Just to re-cap, I had been invited on a press trip via Italian Wonder Ways to be introduced to the pilgrim route called the Via Francigena. This was our third day.

Date: 24th September 2016

Location: Tuscany, Italy

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Hardly a day goes by without my getting emails from my readers demanding another post in my “walk” along the Via Francigena. (OK, truth be told not a single one of you has asked what happened next, but I am going to tell you anyway.)

We had stayed last night in the hostel at Abbbadia a Isola and despite sharing the room with all the guys in our party I had slept soundly. This may have had something to do with the amount that I had drunk the night before.

It was a pleasant morning. In the Abbey courtyard, people were clearing up after last nights party but there was no sign of breakfast. I wandered out to the road where a couple of early-bird pilgrims were setting off for  their next leg towards Rome. I felt a twinge of jealousy; walking – countryside walking- was what I had really come on this trip for. But today we were promised some of this and the day couldn’t have been nicer for it.

Walkers on the Via Francigena at Abbadia a Isola, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Back at the hostel a tray of pastries and some coffee had appeared in the corner of the square on a self-serve basis, except the coffee had already run out. Poor rations for the pilgrims.

Assembling by our coach took forever and before we could get underway on our walk we were given a talk (natch) in the Abbey of San Salvatore (founded 1001) by a man dressed up in authentic middle-aged pilgrim wear.

The church of Saint Salvatore, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

I bet these shoes were better than real pilgrim ones

He told us a lot about pilgrimages but what I noted was that they could be done as a penance. I resolved to have a more penitent frame of mind. The “credentials” issued to pilgrims (these days a little booklet which is called a Pilgrim Passport) were to show that the pilgrim had, indeed, completed the stages of the route; the credentials are stamped at each stage.

The church of Saint Salvatore, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

After another half an hour or so of milling around we set off on the path to Monteriggioni. According to one of the guide books to the Via Francigena  this section was 2.8 miles – but don’t worry, we did not walk it all.

From the stone-surfaced track we had a good view across ploughed fields to Abbadia.

Abbadia a Salvatore, Tuscany, photographed from the Via Francigena by Charles Hawes

We passed a group of barefoot people who were walking around aimlessly in a spiritual way.

Group near Abbadia a Isola, Tuscany, photographed from the Via Francigena by Charles Hawes

You can tell this is spiritual walking by the bowed heads

All long distance paths in Italy (and France and probably lots of other countries) are marked by red and white markers, often painted on trees or rocks….

Waymark sign for the Via Francigena, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

I suspect there would be objections to painting things on trees in the UK

….but the Via Francigena also carries reminders of how far you have to go.

Sign for the Via Francigena near Mepnteriggioni, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

This pilgrim route has kept up with the times and according the Passport it is perfectly legitimate to travel by bicycle or by horse, though I suspect that the helmeted cyclist that whizzed by was just out for a ride.

Cyclist on the Via Francigena near Abbadia a Isola, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

At some point during the walk our genuine pilgrim took out his credentials, which aroused much interest (stop sniggering at the back).

Pilgrim on the Via Francigena, photographed by Charles Hawes

What is that lump bottom left of the picture?

We were joined today by a guide called Pietro Labate, who early on demonstrated that the walking staff that pilgrims carry can double up as a support to the weary; I was not convinced by this.

Pietro Labate on the Via Francigena near Monteriggioni, photographed by Charles Hawes

Laura The Photographer, then Yamin, Pietro and Toon

Pietro was also a naturalist and had a keen eye for flora and fauna. He soon found a porcupine quill on the path; something I had never seen before.

Pietro Labate holding porcupine quill, photographed on the Via Francigena by Charles Hawes

Most of the group seemed so pleased to be actually walking in the countryside that they were forging ahead so I more or less had Pietro to myself and enjoyed playing plant spotting.

There are, he told me in not very good English, around 3,200 species of plants in Italy. This is lots more than the UK, he said, because Italy has several different climate zones. Our little walk took us though some deciduous woodland, with lots of familiar trees and shrubs and some I didn’t recognize

Pietro pronounced and I scribbled down Cornus sanguinea, Crataegus monogyna, Acer campestre, Artemisia, Quercus pubescens, Smilax aspera, Ruscus aculaetus, Clemtis vitalba, Viburnum, Sorbus, Genista, but there were many more and the snaps I took of them were all too poorly focused to use here. Except this one, which I didn’t know.

I bet I do know it but I have forgotten

Here’s a fun little snippet, though. Ruscus aculaetus  is a native of both UK and Italy and in Italian is called  Il pungitopo. Our common name for it is butchers broom; it is a low growing shrub with vicious spine-tipped leaves.  Pietro told me that the common name in Italy translates as “pick mouse” as people would hang it up in their houses to impale any mouse that might drop onto it. Nice.

As we were neared the end of the walk Pietro got us to hold hands in a line and walk with our eyes closed; I don’t know why we did this but I found it very difficult. It’s a trust thing, I guess. When I opened my eyes we were in a field with a view of Monteriggioni. Pause for everyone to take pics.

IWW participants on the Via Francigena near Monteriggioni, Tuscany, photographed by Charles Hawes

Toon, the Belgian, thought that the village was a good backdrop for a pretend walk.

Toon Verlinden in front of view to Monteriggioni, photographed from the Via Francigena by Charles Hawes

Toon and Laura were constantly concocting poses for him for his magazine article

Laura the Argentinian wanted a snap of her being exhilarated.

Monteriggioni, photographed from the Via Francigena by Charles Hawes

I thought it was time I introduced you to my knees.

Charles Hawes on the Via Francigena near Monteriggioni, photographed from the Via Francigena

Never before seen in public

We were about a mile from the village and the coach was waiting by the roadside to take us there (walking would be far too time-consuming).

At Monteriggioni we were met and greeted at the gates by a local dignitary – far right-  (the chap in the fetching maroon tunic was walking with us).

Monteriggioni and participants in IWW introduction to the Via Francigena, photographed by Charles Hawes

Group photos were required at every stopping point

Our dignitary then handed us over to a guide, whose name I can’t remember.

Guide to Monteriggioni, photographed by Charles Hawes

She gave us a little talk about the town, ably translated by our very own Antonella (Villa) who was with us all week.

Antonella Villa on Via Francigena with IWW, photographed by Charles Hawes

Antonella takes no prisoners

Monteriggioni was built by the Sienese between 1212 and 1219 as a front line in their war against Florence. It used to have lots of towers and we were told that Dante refers to them in The Inferno. Apparently these were mostly knocked down at some point but were re-built because towers are a big pull in this area.

The Powers That Be had decided that the one thing they wanted to show us was their museum of  medieval armaments.  This struck me as a slightly odd choice for would-be pilgrims and I might have preferred a cup of coffee in the square were it not for the ferocious enthusiasm of Yamin.

Monteriggioni in Arme Museum photographed by Charles Hawes

Five foot nothing with a massive personality

She just couldn’t get enough of the gear; sword and shield in hand she became very agitated and a little scary…

Monteriggioni in Arme Museum photographed by Charles Hawes

… until she realised that really this was a fashion show.

Monteriggioni in Arme Museum photographed by Charles Hawes

Every room presented  Yamin with an opportunity for dressing up.

Monteriggioni in Arme Museum photographed by Charles Hawes

After such entertainment the tour of part of the old walls seemed a little dull but there was a nice view from them over the town…

Monteriggioni, Tuscany, photographed on IWW trip by Charles Hawes

… and out to to the surrounding countryside.

Monteriggioni, Tuscany, photographed on IWW trip by Charles Hawes

Pencil cupressus: SO Tuscany

On our way out Pietro posed in front of the Pilgrims Fountain.

Pietro Labata at the Pilgrims fountain at Moneriggioni, photographed by Charles Hawes

All this done and it was still only midday. Having passed our initial walking test we were then bussed a few miles up the road for a second little stroll.

In a short while we were strung out along the track in twos and threes.

IWW group walking the Via Francigena photographed by Charles Hawes

Doris out in front; an appropriate position

Pietro was quite upset about this and called us all to a halt to re-group and made a speech about how when you walk the Via Francigena you should walk slowly and take in the surroundings, which he claimed had not changed for 400 years. He has a point – I probably do walk too fast – but as for the unchanging landscape I was not so convinced.

We passed several wonderful old Oaks…

Oak tree on the Via Francigena, near Castello di Villa photographed by Charles Hawes

This looks pollarded to me

….and one abandoned car….

Abandoned car on the Via Francigena, near Castello di Villa photographed by Charles Hawes

… before arriving at the C14th  Il Castello della Chiocciola.

Chiocciola translates as “snail” and this name relates to the spiral staircase inside its tower.

Castello della Chiocciola, photographed from the Via Francigena by Charles Hawes

Very helpfully there was an explanatory board in English and Italian at the end of its drive.

A little way passed this point we came to a hamlet called Castello di Villa. Inside the entrance to a slightly odd modern stone and brick house….

… a man called Marcello….

Marcello in the Punto sosta Francigena, Castello di Villa, Tuscany, photographed from the Via Francigena by Charles Hawes

… has created the most remarkable Punto Sosta (Stopping point) for those travelling on the Via Francigena. He had set up this place completely from his own resources though latterly he did get some financial support from the path’s organisation. By the side of the house is an outbuilding with a toilet and shower. Just outside the entrance is a shaded area that has a wide range of facilities from a corkscrew to a First Aid box.

Punto sosta Francigena, Castello di Villa, Tuscany, photographed from the Via Francigena by Charles Hawes

He has food and drinks available in a fridge in a little hut and today, for us, our sponsors Italian Wonder Ways,  had laid out a delicious spread of meats, salads and cheeses.

Punto sosta Francigena, Castello di Villa, Tuscany, photographed from the Via Francigena by Charles Hawes

Marcello runs this place single handedly on an entirely voluntary basis. If he is not there then people take what they want on an honesty basis, giving what they can afford. It is, quite simply, inspiring.

After lunch it was back on the bus to Siena but I think this is quite enough for one post, so I will just show you where we started: Porta Camollia

Ciao.

 

{ 12 comments }

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