When to leave
The via Francigena passes through regions with very different climates, from the Grand Saint Bernard Pass at 2500 m to the Po valley, from the Cisa Pass over the Apennines to the Tuscan hills.
The best periods to travel the entire route are May and June, or September and October. It is advisable to avoid the hottest months, especially in the Po valley, where the shade is limited and the weather can be stifling.
Be aware that the Grand Saint Bernard Pass is usually only open from early June to early September, due to the snow which makes it impassable for most of the year. Even the Cisa Pass can be covered with snow during the late autumn or early spring.
The route is divided into stages with an average length of about 22-23 kilometers, with a maximum of 32 km. The definition of the stages is largely driven by the availability of “pilgrim accommodation” at the arrival point, but you can divide the route as you wish if you use traditional tourist facilities.
The route is not particularly difficult. Challenges are mainly related to stage length, altitude differences, and possible water shortages, forcing travellers to increase the weight of their backpack.
The route fords several rivers. For much of the year the fords do not offer particular difficulties, but after heavy rains they can become hazardous or even impassable. In the event of heavy rain we advise that you regularly check the river conditions before attempting a crossing.
In many stages there is limited shade. During the summer it is advisable to cover your head and use a sunscreen. It is also better to start very early in the morning to avoid the hottest part of the day.
Water and rest stops on the route
Water fountains and eating places are common on some stages but in others are rare or even absent. Each day you should carefully consider the availability of water and take it into proper account in planning how much water to carry. During an average stage in high summer it is advisable to drink at least two litres of water, possibly supplemented with mineral salts, in order to reduce the risk of heat stroke.
In Italy, most of the towns on the via Francigena have cafés or shops that sell groceries. They are indicated in the description of each stage.
The best footwear for this type of journey is lightweight ankle high hiking boots with anti-blister hiking socks. The backpack should have a volume of between 35-45 litres and be loaded with the bare minimum. The weight should not exceed 7-8 kg (6-7 kg for women). Choose an excellent quality backpack and shoes – in this area it is best to spare no expense. The rest of the equipment will be less expensive, but include very light and breathable technical clothing. For the rain a good quality windcheater jacket and an umbrella are the best solution. It is best not to use a cape.
The use of modern technology can be very helpful on the route. Smartphones and tablets have become multi-function devices, which allow you to see your location on a map using the GPS, read route information or a novel in the evening, take photos and videos, read mail, browse the internet, call home on Skype, watch TV, read the newspaper and listen to music. All with very little weight, which is critical for those travelling with a backpack on their shoulders.