The Way of Saint Francis

The Way of St. Francis: The trail is closed

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Today we faced a new trekking challenge: a closed trail. Still many miles from our destination, we stood before a sign threatening penalties (arrest?) if we crossed the tape strung across the Way of St. Francis. What should we do? Turn around and go back?

A 15-mile day loomed, so we had set out from Pieve Santo Stefano before 8 this Sunday morning. Today’s trek began with a hill that was only a few hundred feet in elevation, but it was a tough beginning nonetheless. But it was nothing compared to the steep descent over loose rock that was like walking down a rockslide. They call this a trail? My knees were still wobbly when we soon climbed another 800 feet. We found a place to rest our feet and I promptly took a power nap that Sue photographed for the record.

Stunning views of the Tuscan countryside made it all worthwhile. Then we crossed a bridge over a reservoir finger and the Way of St. Francis became a windy country road complete with hot pavement. We found a sliver of shade for a picnic lunch, then continued along the road another couple of miles. Motorcycles, bicycles and cars sped by us. The guidebook and our GPS map told us to take a sharp left onto a gravel trail (no more pavement!). Then we saw it. The closed iron gate across the path, the tape strung next to it, the warning not to pass, the decision.

I looked at our map on Galileo Pro. If we continued on the road, it would take us many miles out of our way. Turning around was not an option, so we lifted the tape after deciding to take a chance. After less than 100 yards, we stopped as we approached a farmhouse. Did we really want to risk a night in jail?

Back on the legal side of the tape, we enlarged the map on my phone and saw a thin white line a half mile down the road that connected to the trail. Was the line a path? Would the trail section it led to be open? We decided to take a chance on the digital map and the white line turned out to be a farm road that led us back to the Way of St. Francis. As luck would have it, we were just past the closed section.

So, relief was the word of this day. We walked atop a levee for several hours, past large  farms. Tractors plowed (even on a Sunday) and the temperature climbed. A short detour allowed us to rest in some shade.

When we finally arrived in the bustling city of Sansepolcro, we found the narrow way where our hotel was supposed to be. Before frustration set in, a tall, thin young man, figuring these two wandering souls wearing backpacks must be the Americans who reserved a room at his hotel, greeted us. He pointed to the hotel sign in the wall. How could we have missed it? It was about two-by-three inches and perfectly readable if you stood less than a foot away.

Our day ended at a wonderful restaurant after a couple of strong beers at a plaza bar.

 

 

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The Way of St. Francis: Ups and Downs on Day One

Pieve Santo Stefano was our destination today, an easy stage according to our guidebook. And I guess it wasn’t too bad, although we did climb 1,700 feet before arriving at this lush green meadow.

The meadow was irresistible and knowing that our feet were not yet trail tough, we enjoyed a snack and the view, sans shoes and socks, while we recharged body, mind and spirit.

Eventually, far below us, Pieve Santo Stefano came into view. It was a good day…a quiet day. We saw just two bicyclists and three other picnicking walkers during our eleven mile/six hour day. The Hotel Santo Stefano has been a good choice for these two weary Pilgrims.

Tomorrow we lace up our boots and tackle a more challenging walk to Sansepolcro.

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The Way of St. Francis: Chiusi della Verna

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The sleepy village of Chiusi Della Verna awoke to brilliant sunshine today, Friday. We started with pastry, strong coffee (yum!), tangerines and packaged toast and jam downstairs in the hotel Bellavista, in photos above. Our room’s small window shows a burst of early spring.

We are pausing in this village, dating to the 13th century, to get our time-zone footing before our first steps on the Way of St. Francis on Saturday. The village, at nearly 4,000 feet in Tuscany east of Florence, is dominated by stone buildings with red tile roofs. The monastery and chapel stand on the mountaintop behind us.

We have yet to hear a word of English from the friendly locals, who have smiled with question marks in their eyes when we speak Italianish.

At a tiny market around the corner (most corners here are hairpins), we bought cheese by using our fingers to show how much we wanted. We greeted two wiry Austrians, who carried huge backpacks, as they began another day on their trek from Florence to Rome.

We already have a sense that this is a trail few travel, if we compare it to our other treks in Europe. We shared a restaurant last night with three other hiking couples, including the Austrians we  saw this morning. As far as we know, the eight of us make up the pilgrim total here, one of the most important stops on the Way of St. Francis. All appeared beyond working age. We had a nice chat in English with two other Austrians.

Later today, we look forward to visiting the monastery and historic churches, but the stone path will be a steep challenge. Peaceful is the word of the day.

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The Way of St. Francis: Feeling his spirit

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When he walked this part of Italy nearly 800 years ago, St. Francis reached out to all life, especially the most needy people. Today, at the Santuario Della Verna, the spirit of St. Francis touched all of us who walked the stunning grounds where he left his mark. Believers or not, visitors felt his presence.

We listened to the Franciscan monks sing in the Basilica, then watched their solemn procession to the chapel for prayer. We viewed the robe he wore just two years before his death in 1226.

We begin walking the Way of St. Francis Saturday, but feel like we saw one of the highlights today.

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The Way of St. Francis: Packed and Ready to Go

Ready or not, we’re off to Italy where we’ll begin The Way of St. Francis, a pilgrimage that traces the pathway traveled by St. Francis of Assisi in the early 13th century.

Our journey begins in the eastern portion of central Tuscany in Chiusi Della Verna, a small community located below Santaurio (Sanctuary) Della Verna. It was in this area that St. Francis is said to have received the stigmata. We’ve allowed two nights here to explore the history and beauty of the region…and to catch our breath after what promises to be two pretty hectic travel days.

Then we start walking, traveling mostly southward, with a goal of reaching Vatican City (not quite 300 miles away) by mid-May.

Many thanks to Sandy Brown for allowing me to use the above map, his incredibly detailed trekking guide, the links and foolproof instructions for downloading the GPX tracks onto my phone app and for hosting the Way of St Francis (Official Group) Facebook page. The information is invaluable!

As always, we will post on our blog when we’re able, so feel free to follow along on our journey as we walk The Way of St. Francis.

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The Way of Saint Francis: Training Begins

I stopped for a quick photo this morning as Reg and I neared the top of the 500 foot climb behind our home.

With our upcoming Italian pilgrimage (The Way of Saint Francis) just around the corner, today seemed like a good day to reacquaint ourselves with our backpacks. If the weather cooperates, we should have a couple months to work out any kinks!

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