Richard from the CaminoWays.com customer care team, was recently walking the Via Francigena in Tuscany: from San Miniato to Siena. He shares the highlights of his fantastic trip:
To start the walk from San Miniato (or even Lucca) flying in to Pisa makes getting to your start point very easily although of course other airports will also work. From Pisa airport one can take a shuttle bus direct to Pisa Centrale train station. At the train station there is a bag drop (€8 per day) where you can leave your bag. This is particularly useful if you arrive early but are not returning to Pisa as it allows time to explore the city. From the central station you can take a 10 min walk to the river Arno and admire the stunning views of the city from any of the main city bridges. Only 10 mins further north you will come across the world famous Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Departing Pisa, you can take a train from the central station to either Lucca or San Miniato. As we started our walk in San Miniato, our day by day description of this walk on the Via Francigena in Tuscany will start from here. When you arrive in San Miniato, on first glance it seems the same as any small suburban town however when you call your hotel for pick up you are taken to the upper or ‘old’ town. The old town up on the hill provides stunning views of the Tuscan countryside and the town itself is quite interesting with charming side streets, authentic restaurants and old medieval buildings.
This section of the Via Francigena in general is very well marked and it would be quite difficult to lose your way. You will see the red and white trail markings and arrow signs with ‘Via Francigena’ clearly written on them. From San Miniato you make your way straight through the old town before walking parallel to a main road for approximately 5km (if you are doing the easy walk, you will skip these kms as the hotel will give you a lift 5km to the trail).
These 5km are almost the only time you will walk beside a main road for the duration of the trip as you will soon arrive at a turn in the road that leads you up a gravel track and on through fields, farmyards, woodlands and dirt tracks. The scenery along the way really has to be seen to truly understand the natural beauty and really is the essence of why walking in Tuscany is the experience of a lifetime.
The walk from San Miniato ends after a rather elevated walk to Gambassi Terme, a town which in itself is quite basic but a nice place to stop and rest for the night before getting back on track. The next day you walk to fascinating San Gimignano, a walled hill top town with unrivalled views of the countryside. While here you can get a nice lunch in one of the many cafes/bars or if you are completing the ‘easy walk’ you can stop for the night. The main attractions of San Gimignano include the Collegiate Church and Church of Sant’ Agostino containing beautiful frescos. The town is also quite popular with tourists and you can purchase gifts, clothing and local wine either produced in San Gimignano itself of the nearby Chianti region. From San Gimigniano you depart from the southern end of the town and back on to the Via Francigena passing small hamlets before entering Colle di Val d’Elsa.
Colle di Val d’Elsa is a more modern and relatively big town built on the river Elsa. The town is separated into two, the lower modern town previously mentioned and the upper medieval town built on the hill. The upper town is certainly worth a visit and is easily accessible via a lift so no additional walking is necessary. The views from the upper town are fantastic and there is also a large clock tower and a small church with a statue of Jesus enclosed in glass.
The next walking day from Colle di Val d’Elsa is quite short, approximately 14km, and takes you to the picturesque hilltop hamlet of Monteriggioni. It is most likely the majority of visitors to Monteriggioni will have never experienced anything like it before. The hamlet is completely enclosed by walls and is entered under an arch. The hamlet consists of one ‘main street,’ two back streets, gift shops, four restaurants, a newsagents and a hotel. Accommodation here is usually booked in a B&B. The town also has a small but very beautiful church which upon entry immediately installs a sense of calm and serenity.
The final walking day sees you leave Monteriggioni and with great views of the hamlet directly behind you, you start to make your way to Siena. You will walk through farmyards, vineyards and woodlands before you start to notice a change of scenery about 5km from the city as you emerge through the suburbs.
Siena is a great town, very modern but with a constant reminder of times gone by. The walk finishes at the famous Piazza del Campo with its tall clock tower (one can climb to the top of this if they wish). This is where the Palio di Siena, a traditional medieval horse race takes place twice each year, on 2 July and 16 August. The event sees horses led by 17 Contrade race around the Piazza del Campo in an attempt to win the trophy (Palio) which is a painted banner containing an image of the Virgin Mary. The event is attended by large crowds, and is widely televised.
The Piazza del Campo also boasts some excellent restaurants and gelaterias. Siena is also home to the renowned Siena Cathedral. The cost of entry to the Cathedral is only €7 and is an absolute must see. The Cathedral is completely decorated with statues, frescos, mosaics and paintings, literally from the ceiling to the floor. The most famous works of art in the Cathedral are the bronze tombstone of Bishop Giovanni de Bartolomeo Pecci made by Donatello and the Piccolomino alter with 4 sculptures made by Michelangelo. If you have time at the end of your trip, an additional night in Siena is certainly recommended.
The food during this trip in Tuscany caters for all tastes offering a variety of meats, breads, cheeses, vegetables and showcase deserts. It is important to remember to take lunch with you as you are unlikely to find a café in-between towns though resting areas are available.
For more information about the Via Francigena in Tuscany or to book your Camino to Rome holiday, contact our travel specialists.