Via Francigena Tour: Pilgrims Route of Tuscany

Sant'Antimo Abbey in Crete Senesi in the region of Tuscany, Italy
A 12 day trip to Italy 
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The road to Rome remains unchanged in parts of Tuscany, leading across the unspoiled landscape. Vineyards decorate hillsides. Cypress trees shade unpaved country lanes. Medieval towns that were built around historic churches maintain strong connections to their roots. Your custom tailored Tuscany tour takes you on the route of pilgrims known as Via Francigena. Stroll alongside historic walls; meander around ancient burial grounds; discover the antique abbeys that once connected the Western World. Slow down, take a look around, and know that each step brings you closer to another inspiring moment, whether in the countryside or an ancient Tuscan village.

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General Information

Photos
Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Pontremoli, Aulla, Filetto, Villafranca Lunigiana, Avenza, Pietrasanta, Montignoso, Malaspina, Lucca, Camaiore, Montemagno, Valpromaro, Piazzano, Altopascio, Viareggio, Porcari, San Miniato, Ponte a Cappiano, Fucecchio, Gambassi Terme, San Gimignano, Val d’Elsa, Monteriggioni, Abbadia a Isola, Siena, Pian del Lago

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: The Route of Pilgrims

Via Francigena once led pilgrims from France to Rome during the Middle Ages. The route connected abbeys throughout the countryside, linking sacred places across Europe’s Christian world, followed by merchants and travelers alike. A large portion of the road, 250 miles worth, winds along the Tuscan landscape and connects small villages that once settled around the historic churches. When you arrive at Florence International Airport, your private transfer greets you.

Your first introduction to the province is the lush greenery draping over the undulating hills. Cypress trees line unpaved roads, and oak trees flourish in the distance. You make your way to the Pontremoli, a stunningly preserved medieval town set against the lushness of Tuscany’s northern region of Lunigiana. The castle was erected in the 11th-century and continues to watch over the streets. The marketplace still brims with energy along the cobblestone streets on Wednesdays and Sundays. The 17th-century cathedral stands in the center of town with a rich Baroque interior. You easily settle in town with the aroma of pesto drifting out of the local restaurants.

What’s Included: transfer, accommodation

Day 2: On the Winding Road

In the morning, you can hear the waters of the Magra River rushing against the banks of town. The crisp air brushes against your skin. After breakfast, your guide meets you in the hotel lobby and brings you your mountain bike for the length of your time on Via Francigena. Your guide helps adjust the seat and bars to your preferred position, giving you the necessary comfort to begin the journey. Your guide hands you a Pilgrim’s Passport; a personal document meant to record your journey on the road. Locals are excited to stamp your passport as testimony to your travels.

You follow your guide across the multi-arched bridge, one of many medieval bridges around the city. You found the narrow lanes of the antique town enchanting, but that was only the beginning. Outside of Pontremoli, you find a sea of greenery set over the landscape. Red wildflowers blossom alongside country roads en route to Aulla. At the church of Sorano, you find a Romanesque structure erected in the 12th-century. The church was constructed over remains of a Roman farm. Small, hanging arches make up the apses. The interior holds a feminine Stele Statue, which helped bridge the gap between ancient beliefs and modern religion.   

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, tour, bicycle, accommodation

Day 3: Rediscovering Tuscany

During the Second World War, the town of Aulla was almost destroyed due to German occupation and Allied bombings. Today, the historic core of the city reveals a deeper connection to the region’s past and present. In the heart of the city, you can see the 9th-century Saint Caprasio Abbey. Cypress and oak trees grow along the hills edging Aulla. After breakfast, you leave the city behind and venture towards Avenza. On the edge of town, you pass the Brunella Fortress that offers insight into Renaissance military architecture. The brown volcanic rock creates an imposing impression and today holds the region’s Natural History Museum.

When you look to the west, you have a view of the sea. The vistas provide glimpses of the sweeping Mediterranean. Age-old villages rise out of the hilltops. In the 10th-century town of Sarzana, you find the church of San Francesco, which legend dictates was founded by Saint Francis himself. The church encompasses the tranquil atmosphere of the village. A first story of the façade is decorated in marble. A unique relief depicts Saint Bernard of Siena’s Christogram, which is the sun and the letters IHS, framed by a rope. The charm of the historic town is matched by the serenity of its surroundings.

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, tour, accommodation

Day 4: Along the Castle Walls

In the morning, you leave behind Avenza for the beautiful streets of Pietrasanta. Vineyards cover the hillsides. Above the cluster of treetops, you notice the towering peaks of the Apuan Alps. Today, you can feel the toughness of the path crawling upwards to the historic center of Mass and higher to the town of Montignoso. The town stands beneath the looming gaze of the Aghinolfi Castle. You surpass an ascent of 1,341 feet. The castle enjoys an unparalleled strategic position, historically able to monitor the coast from the port of La Spezia and the crisscrossing roads of the Via Francigena.

The castle was first mentioned in documents dating back to the 8th-century. Today, the castle is an archeological park filled with the aroma of the encircling fertile soil and wisps of seaside air from the Mediterranean Sea. A glass floor set inside the castle shows the original floor plan, including numerous ancient objects found inside the castle grounds. The walls remain sturdy, and encompassing towers create two large upper, octagonal walkways along the ramparts. The time you spend in the enchanting medieval town rejuvenates you for the remainder of the day.

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, tour, accommodation

Day 5: Finding A Little Italian Athens

Pietrasanta is a town of art and artistry, sometimes referred to as Small Athens due to the marble studios. The town holds proud to its Roman origins. Pietrasanta is situated near the Carrara quarry, which has made the area renowned for its marble, including having quarried the stone of Michelangelo’s unforgettable David statue. The aroma of fresh espresso fills the main square of Piazza del Duomo, spilling out of jovial cafes. The 14th-century Palazzo Pretorio has housed the town offices and theater for centuries. After breakfast, you climb aboard your trusted bicycle and once again set out for your next destination, the celebrated city of Lucca.

History emanates all around you, whether in the villages or inside the secluded realm of the countryside. The vibrant trees give way to the rushing waters of Contesola Stream. In the town of Camaiore, you arrive at the steps of the Museum of Sacred Art, housed inside the Confraternity of the Santissimo Sacramento. The 17th-century building maintains countless artwork, some dating back to the 14th-century, including a Flemish tapestry by Peter de Pannemaker, which is considered priceless in its artistry and uniqueness. The town itself sits in the foothills of the Tuscan landscape, separating the antique streets from the village on the opposite side of the hilltops.

What’s Included: breakfast lunch, tour, accommodation

Day 6: Outside of the Seasoned Walls

Lucca is known for its treasured antique walls that continue to surround the historic city center. The Romans built the first walls in the city in the 2nd-century BC. The monumental walls seen today were constructed in the 16th-century, supported by Renaissance ingenuity. The Guinigi Tower stands in the heart of the city with bright red colors emanating from the brickwork. Two oak trees blossom on the rooftop commemorating a time of peace and prosperity for the city, which was once an easy and desired stop along the pilgrimage route. The walls now hold a vibrant park where locals stroll around the ramparts.

The aroma of fresh leaves and verdant grass blends with the drifting scent of fresh espresso. After breakfast, you embark on the pilgrimage road once more, this time following the route to Altopascio. The path is easier today, never ascending to an altitude higher than 78 feet above sea level. When you reach the town of Montecarlo, you pass more well-preserved fortifications. The hillsides are flush with vineyards. The walls add to the symbolic power of the Rocca del Cerruglio, the 14th-century fortress. Olive groves add a succulent scent to the narrow medieval lanes of town. You are finding that no matter how much time you spend in the villages and countryside around Tuscany, the images continue to marvel.

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, tour, accommodation

Day 7: Following the Medici

The breeze brushes through the oak and chestnut trees around Altopascio. In the 12th-century, the town was once known simply as “The Hospice.” The old hospital was built in the Middle Ages by the Knights of Tau to support pilgrims on their path to Rome. Writers have mentioned the hospital since its popularity blossomed, from Boccaccio to Shakespeare. You set out on the road when the crisp air of the morning settles over the path.

The pastoral scenery has a calming effect. Slick dew carpets the grassland. The town of Castelfranco di Sotto is situated in the Cerbaie Hills. The moat of Galleno Castle has demarcated the border between Castelfranco di Sotto and the town of Fucecchio since the 15th-century. A medieval tower stands as the gateway to the historic city center with a large clock adorning the central stonework. The Medici Bridge crosses the Arno River with grace and magnificence leading to Fucecchio.   

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, tour, accommodation

Day 8: The Hills of Val d’Elsa

Tuscany continues to fascinate you, from the hills to the rivers, the sea to the mountains. Today, you leave the town of San Miniato, known for the sensational 11th-century fortress of San Miniato. The pathway once more becomes a welcomed challenge, coursing through the mountains leading into Vall d’Elsa. Fortresses, castles, hospitals, and abbeys have supported the region for nearly half a millennium.

The small, medieval village of Montaione is a quintessential Tuscan village standing on a hilltop. The streets open to unobstructed views of the Elsa Valley. Strong walls have protected the city since the Middle Ages, and an imposing tower rises over the city center. Chestnut and oak trees climb the hillside. The city’s roots date back to an Etruscan settlement in the 6th-century BC. The ancient feeling of the city is palpable, emanating from the Stele Statue depicting an Etruscan warrior with a helmet, spear, and shield, decorating a tombstone.

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, tour, accommodation

Day 9: Towers in the Distance

In the morning, you can look out over Elsa Valley and see a sheet of mist spread across the low grassland. The mist dissipates with the far-reaching sunlight, helping to create the treasured lushness of Tuscany. The town of Gambassi Terme houses a permanent exhibition containing approximately 3,000 archeological findings from the 13th and 16th-centuries. The pre-industrial glasswork illuminates the region’s largest and most famous industry during the Middle Ages, including showcasing a model of the activity in the Archeological Park of Germagnana. The oak trees cast shade over the path outside of town. In the distance, rising over the top of the hills, you can see the towers of San Gimignano.

San Gimignano is known for its 72 historic towers, of which 13 remain. Each tower helped symbolize the wealth of affluent families in the region. The tallest tower, Torre Grossa, stands at 164 feet tall, offering a view of the medieval city streets and remarkable landscape beyond the city. Vineyards rush along the hills and valleys, some producing the favored local white wine of Vernaccia. Sunflowers rise out of the verdant fields. Frescoes cover the 13th-century cathedral. The frescoes have never been restored but have maintained their lustrous hues. It is impossible to deny the inspiring colors bathed in the natural light pouring through the high circular windows.     

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, tour, accommodation

Day 10: Roots of the Road

The easy ride of the previous day has you feeling energetic and ready to continue Via Francigena. The moderate undulating valley leads you to the banks of the Foci River. The water spritzes around the rugged shoreline adding a light mist to the air. You climb to an altitude of 1,049 feet above sea level. In the city of Volle Val d’Elsa, you can trace the village roots back to the Etruscans, most notably at the Necropolis of Dometaia. The archeological park was used between the 6th-century BC and the 1st-century AD. Beehive mounds texture the valley beneath the creamy stone walls of the nearby medieval city.

Forty tombs highlight the variety of people and ceremonies that once took place in the ancient traditions. Tombs containing notable families were placed on fertile soil close to the major network of roads. At the heart of Colle Val d’Elsa, stands the Palazzo Pretorio, which houses an archeological museum for the surrounding area. The museum is dedicated to a Sienese scholar who first performed systematic studies of the valley. In the quiet of the afternoon, you continue the ride south to Monteriggioni.  

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, tour, accommodation

Day 11: Traveling to Traditions   

Monteriggioni is a fortified hilltop town with ancient origins. Fourteen towers watch over the 13th-century streets and powerful exterior walls. Two main archways, the Franca, and San Giovanni Doors, lead to the heart of the village, known as the Piazza Roma. The Romanesque and Gothic Church of Santa Maria Assunta borders the cobbled plaza. Local jewelry decorates shop windows. The scent of local cheese and wine drifts from boutique shops. Unpaved roads wind along the Sienese hills. Woods undulate with the landscape, hiding castle bases until the towers peek over the treetops. The moderate ride through the countryside eventually brings you to the medieval city of Siena, known for its 17 distinct districts spread across the hills, and its medieval character that has defined Tuscany’s southern countryside.

The Siena Cathedral has a white and black marble façade. Cobblestone streets lead to narrow alleys, which open up to the slanted, angular Piazza del Campo. Cypress and oak trees rise along the landscape outside of the city walls. The cathedral has a splendid façade with towering spires reaching a height of 252 feet. The vaulted ceilings imitate the starlight, and the marbled floor contains etchings depicting stories from the Old Testament. The city is one of the largest you have seen since beginning your exploration of the pilgrimage route. It takes a moment to settle in, however, the tranquil splendor of Tuscany continues to emanate from the landscape and historic buildings provide a familiar setting for you to enjoy.

What’s Included: breakfast, lunch, tour, accommodation

Day 12: End of the Road

In the morning, the sunlight spreads over the hills and valleys outside of the medieval walls of the city. The scent of fresh espresso is comforting in the new light. Locals stroll through the city streets. The bells of the cathedral add a soft call to the early hours of the day.

After breakfast, your private transfer meets you at your hotel and escorts you to Florence International Airport for your flight home. You have followed the route of pilgrims and merchants, witnessing gorgeous churches and captivating castles along the way. Although your tour has ended, you could always extend your journey, following Via Francigena to Rome.   

What’s Included: breakfast, transfer

Price

Starting Price 

$3,295
This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.