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


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

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

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

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

Revised Stage 1 Profile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Way of St Francis: Road closed after Monterotondo, here is the temporary alternate

Update: Our thanks to local volunteers who’ve found a much easier alternate. As you approach the gate after the olive oil factory, checked to see if it is locked. If it’s locked, turn off onto a path on the right that allows you to bypass the gate. This alternative has been cleared with the neighbors and property owners, so you’re free to use it with a clear conscience.

The following alternative is retained here in case there is any problem with the work-around above.

I’m sad to report that Way of St Francis neighbors in the Valle Ricca and Tor San Giovanni neighborhoods have locked the gate to the private road on their property, making access to Monte Sacro and Rome much more difficult for pilgrims leaving Monterotondo (Stage 26, Way of St Francis). The gate is locked just after the olive oil plant. A big thanks to Gigi Bettin and volunteers in the Lazio region for finding a temporary alternative that adds only 1.7km to the day’s walk.

The GPX tracks for this alternate can be downloaded from Wikiloc at this link.

Here are directions:

At the end of Via Sant’Angelo (guidebook p. 249) turn left as directed and begin walking along the field with a house and tall, bamboo hedge on your right. Instead of turning right as directed in the book, turn left and (thanks to the kindness of the property owner) follow the edge of the crops, soon coming alongside a ditch. A two-track farm road soon picks up and then becomes a gravel road that ends abruptly at a wood, the Trentani Park. Turn right and continue uphill. Follow this 500m to the first right and in a few meters cross the Via Cesa di Loreto and go straight in a neighborhood of small olive groves and farms. Take the first right (on the paved Via Selva Dei Cavalleri) and then the second left (onto the Via di Quatro Conca). Turn right before the gate of the Villa Sesterzi and follow this road past the back side of the La Cerquetta agriturismo. Continue on past the end of the pavement and cross the wide field on a faint track, aiming at the farmhouse and outbuildings. You are now in the Marcigliana Preserve. Pick up the farm’s driveway, continuing west, until it ends. Turn left and find yourself on the original track.

This is what it looks like from the satellite:


The original track after Monterotondo is in green; the temporary alternate is in blue.


Guidebook updates will be loaded when a permanent alternative track has been set. Thanks for your patience! -SB

Australian pilgrim Bill Bennett describes his walk on the Via di Francesco as “Sublime and Profound”

(Editors note: At our request, Bill Bennett, an Australian filmmaker and pilgrimage lover, has written his reflections on the Via di Francesco. We shared an advance copy of The Way of St Francis: From Florence to Assisi and Rome with Bill so he could check the itinerary and get back to us with comments and suggestions. Bill can be reached through his website and blog.

Arrival in Assisi

Earlier this year my wife and I and a group of five others walked a section of the Via di Francesco, from Santuario della Verna to Assisi.

That we were able to do it so capably, without once getting lost, was testament to Sandy Brown and his wonderful book, which I believe will become as essential to this walk as John Brierley’s guide is to the Camino Frances.

Sandy also very kindly provided us with GPX coordinates which, once coupled to an app on our iPhones, meant we knew exactly where we were at any given moment.

Sandy, thank you for making this pilgrimage so easy for us!

We were all experienced pilgrims. We’d all previously walked the Camino Frances, and other Caminos too – but without doubt we would count the Via di Francesco as the most sublime, profound, and spiritual of any walk we’ve ever done. Why?

unnamed-6Starting off in the monastery at della Verna certainly was a deeply moving experience. This is the place where St. Francis experienced his stigmata, and it’s a crucial part of his story.

We stayed in the monastery the night before we began our pilgrimage. It was a wonderful introduction to the life of the saint. We participated in the traditional procession to the Chapel, which has happened each day at 3pm for centuries. It takes you from a small church through a covered corridor, the walls painted with frescos depicting the life of St. Francis.

The following morning we set off, following instructions in Sandy’s book, and his GPX coordinates. For the next ten days we meandered our way south, through some of the most glorious country I’ve ever seen. I have to say of all the walks I’ve done, the Via di Francesco is by far the most scenic. At times you have to just stop and take in the wonder of what you’re seeing.

The walk also takes you through some wonderful Tuscan and Umbrian towns – and the food is incredible. Not expensive, but it’s the best Italian food I’ve ever had, and I’ve travelled extensively in Italy.

unnamed-2Because we were a fairly large group we chose to stay in hotels – and so that dictated our stage lengths each day. With a fewer number we could have stayed in agriturismos, which are cheaper and get you closer to the local people. If I were to do the walk again, and I’m thinking of it because it was just so wonderful, I would definitely stay in these rural B&Bs.

Reaching Assisi, and spending time in that sacred city, was the highlight of the walk. If you are seeking a spiritual experience, there is nothing more profound than going to St. Francis’s tomb at the Basilica. If you’re simply wanting to hang out in one of Italy’s most beautiful historic cities, then Assisi has everything you could want.

Some months later now, the power of this pilgrimage stays with me. I have recurring memories of moments of exquisite beauty, and of a transcendent spirituality that is palpable on this walk.

unnamed-3I would not have attempted this without Sandy Brown. I mean that. Knowing that the route had been meticulously tracked, and there was a guide book which I could constantly refer to, gave me enormous comfort. I found that the information in Sandy’s book was accurate often down to the metre! He even described barking dogs on one section, and as I walked along it, sure enough there were barking dogs!

The Via di Francesco will never supplant the Camino Frances, however I believe it’s more beautiful, it’s just as profound as a spiritual journey, and it gives you the life and story of St. Francis, which will stay with you for the rest of your life – and beyond!

Bill Bennett