison Raju to be difficult to read in its Kindle form and understood its layout better when I peeked at a hard copy. Alison’s place descriptions are unparalleled and alone make purchase of her guidebook worthwhile.

The SloWays App is an extremely helpful tool, connecting GPS guidance with downloadable maps. Sadly, my phone’s GPS function failed, so the app became almost useless. The daily descriptions are so vague as to be pointless, and SloWays sticks slavishly to the official route adding unnecessary km to the unwary pilgrim.

I ended up relying mostly on the somewhat obscure (for non-Italians) Terre di Mezzo guide. It is unafraid of route-shortening options, has passable directions, and includes interesting historical info. The maps are not wonderful, but GPS tracks are available. After my phone broke I wished many times I had brought my GPS and Terre di Mezzo’s tracks.

And how did I do? I’m glad you asked! After recovering from my foot injury I chugged along pretty well. My last week was blister free once I learned the right formula for tying my boots. As always I lost weight and got too much sun. My rain gear was fine when I used it, but it’s uncomfortably hot, even on cool days, so I tend to avoid wearing it unless I absolutely must. This led twice to me getting my boots wet on the insides. Not good.

Once again, a true highlight was pilgrim friendships. There were few solitary walkers, though, and those who weren’t in couples were either slower (Mike) or faster (Paolo) than me. I leave you with these photos of pilgrim friends. Ciao!

Paradise. Hell. Heaven. Joy

Walking through the nature preserve at the start of the day in one word: Paradise.

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.

I’d have happily spent more time in the pedestrian zone of lovely Formello., my home last night.

Stuck inside the stockades on the long and winding wrong road in paradise.

A pretty bridge in this paradise of a nature preserve. The only problem? I was lost.

Hell under the Umbrella Pines. Many long kilometers of walking on the road into Rome.

Two Dutch pilgrims at the overlook at Mons Gaudi. Very sweet, and generous with their fruit.

Can’t believe my luck. i’m walking to the Vatican to get my Testimonium just as pilgrim friends Roberto and Stefano are about to enter St Peter’s Square.

See the red/white marker in the pole? I followed these for 700 km to this, the last one before St Peter’s

They were out of blank Testimonia at the Pilgrim Office, so I convinced the official in the Sacristy to write mine by hand. He mispelled my name, but that makes this one even more special. Inside St Peter’s, designed as an image of Heaven on Earth.

Joy. A fantastic walk over many days. Full of memories.

From the ridiculous to the sublime

Leaving Sutri behind in the sunshine.

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.

Storm clouds gather.

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.

Madonna della Sorba tower peeks through the trees.

Santuario Madonna della Sorba


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.

The long, quiet (and dry) walk to Formello.

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.

In the apse, the original icon that spawned the miracle.

An incredibly detailed guide on how to set up and use your GPS on the Via di Francesco

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.

A hiking GPS is not like the GPS in your car

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?

Not so fast. Your GPS needs a good map to tell you where you are

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:

  1. Make sure your unit either has a good hiking map already or download a good map for it.
  2. Download the GPX tracks (here are instructions)
  3. Learn how to use them

Option 1: Garmin GPS: Downloading the map and GPX tracks

Right now, a German website is the best place to find our Open Street Map.

  1. Go to the website:
  2. Click on the the option “Maps for Garmin GPS-Receivers”: FreiCartaHomePage
  3. That will give you an overview page that looks like this. FreizeitcartaOverview
  4. Now click on the “Maps” tab and go down to “Other Maps.” Click on Italy. Going down the list, you’ll find Italy just after Finland right here: FreiZeitCartaItaly
  5. Click on “Garmin GPS-device: Italy-install image for micro SD card (0.7GB). A download to your computer now begins. The result is a file This is an archived file of the map image of all Italy. Once it’s downloaded, click on the file to un-archive it. You end up with a file folder marked “OFM(EU2016_SE_GPS” or similar. Open that file and look for the large file labeled “gmapsupp.img.” That’s our map!
  6. Now, plug your Garmin into your computer using the USB cable. Choose the option “Mass Storage” on the Garmin device. The Garmin is now like a flash drive — it shows up among devices in your file directory and is aptly labeled “Garmin.”
  7. Click on the device. You’ll now see a folder that looks something like this: FinderFolder
  8. Bravo. Now, look for that “gmap.supp.img” file you’ve downloaded onto your computer. Click and drag it into your Garmin. You can see where mine is, and it seems to work just fine there. The Garmin now loads the map into its flash drive.
  9. Once the download is complete. Eject the Garmin from your computer and unplug it. Turn on the unit. Go to “Settings” then “Maps” and look for the Freizeitcarta map. You should see it in the map list. Click there and you’ve got your 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.

Option 2: Smartphone App: Using MotionX GPS and downloading the GPX tracks to your iPhone

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:

  1. Download the GPX tracks you want to use onto your computer.
  2. Attach a GPX track to an email and send it to the email account that is on your iPhone. You should plan to use either the Apple email app or the Gmail email app. This won’t work if you just access your email through Safari on the iPhone.
  3. Open the email app on your iPhoneIMG_8232
  4. Press and hold on the attachment.
  5. Click “Open”IMG_8233
  6. You’ll see a screen of gibberish appear — that’s what the GPX file looks like in text format.IMG_8235
  7. Press and hold on the screen until you see the up arrow button. Click on that
  8. Choose “open in MotionX GPS” and the program will tell you it’s ready to import the GPX track onto your phone. IMG_8236
  9. Click on the word “Import” in green letters.IMG_8238
  10. When it’s done, click “Menu” and then “All Tracks.” Identify the track and click on it and you’ll see a map of the track. Here’s the track from Florence to Pontassieve (Stage 1). Voila!IMG_8237
  11. If you’re a neatnik like me and want to keep your tracks organized, click on “View Details” and then type in the name of the track.IMG_8239

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.

You’re ready to go!

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!

How to order your Via di Francesco credential


2014 Credential for the Via di Francesco from Florence to Rome

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:

  1. Start about two months in advance of your walk. Download the Request Form either right here (RichiestaDellaCredenziale-) .
  2. Print it out — one form per person.
  3. Fill in the form(s). If you’re not an Italian speaker this is where the trouble begins. To help, I’ve created this handy translation of the form below (English in red). I recommend writing your mailing info in the upper left corner in the exact form that will satisfy your country’s postal service.
  4. VdF-Translated Credential2

    Translations in red. I recommend you add your mailing info in the upper left exactly as it should appear on the envelope.

  5. Fill in the form(s). If you’re not an Italian speaker this is where the trouble begins. To help, I’ve created this handy translation of the form at the right (English in red). Don’t forget to add your country and postal code since they’ll need all your mailing info.
  6. Once you’ve filled in the form(s), scan it on your scanner (or take it to FedEx/Kinko’s where they’ll put it on your thumb drive for you.
  7. Email the scanned form(s) to: Feel free to write your email in English, no problem. Every week the kind folks there answer emails like this, enroll pilgrims on the official pilgrim register, and send pilgrims all around the world their credentials for free. It’s a beautiful thing.
  8. If you would like to make a donation, the kind folk on the other end of your email will tell you how to transfer funds to their donation account. To initiate that, just write something like, “Can you send me information about how to make a donation to cover the cost of my credential?” They’ll send your their bank transfer numbers, which for security reasons I won’t post here. FYI this is commonly done in the EU and UK, but is rather expensive for people in the US or Australia.
  9. Your credential will arrive in the mail in about 6-7 weeks. The camino overseers there will move Heaven and Earth if necessary to get you your credential in time for your walk.

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!



Our September walk from Assisi to Rome is filling up! Here’s more info (and photos!)


Map of our pilgrimage trek from Assisi to Rome, September 3-15

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.

Our Itinerary


Inside the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi

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.


Walking downhill toward Spello

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.


Dramatic landscapes on the way to Macenano from Spoleto

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)


View from beautiful Labro

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).


Sunrise in Poggio Bustone

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.


The hidden treasure of Cantalice

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.


A rest day in beautiful and scenic Rieti

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).



Tiny and quaint Poggio San Lorenzo

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’.



Olive groves among the rolling hills after Poggio San Lorenzo

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.


Orsini Castle dominates the area

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.


Olive groves are replaced by wheat fields outside Monterotondo

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).


Outside Monterotondo and less than a day from Rome and still in beautiful green valleys

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!


Crossing the Tiber in Rome on the Ponte Milvio

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!


St. Peter’s Square in iPhone Panorama mode

You’re invited to walk with Theresa and me to Rome this September!

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!

St Francis draft coverThis 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.


Our pilgrimage route – from Assisi to Rome

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.


Theresa and I at the London book launch on November 5, 2015

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!



2015 Updates complete for The Way of St Francis guidebook

Here's my itinerary - by car and train - to update the Way of St Francis guidebook this month.

Here’s my itinerary – by car and train – to update the Way of St Francis guidebook this month.

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:

  • Introduction to Florence – more info on visiting the Basilica of Santa Croce
  • Stage 2: Consuma – lodging update
  • Stage 6: Santuario della Verna – more information on pilgrim accommodation
  • Stage 8: Pieve Santo Stefano – Montecasale update
  • Stage 10: Entry update to Citta di Castello
  • Stage 12: Gubbio – additional visit info
  • Stage 13: Biscina – new hostel for pilgrims!
  • Stage 15: Assisi – scheduling information, pilgrim office info
  • Stage 17: Foligno – new accommodation
  • Stage 18: New entry info to Spoleto, including revised GPX track
  • Stage 21: New entry to Piediluco, including revised GPX track
  • Stage 22: Clarification after Labro, clarified approach to Poggio Bustone and new GPX track
  • Stage 23: Rieti – new accommodation
  • Stage 24: Poggio San Lorenzo – new accommodation, including info on a convent and hostel
  • Stage 25: Ponticelli – new agriturismo
  • Stage 26: Montelibretti – new accommodation; Monterotondo – new accommodation information at the Duomo
  • Stage 27: Monte Sacro – new accommodation

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!


An Italian sojourn to update “The Way of St. Francis”

After the book launch in London on November 5, Theresa, Madison and I headed to France for a holiday. On the 18th I put them on a plane at Charles DeGaulle airport and headed down to Italy to research updates for The Way of St Francis and check in with Italian friends. As I write, I’m in an Airbnb apartment near Castel Ritaldi, more or less near Trevi, and am nearing the end of my work.

Here are a couple things I’ve learned about the Via di Francesco while here in Italy:

  • More pilgrims are walking this trail — Everyone agrees that they’re seeing more pilgrims. Simone Minelli in Gubbio counted over 2,500 helped by his organization this year. Feliciano in Poggio Bustone himself housed over 1,500 pilgrims. That’s great news for the trail. More pilgrims means more infrastructure as people come to recognize it for the delight it is. According to Feliciano, it is mostly German, Dutch, Austrian and French pilgrims. Just a few Americans and no English. Let’s fix that!
  • Signage is improving — The Region of Lazio has made an investment in new signs, and according to Gigi Bettin Umbria is not far behind. Today I saw sparkling new signs pointing the way along the Holy Valley of Rieti walk, now being identified by Lazio as part of the “Via Francigena di San Francesco” and “Via di Roma” group. In a couple of days I’ll investigate whether trail maintenance has improved south of Rieti.

St Francis draft cover.jpgMy book updates will soon be posted to the Cicerone update site. So far I’ve put together a new and improved description of the approach to Poggio Bustone, recorded the new entry to Piediluco, updated accommodation for Consuma, Santuario della Verna, Sansepolcro, Foligno, Ponticelli, Montelibretti and Monte Sacro.

In between updates I’ve rented a car and explored a bit, something that’s not so easy when you’re on foot as I’ve always been while on pilgrimage. So I’ve now added some Franciscan sites to my repertoire, including Montecasale, Montefalco, Greccio and Fonte Colombo. With those done, I’m pretty sure I’ve now visited all the major St Francis sites in Italy.

It was great to see friends like Alec who hosted me overnight in 2014. I checked in with Chiara, Gigi and Beatrice in Perugia and while there had a chance to visit Comitato Linguistico (my language school) and my house mother, Graziella and her son, Luigi. I really enjoyed meeting Bret and Catia and their two kids in Loreto for an American Thanksgiving dinner.

I also connected with the people of Italy Magazine who’ve agreed to publish a couple of articles from me in the next months. I’m about halfway done with research on two articles and I have an idea for a third, so some writing to do yet.

The best part of this trip, though, has been getting to see some of the friends I’ve made over these couple of years of visiting and writing in Italy. I’ve put together a slideshow below of people and places I’ve seen so far. Just one week left in Italy, then it’s back to Seattle. I love this place, but I miss Theresa, my boys and my home town.