Leaving La Boheme B&B in Lucca for the final stage of our pilgrimage to Rome

Today, 2.3.23 (a memorable date!), we finally got going on the last stage of our walk to Rome, fortunately in sunshine after yesterday’s persistent rain. In fact, so warm was it that we were rather wishing we hadn’t left our shorts at home! Deborah, who had made us tasty ham and cheese omelettes for breakfast again, very kindly came outside to take the departing photos and see us on our way. She also recommended a good bakery around the corner to stock up on lunchtime sandwiches before following the Via Roma out of town.

On our way towards the medieval city gate we were overtaken by a woman who, spotting the banners on our rucksacks, remarked that we hadn’t far to go now. (A mere 414kms in fact.) We felt a spring in our step, enjoying the last of Lucca’s medieval cobbled streets in the morning sunshine.

Looking back at the Elisa gate into medieval Lucca – almost no cars allowed

It took about an hour of walking on pavements alongside busy roads to get out of Lucca, and even then we spent most of the day walking on or beside roads, passing through almost continuous semi-urban sprawl. We were also back to the tedium of barking dogs hurling themselves at garden fences trying to intimidate us, though amusingly today the most ferocious dog’s companion dog ignored all its frenzied barking. Older and wiser perhaps – seen so many pilgrims it knew we’re benign.

As we’d noticed on the train from Florence two days ago, there is a lot of horticultural activity on these fertile alluvial plains, with a mix of rice, wheat, olives, trees and shrubs being grown commercially, as well as individual vegetable allotments. Intermittent fields gave us views to the surrounding hills, the higher parts still covered with a dusting of snow.

A fine line-up of vintage tractors, all looking to be in good working order

In Capannori we noticed that the Athena Archaeological & Ethnographic Museum was advertising that it offered stamps for our pilgrim passports, so we wandered in. The exhibition was all in Italian, but it looked as though the building had been home to disabled children in the 1930s, and there were references to anti-fascist activities around the time of WW2. Intriguing, but sadly well beyond our linguistic comprehension. However, the signboard outside about the Via Francigena was written in English as well as Italian (bad luck for the many French, German and Eastern European pilgrims!) with a useful map. We are now close enough that all of the remaining route to Rome is shown.

Capannori’s church looks simple from the outside, built of limestone rather than marble, though it’s altar is heavily gilded, and it has an elaborately painted ceiling for a small village church.

From the sprawl of Campannori, our route took us across a busy main road and into an extensive industrial area with huge international lorries serving a range of businesses. We now know that a lorry marked BIH had come from Bosnia-Herzogovina and another marked MDA from Macedonia (we think)! We found a grassy bank beside an irrigation channel just off the road for our lunch stop, sitting amongst daisies and forget-me-knots in the sunshine.

The industrial estate gave way seamlessly into a residential area. Around the corner the village of Portari came into view, perched on the side of a hill, the church standing dominant at the top and the well-tended cemetery at the bottom on the edge of the village, as is usual here.

Portari’s cemetery left foreground, the church dominating the skyline
Steep uphill to the church, white marble sparkling in the sunshine

From the church steps we enjoyed the magnificent view back towards Lucca and the snow-capped hills beyond, before descending down into Portari, pausing at a cafe for a cafe latte and a latte calde with chocolate biscuits to keep us going. We find Italian coffee too strong later in the day.

View back towards the snow-capped Apennines

Once clear of Portari, our path first left a busy road for a more minor road, and then plunged off across a field, much to our relief after spending all of the day so far walking on tarmac and fretting about speeding traffic. A short stretch along a track through fields bounded by woodland brought us to the back of a cemetery and adjacent vineyard. Sadly, the adjacent monastery was fenced off and in a very poor state of repair. Unusually, even the war memorial appeared uncared for, despite listing the names of 26 soldiers killed in WW1 and 6 soldiers/civilians lost in WW2.

Passing another vineyard offering direct sales and worldwide delivery, we came into the bustling town of Altopascio, just in time to get our pilgrim passports stamped in the town hall and have a quick look inside the church before it closed at 5pm. Tom was also able to get a new battery put into his digital watch which had gone blank earlier in the day. Having identified shops to buy fruit and sandwiches in the morning, we stumbled exhausted into our hotel just off the main square.

Altopascio’s church – a mix of old and new

Although the walking wasn’t very interesting today and most of it on roads, it was warm, dry and sunny. We enjoyed seeing elements of spring: several camellias and magnolias coming into bloom, and daisies out on the lawns. Tom saw a red admiral butterfly and several brimstones, and shrub elder was coming into leaf. There is no blackthorn here and no evidence of daffodils. The east wind was at times tiresome but spring is definitely on its way here.

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