It seems very fitting for people looking to get in touch with nature to re-discover the St Francis Way, walking from Florence to Rome. St. Francis of Assisi was known for his love of nature and the simplicity of life. He was probably the first ever environmentalist!
The St Francis Way, or Way of St Francis of Assisi, is an alternative route of the ancient road between Florence and Rome, passing through Assisi in Umbria and finishing at the Vatican. There are four stages to this walk, each with their own challenges and personal rewards but all of them have one thing in common: amazing scenery.
I am currently walking the second stage of the St Francis Way, following a nine-day trail from Sansepolcro in Tuscany to Assisi in Northern Umbria, or ‘Bella Umbria’ considered to be Italy’s green heart.
As we leave Sansepolcro and the mountains of our first stage behind, we really feel welcome by the wide flat landscape of the valley. After a first stage of many climbs, we feel like we are floating through the gentle valley, enjoying the beauty of its surrounding hills dotted with picturesque villages.
We enter ‘Bella’ Umbria near the beautiful medieval walled town of Citerna where we sit to have a rest and enjoy the view. We then walk over a few hills to get to the Franciscan hermitage of Eremo del Buonriposo, before heading down towards Citta’ di Castello, by the river Tiber.
As we head east, we enjoy the peace and serenity of the open landscape, walking along deserted country roads with so few signs of life. This is just pure heaven, save for our sore feet!
We arrive at the village of Pietralunga and it is time for a bit of more climbing. From the woodlands of Monte Spesce, we walk down back to the valley, where we are looking forward to seeing one of the most beautiful towns in Umbria (we are told!): Gubbio.
Also known as the ‘city of stone’, Gubbio is just stunning and also a great place to stop a while, have a well-deserved bite and discover its rich heritage and sights, such as the Roman Theatre, Palazzo dei Consoli and the church of St Francis (our spiritual guiding force for this journey).
In our final walking stretch takes us from Gubbio to Assisi, where we walk past woodlands and many interesting buildings, abbeys and castles. Valfabbrica will be our last village before Assisi so we feel it is time to stop for a little refreshment and also to reflect on our journey so far.
We leave Valfabbrica and walk downhill, passing olive trees and vineyards, and enjoying the comforting view ahead: our destination for this stage, Assisi.
Assisi has a particular significance from a spiritual point of view, since it is in this village where St Francis was born and where he died. Its main attraction is the impressive 13th century Basilica, built on St Francis tomb. It contains the sacred relics of St Francis, as well as some of the most beautiful frescoes of the Middle Ages.
The town is a gem and living museum with its impressive castle, Roman ruins and subterranean quarter, medieval streets and many churches. No wonder it has been a pilgrimage destination for centuries.
We arrive at the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi having reached the half-way point of our journey in St Francis steps, amazed by all the natural beauty we have seen so far but excited about what’s still to come…