Published on: 12 February 2015 | Last updated: 7 January 2020
The Via Francigena is the traditional pilgrimage route that runs from Canterbury in south-east England to Rome. The route was taken by Sigeric the Serious walked to Rome to meet the Pope in 990 following his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury. Sigeric’s travel journal is the first record of the route.
The nearest equivalent to the Via Francigena is another great pilgrimage route, the Camino Frances to Santiago di Compostela. If you are looking for a great cycling experience and if you are travelling light and staying in pilgrims’ hostels, then this could be a great choice. On the other hand, if you are simply looking for a convenient route to Rome then the Via Francigena routes may not be the best choice.
The Via Francigena and eurovelo 5
The full name of the eurovelo 5 is the Via Francigena Romea. It’s important to bear in mind that for most of its length the eurovelo 5 is a completely separate route from the Via Francigena. The two coincide, more or less, after Pavia on the river Po.
According to the viafrancigena.bike website, 30 per cent of the Italian part of the route is on unsurfaced roads or tracks. It’s also fairly challenging.
The Via Francigena and eurovelo 5 in Italy
There are three variants of the route:
- the viafrancigena.bike is the closest to the via Francigena hiking route, crossing into Italy at the Colle di Gran San Bernardo (Gran St Bernard Pass) (2469m) (famous for the dogs);
- the Ciclovia Francigena is the name for the Italian section of the eurovelo 5. The eurovelo 5 follows the Swiss national route 3 from Basel to Chiasso in Italy taking the Gotthard pass (2107m);
- there’s also the Moncenisio variant of the Ciclovia Francigena, which starts at the Col du Mont Cenis (2083m).
The ev5/Ciclovia Francigena meets up with the Bike Francigena route at Pavia on the Po and then pretty much together they head for Piacenza and Fidenza before following the valley of the river Taro and crossing over the Apennines at the Passo della Cisa (1039m).
The Moncenisio variant on the other hand swings south of Torino and crosses the Apennines with the highest point at the Passo la Colla - or you can do what I did, and branch off at Scofera (654m). It then continues through Liguria towards La Spezia and meets up with the main route at the mouth of the Magra river and near where the now-abandoned city of Luni. Abandoned due to the combined effects of malaria and pirate raids, Luni was once an important centre and an obligatory stopping point for Sigeric.
The two routes part company for a short stretch with the Via Francigena Bike heading inland while the ev5/ciclovia Francigena follows the coast. They join up again at Pietrasanta before heading for Lucca.
From Lucca onwards the two routes more or less coincide and stick fairly closely to the historic Via Francigena. They take in San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, and Siena before heading for the Val d’Orcia and Radicofani an important landmark on the route and gateway to the final section through Lazio.
Unfortunately the Ciclovia Francigena has only been mapped as far as Acquapendente, so from here on the main option is the Via Francigena Bike. This takes you from the Lago di Bolsena to Viterbo and Sutri and from there to the Lago di Bracciano practically at the gates of Rome.
Note that from Lucca onwards the route mainly follows strade bianche - unsurfaced roads. This is an enjoyable option, but also the most challenging and roundabout.
The link with the Swiss National Route 3
The link between Chiasso and Pavia for the ev5/Ciclovia Francigena hasn’t been mapped. There are a couple of routes on the Lombardia in Bicicletta site which take you to Milano and from there you can pick up the Naviglio Pavese to Milano.
If you don’t want to cycle across Milano my advice would be to turn off the N3 and go through Ascona, and then either continue along the shore of the Lago Maggiore (attention there’s a tunnel that’s off-limits to bikes) to Cannobio or Verbania, or take a detour through the Vigezzo and to Malesco (see: Into the Valley of the Painters … and Chimney Sweeps) and then drop down to Cannobio. I would then cross the lake to take the quieter road down the eastern shore of the lake (if you have the time it’s definitely worth making the short detour to the iconic Eremo di Santa Caterina). At Sesto Calende at the southern tip of the lake, you can then pick up the Ticino cycleway (Naviglio Grande) to Pavia.
Map and altitude profile for the Via Francigena
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tips for using the map
Run your cursor over the graph to show the elevation, and distance from the start, for any given point on the route. (Note: the altitude graph is not shown where the route is flat).
Click the little icon in the right-hand corner to see the map fullscreen
|Distances - viafrancigena.bike|
|Colle del Gran San Bernardo-Aosta||41.5kms|
|Berceto-Marina di Massa||100kms|
|Marina di Massa-Lucca||52kms|
In Italy, the Via Francigena hiking route is well signposted, and in places I have seen cycling signs, but it will be important to know when you can follow the signs and when you can’t. I would definitely recommend carrying a gps with detailed OSM mapping is - the excellent viafrancigena.bike website has gps tracks and also gives you the option to download maps for printing or viewing on a tablet.
Maps and gps tracks
If you want maps for printing or viewing on a tablet, then your best choice is the excellent viafrancigena.bike. It also has gps tracks to download.
The different variants of the Ciclovia Francigena/ev5 are shown on Open Cycle Map digital maps, but if you’re looking for gps files for the route then the official versions are available from the bicitalia.org (bicitalia.org: BI3 Ciclovia Francigena). There don’t seem to be downloads for the Moncenisio or Sigerico variants.
If you want maps and tracks for the Swiss Nord-Süd route (National Route 3) then head over to veloland.ch
The credenziale is the document you carry with you and get stamped at tourist offices, bars, hostels, etc along the way. It’s a very useful document in that some accommodation is only open to pilgrims, and others offer special rates, and of course, it grows into a unique souvenir of your journey.
When you get St Peter’s you can also get a testimonium - provided you have at least travelled from Lucca to Rome. For more information on how to get one see pilgrimstorome.org.uk: Testimonium.
Resources and links
Websites for the whole eurovelo 5 or Via Francigena
- viefrancigene.org (it/en/fr/es) is the major site dedicated to the Via Francigena. Aimed mainly at walkers but with lots of information useful to cyclists following the via Francigena. It includes Via Francigena in Switzerland
- urcamino.com is a site that covers a number of european pilgrimage routes and has a very good section on the via Francigena urcamino.com: via-francigena
Websites for the Via Francigena and eurovelo 5 in Italy
viafrancigena.bike (it/en) is by far and away the best resource for cyclists wanting to follow the Via Francigena - there’s a guide to each section with maps and gps files.
For Ciclovia Francigena, the Italian section of the eurovelo 5, there’s the bicitalia.org website (it) which offers information, and gps files for part of the route. There’s also information about the Moncenisio variant.
There are a number of excellent websites from Italian local and regional tourist information bodies:
- piemonteitalia.eu: Via Francigena Medievale about the via Francigena in Piemonte
- turismotorino.org: Francigena Routes in Piemonte (it/en/fr/es/de) - a section of the website turismotorino.org covers most of the route through Piemonte
- Via Francigena Pavese
- appenninoeverde.it: La Via Francigena in the Piacenza area and appenninoeverde.it: La Via Francigena in the Parma area (it/en/de/fr/pl)
- visittuscany.com: Via Francigena by bicycle - about the Via Francigena in Toscana. The site has lots of other articles about the Via Francigena go to: visittuscany.com: Via Francigena and Spiritual routes (or use the site’s search facility)
- francigenalazio.it (it/en) site devoted to the Via Francigena in Lazio.
Books and guides
The only guidebook specifically aimed at cyclists is the Guida alla Via Francigena in Bici (amazon.it: Guida alla Via Francigena in Bici by Camilla Torelli - the second edition was updated in 2013). Download a sample chapter .
For a comprehensive list of books (mainly in Italian) see viefrancigene.it: libri e guide.
Places to stay
- ‘tourist’ accommodation list
- ‘pilgrim’ accommodation
- interactive map showing accommodation options
Other accommodation directories and lists:
- the turismotorino.org website includes four guides to the Francigena routes in Piemonte, each with an accommodation listing and map. the start page is: turismotorino.org: Francigena Routes in Piedmont
- camminafrancigena.it: accoglienza
- camminafrancigena.it: accommodation list
- Spedale della Provvidenza di San Giacomo e San Benedetto Labre
sloways.eu: cycling sloways.eu is the tour operator arm of the movimentolento self-guided packages with accommodation in *** hotels and B&B with breakfast, luggage transportation from hotel to hotel, maps and detailed description of the itinerary, travel insurance and phone assistance in case of emergency. Bike hire and transfers available as extras.