- The Via Francesco (VF) is relatively new. While the Camino de Santiago dates back to the 9th century, with a history including millions walking to Santiago for over 1,000 years, the Via Francesco is a relatively new pilgrimage. Pilgrims have been traveling to Assisi for hundreds of years, but there was no structured route taking you to sites having significance to St. Francis until late in the 20th century.
- Shorter. The Camino if one starts in St. Jean Pied-de-Port (SJPP) in France, which has evolved into the traditional start, is 790 kilometers while the VF is 550 kilometers if you walk from Florence to Assisi to Rome. Of course, just as with the Camino there is no rule so pilgrims can start anywhere. Many Italians walk La Verna to Assisi, but one could also do Florence to Assisi or Rome to Assisi.
- Italy vs. Spain. Both countries are in southern Europe bordering the Mediterranean but with different cultures, languages, and food. On the Camino de Santiago you will occasionally come across Roman ruins, with the most strong Roman history evident on the Camino Via de la Plata. While walking Via Francesco, you are amidst the history and ruins of Rome and you are never far from The Eternal City. One can even start or end their pilgrimage in Rome. If you like art, the quality of art in the Italian Churches is incredibly high, magnificent really. It seemed every church had high quality statues, paintings, frescos, etc..
- More rugged and challenging. As mentioned the VF is 240 kilometers shorter. Don’t be lulled into thinking it is easier because of the significantly shorter distance. The Camino de Santiago is relatively flat with a few exceptions if you walk from SJPP. Plus while the CF SJPP to Roncesvalles involves significant elevation change, I would not describe it as rugged. The Francesco is rugged, more actual mountain trekking. There are more than a few days where one walks up and or down 800-1,300 meters. And while the Camino rarely takes pilgrims through narrow rugged mountain forest trails, they are quite common on Francesco.
- The VF is much less crowded than Camino Frances. Not as lonely as Camino Levante, but less than Camino VDLP. I connected with a few other pilgrims who started at the same time in Florence but we split up the day before reaching La Verna. La Verna to Assisi had the most pilgrims on it and you would see others in the town in the evening. Walking in May/June it was rare to see more than 5 pilgrims on the trail each day. Though occasionally I passed groups. Especially between Assisi and Rome.
- Santiago vs. Assisi or Rome or Florence. Almost all pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela see the Cathedral de Santiago as being their destination or endpoint although some opt to walk on to Finisterre and or Muxia. And Finisterre and Muxia are both relatively close to Santiago requiring just 3 days of walking. Via Francesco is unusual in that it is really two different routes to Assisi. After all it is the Way of St. Francis of Assisi. When I first learned of it I wanted to walk to Assisi, I did that from Rome to Assisi in 2020 after walking into Rome on the Via Francigena. I still had some energy and time and felt a calling so walked on to Asisi. However there are several points of interest to St. Francis fans between Assisi and La Verna. The southern route is Rome to Assisi, the northern route is La Verna to Assisi. However, one can start from Florence and walk to La Verna Assisi and end in Rome. That is highly recommended if you have the energy and time. While on the Camino it is possible to feel the spirit of Santiago anywhere on the path, you don’t connect with him physically until Santiago Cathedral. On the VF, one is constantly coming across sites that were part of Francis’ life; La Verna where he received the stigmata of Christ, Poggio San Bustone where he got his revelations, Gubbio where he had his encounter with the wolf, Faggio de Francesco, where he was protected in a storm by an ancient beech tree. There are several others and of course last but not least Assisi, his hometown and where the Basilica of St. Francis stands. Alternatively, one can walk from Rome to Assisi to Florence.
- More path variations. Most of the Caminos in Spain are structured with only a limited amount and short distances of variations and you end your days at the same place usually as other pilgrims walking at a similar pace. On Francesco, there are several variations across the different guidebooks taking you on different paths and different villages. For example,after La Verna a few Germans were walking through Caprese Michelangelo (his hometown) while my guidebook took us east of that village through Pieve Santo Stefano. Also after Assisi, the other pilgrims I was in flow with were veering off to Greccio and other towns, exploring points of interest regarding St. Frances and one pilgrim veered off onto another pilgrimage Via Benedetto after Poggio San Bustone. Consequently, a guidebook and gps mapping are highly recommended on the VF. The Camino Frances can be done easily without a guidebook. Cicerone has a good guidebook titled ‘The Way of St. Francis. One definitely needs to be more aware on VF as sometimes you are following red/white GR trail signs and also blue/yellow VF signs. Then there are local trail markings which make this walk confusing at times. The Camino is simpler in that you can zone out and just follow the well marked trails of yellow arrows and shells, rarely getting lost.
- Accommodations. On the Camino albergues are common with dormitories offering cheap beds for €8-15. Hotels and Inns are available as well usually for €25-50. On the Francesco, there are just a few dormitory style accommodations, usually provided by parish churches. Convents and monasteries usually provided a private room for €20-30. B&B’s and Hotels were anywhere from €30-60 with the exception of Florence and Rome which were more. A few accommodations are worth mentioning as being pilgrim oriented;
-Eremo di Calmodi by donation. A wonderful Sanctuary in the mountains 40 minutes before Calmodi. The place is in the middle of a beautiful forest in the mountains, and the monks are serious about silence and offer accommodations on a donativo basis.
-Santuario della Verna €55 including breakfast. This is a major stop after Rome and Assisi for it was here that Francis connected with God and received the stigmata of wounds on his hands, feet, and side just as Jesus experienced on the Cross. Meditating at the Cave where he slept and the Cave he prayed at is a powerful experience.
-Pieve di Saddi is a 4th Century Church and hostel with dormitories on a donation basis. The hospitaleros are volunteers and offer kindness, hospitality, a delicious dinner and breakfast as well up in the mountains about 10K before Pietralunga.
-Eremo di San Pietro is managed and run by the volunteer hospitaleros of the Italian Brotherhood of Saint James. Donation They manage another albergue, San Nicolas, on the Camino Frances that is equally special. They provide kindness, hospitality, dinner, breakfast and a pilgrim experience not to be missed. They are famous for having a foot washing ceremony before dinner just as Jesus conducted with the Apostles before the Last Supper.
-Parish of Santa Maddalena in Spello. Just a wonderful accommodation with a private room and a large shared upper patio. The location is right in central Spello. €30
-Casa di Pelligrino in San Lorenzo. I am not sure is run by the Parish or village, but it is comfortable and smack dab in the middle of one of my favorite village piazzas on the pilgrim trails of Italy. It also happens to be above a wonderful pizzeria allowing for a relaxing meal and evening hanging with locals. They ask for €15
-Parish of Santa Maria Maddalena Pilgrim House in Monterotondo by donation. This was my second stay here and both times I was greeted by a most friendly hospitalera, Antoinette, who for the second time also insisted on making a delicious 4 course home cooked dinner. Very comfortable place.
-Spedale della Provvidenza di San Giacomo in Rome donation. This is run by the same Italian Brotherhood as Eremo di San Pietro on VF and San Nicolas on CF so they have the same foot washing ceremony as well as dinner and breakfast. They also allow for a 2 night stay. All on a donation basis. Fantastic location in central Rome not far from the Vatican.
9. More expensive. Via Francesco is definitely more expensive than the Camino, but there are ways to keep your costs down. I averaged about €32 per night for accommodation, but I decided to eat well. There were only rare opportunities to enjoy a pilgrims meal at restaurants for about €17-25. If you opted for a starter of a salad or something and a pasta with wine it would run about €25-35 typically and occasionally I spent $ 50- €70 for a dinner. One of the best budget options was finding the best local pizzeria where you could get a pizza and a drink for €10-12. Of course a few places had kitchens and one could eat even more cheaply by buying and preparing your own food.
10. The Food. Now Spain has some great restaurants and I occasionally partake but when walking on the Camino the rhythm is to just head out with the other pilgrims to a local restaurant offering a pilgrims meal or a Menu del Dia for €9-12 which includes a starter of soup, salad, and sometimes other options, and a second of usually beef, pork, chicken, or fish with potatoes. Dessert is typically a choice of Santiago cake, flan, or ice cream. Occasionally there are restaurants offering more variety. The food is decent to sometimes very good and a great value as they usually include a bottle of wine. While Italy has great food it is definitely more expensive. I mentioned above a common pilgrim staple was pizza which are almost always excellent and filling. A salad can usually be added for €3-4. However, I don’t get to Italy as often as Spain, and I love Italian food so it is worth a bit of a splurge to me. Each local area seems to have their own pasta shapes and I just typically go along with whatever is featured. Though my go to was usually mushrooms and truffles which are extremely expensive in most other countries. I found getting a pasta and a second or main dish too much. I would typically get a relatively small antipasto dish, salad, soup, or veggies for a starter. Then I would choose a pasta as my main. A typical Tagliatelle with truffles was €13-15 and worth it. A simple spaghetti with Bolognese sauce was €6-10. House wine was usually decent and sometimes quite good and inexpensive at €4-7 for a half liter (⅔ of a bottle). I skipped dessert usually but if I was still hungry would look for the best local gelateria for an ice cream cone.
11. The Spiritual Experience. This of course is a highly personal matter. For me the CF experience was intensely spiritual. It seemed to allow for deep meditation while walking, enhanced by the fellow pilgrim encounters along the way. I also came to believe there was a spirit guiding those who listen on CF and to me it was the spirit of Santiago. The VF is also intensely spiritual but in a different way. There aren’t that many other pilgrims but as you walk you actually follow the footsteps of Francis who was a real person preaching his Way. You will experience his spiritual journey by visiting all these previously mentioned stops where Francis had real life experiences. One also senses that many of the locals are connected with Francis offering kindness and hospitality to pilgrims and others. Consequently, his spirit is prevalent in more powerful ways than with Santiago on the Camino. Visiting these sites where Francis had spiritual experiences potentially brings one into their own deeper self. This journey was enhanced by reading a couple of books on St. Francis in an effort to get to know him better. The first was St. Francis by Thomas of Celano who was a priest in Francis’ time and actually knew him. The second was by Nikos Kazantzakis of Zorba The Greek fame who wrote a fictional biography of Francis that explored his inner turmoil. I had always thought Francis my favorite saint but this novel and other research caused me to question him and my own feelings because of the intensely radical nature of Francis. He shunned money, possessions, sex, food, and pleasure in his effort to connect with Jesus. Addressing my own doubts of this extreme behavior allowed for a better understanding of oneself and our limits. While I could never even come close to Francis’ extreme, I can appreciate the power of Jesus and Christianity as a path to God and happiness.
12. The overall experience is powerful. Walking the Francesco and ending at his tomb in The Basilica of St. Francis is spiritually intense rivaling that of the Camino de Santiago. Furthermore, unlike Santiago, Francis actually walked these paths preaching his way. It is quite special to walk in his footsteps and connect with his spirit. Of all the many pilgrimages around the world to do if you are motivated after doing The Camino, The Way of St. Francis is an excellent option, especially if you are Christian and a fan of St. Francis. Combining the rugged hiking, the Italian people, Italian food, art and the spirit of Francesco makes for an incredible pilgrimage.
13, Rome. As an alternative to Assisi, Rome as a final destination is quite special as well. The final destination for a second Testimonium (Compostela) is St. Peter’s itself, and The Vatican home of Papa Francesco. One can spend many days exploring all the history in Rome. By chance this being my 4th trip to Rome in 6 years, I decided to do the 7 Pilgrim Churches Pilgrimage in Rome and one of the Basilicas was St. John Lateran which is actually the cathedral church home to the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. It was here in 1209 that Francis came to seek permission from Pope Innocent III to found a new religious order. Though initially doubtful about Francis’ request, he had a dream seeing Francis holding up the pillars of St. John Lateran, the home church of Christendom, and subsequently approved the Franciscan Order. If you have an extra day in Rome, the 7 Pilgrim Church walk is highly recommended.
-When to walk. Central Italy summers can be very hot so Spring and Fall are ideal. I walked Rome to Assisi in November 2020 and it was beautiful. Cool mornings and evenings but warm days. I then walked from Florence to Assisi to Rome in May/June of 2022 which was good as well but included some very warm days.
-The Via Francesco can easily be combined with the Via Francigena Canterbury to Rome. In November, 2020 I reached Rome after starting in Canterbury, England and felt Francis calling so I walked on to Assisi. How The Via Francigena Is Different From The Camino de Santiago .
-Arriving in Italy. Probably your best flights will be into Rome which is a good place to start or you can easily catch a train for Assisi or Florence. If you prefer Florence as a starting point flying into Bologna may be a better option.
–CaminoPacking List. Pretty much just pack as you would on The Camino
Additional Assisi Photos: