From late October through November this year, my partner and I walked for 28 days on the Via Francigena from Fidenza (an hour and a half train ride out of Milan) to Rome. Because we both worked in the summer months, we had to wait until the end of October to start our walk, so we were walking offseason.
With almost no knowledge of Italian, we stumbled through Italy for 600 kilometers through sun, rain, and mud. We had done the Camino Frances in Spain, but the Via Francigena in November was tougher. The route was well-marked and sign posted, but the infrastructure was not as strong as in Spain. In some places the accommodations were limited. Also, the route could go a whole day without passing into a town although the cappuccino was consistently excellent.
Still, I liked walking the Via Francigena. It was like the Camino Italian Style. On our walk, we went over the Cissa Pass and into Tuscany with some beautiful landscape. There were also some amazing churches along the route especially in Lucca and Siena. After Tuscany, we went into Lazio, walked through Bolsena, Viterbo, and finally into St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
Like the Camino, pilgrims carry a credential which gets stamped at every stop. Then, you can get a testimonium if you walk more than a hundred kilometers. Even though I was focused on getting to Rome for most of the walk, I did not pursue the mighty testimonium. I guess it wasn’t important to me anymore. Maybe I really am a slacker pilgrim at heart.
If you are thinking of walking offseason on the Via Francigena, there are both advantages and disadvantages. There were no crowds of pilgrims on the Via Francigena and no crowds of tourists in Tuscany. We only met only one other walking pilgrim in our month on the road although we did see pilgrims a few days ahead had left notes in the books at the osperias (pilgrim accommodations).
In November, many of the osperias were closed, but in the ones that were opened, we were the only pilgrims in the place. When there were no osperias, we stayed in B&Bs which were around 45 euro for the night for both of us while the osperias ranged in price from donation to 40 euro for both us. Also, most of the osperias had no heat, so it got mighty cold at night.
Speaking of heat, it was never too hot or too cold for walking. When it rained (and it rained a lot), the temperature stayed warm. It would be cold in the morning and after the sun went down (which was early, usually by 5pm). We walked north to south, so temperatures got warmer as we went.
When we finally made it to St. Peter’s Square, we were able to sit in the sun and soak up the heat like the little lizards we had seen on our walk. We had also gotten to see an Italy that most tourists don’t see.
And yes, I am writing a book about it.