We woke to the birds singing and sunlight streaming in. Another lovely spring morning with blue sky and views of the hills from our bedroom window. This family run hotel gave us a good supper last night, even though we were the only diners. It was a treat to have lots of fresh green beans dressed with olive oil. Most meals seem to be served with roasted potatoes and grilled vegetables.

The Hotel Italia

Our hotel was on the Via Francigena so we started relatively early with a climb up into the medieval city to the castello at the top of the hill. It can be seen from miles around, and is in such a good strategic position that 36 popes chose it as their base in Tuscania (the name for this part of Lazio) from the 13th to 16th centuries. The views are stupendous in all directions, and it was especially good to see the blueness of Lake Bolsena in full sunshine at last.

Looking out towards the Mediterranean
Looking south-east over the cupola of the duomo
Looking north-west over the caldera Lake Bolsena

At the bottom of the hill we met our first pilgrims of the day, a British couple from Rye who are doing things the sensible way, carrying just daypacks and having their luggage transported. We enjoyed a long conversation about a wide range of topics, including the extra hassles arising from Brexit and the beauties of Tuscany.

Via Cassia

One of the highlights of today was walking on the Roman Via Cassia which is still paved for long sections, more than two thousand years since it was made. What a testament to the quality of the workmanship that it has lasted largely intact for so long! The same could not be said about modern tarred roads. Minor roads in particular have been poorly maintained and left to revert to gravel, though that is less of an issue in a hot and dry climate than our potholed roads at home. These large cobbles were good for walking on but cyclists would be less keen on the bumpy ride.

We had two more pilgrim encounters today. Two Dutch women living in Rome were spending a couple of days walking on the Via Francigena before going back to work. And our Czech pilgrim friend Jan caught up with us again, having needed a rest after his previous 40km day. As he wasn’t in any rush today he walked with us for several hours. Julie really appreciated the distraction from her painful knee, and we both enjoyed discussing a wide range of topics as we wandered through olive groves and fields together.

We caught up with the two Dutch women again at a picnic table on the brow of a hill, so decided to stop for an early lunch as we’ve found few facilities like this in Lazio so far. There were wonderful views back to Montefiascone, as well as out across a wide green valley in the direction of the sea.

Looking back towards Montefiascone high on the skyline
Looking on southwards with another caldera on the horizon

The afternoon’s walk was pretty well flat, twisting and turning along tracks through farmland and past a military airport busy with helicopters taking off. As we got closer we had a better and better view of the caldera (the volcanic hills) beyond Viterbo. Unfortunately the Via Francigena is currently diverted away from the caldera due to maintenance work, so we won’t get to see it tomorrow.

Closing in on Viterbo

Viterbo is famous for its spring-fed thermal baths which generate mineral laden waters at 58 degrees centigrade. Sadly, the baths have been closed for a while and are still closed, supposedly for maintenance. Jan said there has been some local politics involved and we could see no work going on there. A warm dip would have been most welcome! Our friend Christina tells us that her cousin from north Italy visits them every year. He will be disappointed this year

The wild flowers were coming into their own after rain yesterday and the longer sunny days

When we got to the edge of Viterbo, with the usual cemetery and out of town stores, it was a long trudge on pavements into the centre. Viterbo is sizeable place, with a population of around 68,000 and a university, so it took a while to get into the centre. On our way through town we also noticed a number of refugees, and chatted with a couple of Sri Lankan men drinking Tenants lager in a small back street – probably refugees of the tribal strife there. What a difficult situation they are in, compounded by a hostile right-wing government in Italy at present.

In the midst of finding our way across the large and busy Piazza dei Caduti Julie was asked by an Italian gentleman who had seen the banner on her rucksack if she was from ‘Osterreich’. He apologised for his mistake when she said no, she was from Salisbury in Ingleterra. Asking if she was tired after walking all that way he was very encouraging about how close we are to Rome now.

Our room was on the second floor

Tonight’s billet was a room in the old part of town, surrounded by cobbled streets, tucked away piazzas, and several tower houses. Fortunately there were several restaurants nearby so we didn’t have far to go to find some supper.

Highlights of today were yet more stunning views, and meeting more pilgrims. It was particularly enjoyable to spend longer and be able to have deeper conversations with Jan. It means a lot to share experiences of these epic trips we are all doing for a range of reasons. However Julie’s knee is not doing well and has become quite painful. Some rethinking needs to be done.

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