Against the fast-paced frenzy of recent decades, the magic of a vacation tailored for comfort and with a slow pace is being rediscovered. It allows us to relax and admire the stunning landscapes surrounding us. This philosophy brings a new perspective to the concept of travel, focusing on details, the environment, and those hidden places that often go unnoticed.
While many choose vacation spots with luxurious resorts or crystal-clear beaches, there are those who prefer to rediscover routes exploring the European territory, and examples of this are the Camino de Santiago and the Via Francigena.
Rediscovering oneself while moving on foot along ancient paths traced by our predecessors is not a new trend, but in recent years, “Slow Tourism” has developed. It goes beyond simple hiking or trekking – activities that demand a certain level of speed and adrenaline – and becomes a true journey where walking takes on a spiritual and cathartic meaning.
Nature no longer just welcomes us into its environments; it is we who receive it throughout the entire journey leading us to the chosen destination. Sometimes, these journeys are also referred to as pilgrimages.
Discovering the Ancient Via Francigena
The Via Francigena, or Vie Francigene, is an ancient route that connects the Italian peninsula to Northwestern Europe. It derives its name from the territories dominated by the Franks (current France and Germany) during Roman times.
As the italian saying goes, “all roads lead to Rome,” and indeed, an efficient transportation system was crucial in managing the territories of the Roman Empire, with the Via Francigena playing a key role.
The official itinerary is based on a historical document dated around 990 AD, written by Sigeric, the then Archbishop of Canterbury. The starting point of this pilgrimage is the namesake cathedral in England. Spanning 2200 kilometers, the route crosses several countries, including England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Vatican City, offering diverse landscapes with varying climates and terrains.
For a pleasant and enjoyable journey along the Via Francigena, it is recommended to embark on the adventure during late spring, from May to June. During this period, the weather is generally favorable, enhancing the experience for pilgrims.
How to approach this kind of journey?
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.Lao Tzu
Every journey provides an opportunity to rediscover the essence of travel. It is no longer about how much or what we carry with us, but about choosing what to leave behind, prioritizing only the essentials.
Each itinerary has its own unique requirements, but two of the first things to consider are your backpack and shoes. These adventure companions will carry with you not only the necessary equipment and clothing, but also the dreams and expectations of the entire vacation.
To ensure maximum comfort without weighing down your back and legs, it is advisable to invest in a high-quality hiking backpack with a capacity of about 40 liters for multi-day excursions, aiming to keep the total weight around 7 kg or, for a more accurate calculation, not to exceed 10-15% of your body weight.
As for clothing, it is essential to adapt it to the season. Whether it is a day hike or a longer hike, it is advisable to opt for lightweight, breathable and comfortable technical clothing, especially in the warmer months. Attention to socks is crucial, because choosing the right ones can prevent blisters and improve the effectiveness of technical footwear. In case of rain, a good windproof jacket is a wise choice.
Finally, the choice of footwear is essential.
Shoes must be carefully selected to ensure the best possible experience, let’s look at them together.
Step by step
When it comes to choosing the perfect shoe, there is no universal answer. Each trail has its unique characteristics, and the Via Francigena is a clear example of variety, with flat stretches, dirt trails, asphalt roads, and challenging mountain passes.
The right shoes are crucial for this type of activity, the journey must be comfortable and free of discomfort. The ideal footwear for a pilgrim should not cause rubbing but firmly support the feet and ankles.
To face this adventure confidently, a high hiking boot is the ideal choice, as it provides ankle protection and support, even in the most challenging sections.
Garmont Chrono GTX: With its design, it allows you to tackle the route safely and stably, even on rainy days or uncertain weather conditions. The brand is also an official partner of the European Association of the Via Francigena (AEVF).
During long hikes and pilgrimages, shoes become the walker’s means of transportation, and the right choice can make the difference between a pleasant experience and a tormented journey. First and foremost, comfort is essential: shoes should fit well, without causing rubbing or pressure points.
Among pilgrims, there are also those who do not like to wear hiking boots and prefer a more relaxed ankle, as well as seeking lighter and more breathable models for hot summer days.
There are alternatives for this, depending on the type of terrain and the desired level of support:
Lightweight hiking shoes or trail running shoes: These are excellent options for excursions on well-marked trails and less demanding terrain. They are lightweight, flexible, and often have a fit similar to athletic shoes, providing a sense of agility during the walk. They are particularly suitable for short to medium-duration hikes.
Salomon X ULTRA 4: As agile as a trail-running shoe, but with all the stability, grip and waterproof protection to tackle technical terrain. Protects sensitive joints without compromising freedom of movement..
Low-cut or mid-cut hiking shoes: Low-cut or mid-cut hiking shoes are a middle ground between lightweight shoes and hiking boots. They provide less ankle support than boots but still offer more protection and stability than trail running shoes. They are a suitable choice for hikes on varying terrain and longer distances.
Approach shoes: These shoes are designed for approaching rock walls and tackling technical terrain. They offer a sticky sole for good traction and better foot protection compared to lightweight hiking shoes.
La Sportiva Boulder X: Model designed for technical approaches thanks to the grippy sole, ideal approach shoes for technical and rocky terrain.
Trekking sandals: In some situations and hot climates, trekking sandals can be a comfortable and lightweight choice. They are suitable for less rugged terrain where ankle support is not essential, very useful for letting your feet breathe during moments of relaxation.
Teva Original Universal: Lightweight and comfortable trekking sandals, ideal for hot climates and less demanding terrain.
Waterproof hiking shoes: If the hike involves wet conditions or waterlogged terrain, waterproof hiking shoes can be considered to keep the feet dry.
Columbia Newton Ridge Plus II WP: Low-cut, waterproof, and durable hiking shoes.
It is advisable to try different models and sizes to find the perfect fit. Additionally, support and stability are essential to firmly support the feet and ankles, especially on uneven terrain. Opting for lightweight and breathable footwear helps keep the feet cool and dry, preventing blisters and discomfort. Moreover, the shoes should be made of durable materials to withstand the kilometers of pilgrimage without issues.
Choosing a sole suitable for the trail’s terrain is essential to ensure good traction and stability. Finally, take the time to “break-in” the shoes before the journey, getting them accustomed to your feet and preventing unexpected discomfort. With these guidelines, choosing the right shoes for the pilgrimage will be an essential step towards a rewarding and unforgettable experience.
Get your backpack ready, choose the starting point, and start walking! A journey on foot offers wonderful moments, unexpected encounters, and indelible memories. Now that you have all the necessary information and advice, it’s the right time to set off and walk kilometers along the Via Francigena.
Are you ready?
You may also be interested in the following articles:
How shoe soles design impacts safety, comfort, and performance in hiking, sports, work, and other usage contexts
Choosing the right anti-slip soles to face bad weather.
Why safety shoes are essential to protect workers in extreme environments (such as offshore oil platforms)