Wrap-up from Rome after 973 km of pilgrim trails

On the final full day in Rome after 973 km (605 miles) on the Via Francigena and Via di Francesco.

It’s such a funny thing to walk for a few weeks then wake up one day and realize the walking is all done. That’s how I’m feeling this morning as I finish breakfast on the day after my summer of walking is over.

What a summer. I set out on August 3 from Lausanne, Switzerland and walked over the Great St Bernard Pass into Italy, finishing in Piacenza after 478 kilometers over mountains and through rice fields. I’m still convinced it was the long days and hot temperatures that caused me to get sick in Piacenza. I then flew home for a hectic few days of moving household items in preparation for the sale of our Seattle home.

On September 1 I was back in Italy with Luke to lead our first tour group. With eight wonderful folk Luke drove our Sherpa van and I walked from Florence to Assisi, retracing for the first time my book research walk from 2014.

Then on September 19 Luke and I greeted our next eleven pilgrims and walked with them from Assisi to Rome.

Though I skipped two stages due to another illness, with the many extra kilometers of pilgrim herding the total distance clocked from Florence to Rome was 495 km.

The biggest blessing of the time was my month working closely with Luke. Since he grew up and moved out on his own we haven’t had anything like this intense time together. For 32 days, both of us working from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. we’ve laughed and hugged and strategized and overcome. Luke is a great young man and was a real hit with our pilgrims, who all love him to pieces — but none love him more than me.

As for me, I’ve lost about 15 pounds with all this walking. My feet are in great shape thanks to HikeGoo and surgical tape. I have a massive farmer’s tan. And according to my FitBit my resting heart rate is down about 17 bpm. I shaved my head in August in Aosta and I miss my hair. I used 12 gigabytes of data on my iPhone 6, and found Galileo Pro and WhatsApp to be invaluable aids. My Italian is becoming stronger, though no one is mistaking me for a native, and most of all I’m missing Theresa and home.

Tomorrow I speak at a conference near Assisi and then, due to flight schedules, I am in Italy until Sunday evening. That night I fly to London Gatwick, stay in a tiny Japanese style airport hotel, and then fly home to Seattle, Theresa, friends, cats, church, new home and the joys of the familiar, where I’ll begin to plan the next walking adventure.

Here are some of my favorite photos from these seven weeks of walking.

Roads Go Ever On

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on,
Under cloud and under star.
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen,
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green,
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone.
Let others follow, if they can!
Let them a journey new begin.
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

—J.R.R. Tolkien

From the castle on down

Note the nifty blue guidebook in the pilgtim’s hand

Day eleven: Ponticelli (Nerola) to Monterotondo — 32 km (19.9 miles)

We left the castle this morning at 9:00 and reconnected with the trail. I’d set the stage end at Montelibretti, though my book carries the stage another 17 km, ending at Monterotondo. Four of our group opted to go the full distance with me, while seven were picked up by Luke in the van at Montelibretti. Tomorrow I’ll return to Montelibretti with the Seven and walk again to Monterotondo.

The scenery is changing noticeably as mountains are turning to vast fields of wheat as the Tiber River Valley expands as it nears the sea.

For several km we followed signs to Alesansro’s birthday party. We hope it was fun!

Pilgrim walking.

This fountain always looked like a cradle to me.


Sheep. We like sheep.

Effects of Lover’s Tunnel still going strong.

The flower tower.

We arrived in Monterotondo just in time to enjoy a street fair.

Castles, mountains and olives

Marco fills us in on cold press extra virgin olive oil in the Poggio San Lorenzo frantoio that’s been in his family for 400 years

Day ten: Poggio San Lorenzo to Ponticelli — 22 km (13.7 miles)

Luke drove us in the van back to Poggio San Lorenzo and when we arrived we had a lecture from a Marco about his olive oil press. A big thanks to Francesco Lucioli for setting it up. Then we walked to Ponticelli via Poggio Moiano and had a great time in the gorgeous scenery.

Our group poses with Francesco and Marco.

Hanging with Francesco.

Then we walked….

….through beautiful scenery …..

….met new friends……

….stopped at ancient churches……

….with amazing exterior carvings……

….and beautiful interiors.

San Martini church, Poggio Moiano.

Poggio Moiano bridge.

Then we stayed the night in 15th century Castello Orsini.

New friendships made as the miles accumulate

May delRe’s photo of our group at dinner. Our hotel was once a prince’s hunting lodge

Day nine: Rieti to Poggio San Lorenzo — 21 km (13 miles)

We walked from Rieti to Ponte Sambuco where we met three Austrian Pilgrims and had lunch. Then the stronger walkers went on to Poggio San Lorenzo while the others returned by van to the hotel (Villa Park Potenziani) where they enjoyed a few more hours in the lovely setting. I’m loving how barriers are coming down in the group and we are starting to really enjoy each other’s company.

We walk along Via Salaria to leave Rieti.

Roman bridge at Ponte Sambuco (third century).

Ornaro in the distance.

Our group in the woods.

Look closely at the sign and you’ll see the group is at the 100km left to Rome marker.

Rest day trip to Greccio brings visions of Christmas

The bronze Saint makes a point

Rest day in Rieti

Long ago we scheduled a rest day here to give our pilgrims a break. They celebrated the special day by scattering all over town in the morning. In the afternoon we loaded up a van and drove to Greccio, scene of the first Natvity crèche, a brilliant, viral idea of Francis.

What decades of unresolved anger looks like.

Aussie couple Brian and Shirley are finishing up their walk to Rome using a certain guidebook.

So is touring Rieti the equivalent of navel gazing?

Thirteenth century fresco remembers Francis and the nativity scene.

The church at Greccio includes nativity scenes from all over the world, including this one.

And this grand one.

And this tiny one.

Mural on tiles.

Luke was enlisted by a friar to help arrange a bulletin board.

Walking our way to a rest day

Francis mosaic at La Foresta.

Day eight: Poggio Bustone to Rieti — 20.7 km (12.9 miles)

After several of our people returned from the convent above town, the rest of us climbed to Chiesa San Giovanni and then down the hill toward Cantalice, La Foresta and finally Rieti. We’re staying in a quiet [and maybe embarrassingly posh] hotel on the outskirts of town while we enjoy a well-earned day of rest.

for fun I’ve added up my walking distance this year to date — 836km (520 miles). Remaining distance to Rome is just over 100 km, so I’ll end short of my 1000 km goal due to two missed and a few shortened stages, but I’m feeling a great sense of accomplishment and a kind of physical satisfaction/ecstasy. It’s been a good two months and I’m planning to savor the remaining days.

Poggio Bustone from below.

Climb every mountain.

First group arrives at Cantalice.

View down into Cantalice.

Denise conquers the umpteenth stairway.

Il sentiero.

Every time I see these statues they seem to be singing.

Leaving Santuario La Foresta.

Looking toward Rieti.

St Francis statue at Rieti Cathedral.

Caught on camera eating watermelon gelato with Mike (photo credit: Mary delRe).

Our Rieti-based travel agent stopped in for a chat and brought some of his son’s pilgrim-themed micro-brew. Note the St Francis beech tree and Santiago scallop shell.

Tall climb and renewed friendship

Feliciano, center, with Luke and me.

Day seven: Piediluco to Poggio Bustone — 24km (14.9 miles)

Today’s big climb of about 600 meters presented an obstacle that our group handily overcame. We arrived in Poggio Bustone and settled into the new apartments of my friend, Feliciano. His Locanda Francescana is by far the best pilgrim overnight option in this quaint and pretty hill town, and I’m so proud of Feliciano’s efforts to prepare his new rooms to coincide with our arrival here

Seven of our eleven pilgrims opted to walk the whole distance. Left to right: Lisa, Mary, Mike, Mary Ann, Denise, Fiona, Millie.

Views to the Sacred Valley.

Photo op at the wooden cross above the St Francis Beech Tree.

Walking down from the heights.

Results of recent forest fires near Poggio Bustone.

Our nervous group encounters a nervous cow.

On GPS this is what my day looks like. The red line is our intended track as we arrive in Poggio Bustone. Blue is my actual recorded track at our arrival. Our intended distance for the day was 21 km. Actual distance today was 31+.

Waterfall river lake walk

Mist rises from the falls just after the flood gates are opened.

Day Six: Arrone to Piediluco– 18km (11.2 miles)

The Marmore Waterfall always refreshes me, and today was no different. Our pilgrims started from the bottom, walked up, and then feasted at a friendly and efficient restaurant at the top. Afterward we walked along the river and then the lake before settling into our lakeside hotel near a spot where St Francis preached.

Lovers’ Tunnel is very wet.

Luke and I pose for the camera.

View back toward Arrone.

Walk along the dike.

Panorama at the lakefront.

Everything seems better in clean clothes

Derelict church in upper Macenano

Day five: Ceselli to Arrone — 17 km (10.6 miles)

We walked from our lovely hotel today through Macenano and then out the Nera Valley to Ferentillo and Arrone. Who would ever guess that Arrone’s central piazza would include an ultramodern laundromat? The couple of hours spent cleaning clothes will make life much more pleasant, I’m sure.

Group pic at the start of the day in front of Abbazia San Pietro, our hotel.

Quiet times for the local Communist Party.

The Nera Valley.

Who would guess that this little Italian hill town would have….

…a state of the art laundromat right in the main piazza?

Mountain paths, amazing views

Bas-relief sculptures from 10th century on the facade of Spoleto’s Chiesa San Pietro

Day four: Spoleto to Ceselli — 17km (10.6 miles)

With the Ponte delle Torri closed in Spoleto we walked around via San Pietro, then climbed the giant hill. From there it was over the hump to Valnerina and our overnight at gorgeous Abbazia San Pietro in Valle.

We gave hikers the option of walking today’s mighty hill or taking the van. Five of eleven walked with me. Here we gather for a photo.

The currently closed bridge.

Hiking up toward the summit after Monteluco sanctuary.

Eating at the lunch pasture.

Photo op above the gorge.

The gorge.

“Look how high up we are!”

From below, that is where we were. Way up there above the cliffs

Our stop Forbes the night — Abbazia San Pietro in Valle.