Today was the last day of our epic walk from Salisbury to Rome. It hardly seems real after taking so long and negotiating so many hurdles to get this far. As we started walking in the midst of Storm Dennis on 15 February 2020, it was perhaps fitting that we began the last day of the walk in the rain – though we would have been happier without that symmetry! However, it didn’t last long, and we didn’t get soaked through as we had previously.

The unprepossessing Hotel Cassia – in need of an upgraded hot water system!

Tom decided to let the worst of the rain pass through before setting out, and Julie followed an hour later after more time with a cold pack on her knee. We both had to walk down the busy Via Cassia initially, dicing with speeding traffic and cars parked where pedestrians might have taken refuge. Tom takes up his story.

The SS2 Via Cassia was every bit as busy as we’d seen it before with fast commuter traffic heading in and out of Rome. Fortunately for most of the 4-5km I was able to make use of a pavement (sidewalk) of sorts, but in many places that was occupied by overflowing waste recycling bins, blocking my path.

Pedestrian pavement blocked by waste bins

I’d chosen not to bother with rain gear or rucksack cover. Fortunately the rain held off and spray from passing vehicles gradually diminished. There was one section of a few hundred metres where there was no pedestrian walkway and I was forced out into the traffic with waving sticks – not pleasant!

Where there was no pedestrian walkway I was forced out into the oncoming traffic

My turning point to leave the SS2Via Cassia was where it crossed the GRA Motorway (Rome’s M25). However, since it was in a tunnel at this point I completely missed the turning. After a few hundred metres I realised something was wrong and turned back.

My route descended quickly into a steep sided valley and the Riserve Naturale dell’Inseghurata. The noise of the traffic fell away and I felt at peace at last. I was thrilled to see a number of oak trees freshly in leaf.

Oaktrees freshly in leaf

Up on the other side of the valley there was evidence of a recent fire. The pines seemed to have survived but there were burnt remnants of other trees including cypresses. Sadly, a rest area with information boards had been vandalised, as had others further on – perhaps an indication that I was close to a big city.

My path continued southeastwards alongside a small stream. The water in it was turbid and smelt strongly of sewage. I could tell from the absence of footprints on the recently wet path that I was the first person through since this morning’s rain. I saw nobody else and it felt like I had the place to myself, probably for the last time on my journey. By now the sky had cleared, the noise of traffic had gone, and life felt good.

Soon it was time to leave this lovely valley and climb up to Monte Mario Alto, the first of the suburbs of Rome. It seemed like a bit of a culture shock. Nobody acknowledged my “buon giorno” any more! This is a bizarre phenomenon which one seems to find in any big city. Eventually they’ll totally avoid eye contact.

Monte Mario Alto

Monte Mario Alto was busy with plenty of traffic. Fortunately the Via Francigena is well signposted as the route twists and turns and involves several major road crossings.

The route planners of the Via Francigena have done remarkably well on the approach into Rome, making good use of what green areas there are. At the next one, the Riserva Naturale di Monte Mario, the VF pilgrim is presented with the first views of the City of Rome – and quite stunning they are.

The first sight of the City of Rome brings warmth to the pilgrim’s heart

However, the sight of Rome doesn’t mean that you’re there yet! Rather tantalisingly the VF route then turns west again and circles around the back of Monte Mario itself before emerging on its east flank. There before me was the real arrival vista: the view towards Vatican City and the dome of St Peter’s.

The Viale Angelico and Vatican City with the dome of St Peter’s

Julie and I had arranged to meet at a cafe on the long Viale Angelico which runs from the foot of Monte Mario to St Peter’s Square. There followed another tantalisingly zig-zag descent on rough cobbles to the bottom. I had to tell myself to slow down as a twisted ankle would have been so easy on the awkward cobbles. From the foot of the mount it was still another 2km or so of street walking.

I found Julie at the cafe and sat down for a cafe latte – actually it was two – and a fruit tart. I felt exhausted. I’d found very few places to rest during the day and had pressed on with rather too much enthusiasm, not drunk enough water and had too little to eat. It had been pretty warm too. It felt good to be together again. I’d been reminded of something that Canon Anna at Canterbury Cathedral had said to us when we prayed together at the place of Thomas Becket’s tomb. She’d spoken about the responsibility we had to undertake this pilgrimage also on behalf of those who were unable to do so themselves, through sickness or disability. Little had I imagined that the last five days might be walked on behalf of Julie.

Leaving her comfortable cafe, we made our way slowly along the last few metres into Saint Peter’s Square together.


Our room with first floor balcony – but the laundry is NOT ours!

Last night’s meal was unexpectedly good – better than many, and better than we had anticipated for a two star hotel. The restaurant combined interesting home cooking with a huge wood-fired grill and separate pizza oven, and they were all busy all evening. We slept well and woke up an hour late! We have so relaxed into our routine that we completely forgot about the springtime clock change overnight.

View from our balcony over one of the main piazzas which was buzzing on Saturday evening and again on Sunday morning

After a quick breakfast, Tom set off along the Via Francigena. With nothing much to sight-see in Campagnano di Roma, Julie decided to take the first available bus to Formello, which is on the VF, and await Tom’s arrival to share a late morning coffee. Tom takes up his story.

It was quite misty as I set out this morning. Fairly soon I came across the two ladies from Helsinki who we’d met in Sutri. We chatted for a bit. They were concerned about the notice on the VF website about a change to the itinerary for this stage and couldn’t get the mapping for the alternative to work. I explained that nor could I, but having researched it, I didn’t think the alternative route on a busy road was either very clever or very safe. I explained that so far as I could understand the closure had been because of suspected swine flu, nearly a year ago. While we were chatting two locals who we’d met at breakfast came past on the same route, giving me further confidence that the original VF route was ok.

On and up it became quite misty as low cloud moved in and out.

Monte Razzano in the murk up to the right

Despite being quite a narrow road there was a surprising amount of traffic on it. I passed a number of large and flamboyant gateways, with all the usual exhortations about private property and video surveillance. I then began to realise that I was passing some very grand and probably expensive properties. Is this the Surrey Hills of Rome, I wondered? It certainly fitted the ‘agrarian myth’ description.

Is this the Surrey Hills of Rome?

Signs for the Santuario della Madonna del Sorbo, coupled with wooden crosses spaced along the roadside with numbers (stations of the cross?) suggested that the reason for the traffic may not have been the grand properties.

As I closed in on the Santuario there were large numbers of people getting out of their cars and walking down the hill in the direction of the Via Francigena. The route dropped away through a steep sided valley giving glimpses through the trees of the Santuario above.

The Santuario della Madonna del Sorbo high above the valley

Descending into the valley the road levelled out revealing even more parked cars and people out walking. A little further on I found a large crowd of people walking towards me, many with sticks and backpacks. Soon a vehicle marked with Parco Veio insignia arrived and stopped to talk. The two park officials inside seemed thrilled to see me, a real pilgrim, and when I told them where I’d come from they got out of the car and insisted on taking photographs with me. It felt like my presence was really appreciated – rather a distance from the warnings to avoid this leg of the VF on the ‘official’ website!

A little further on I was approached by a couple who’d noticed the banner on my rucksack and spoke very good English. We walked together for a while. They are from Rome and explained the reason for the crowds. Today, the day of the clocks changing, is a special day in Italy when people get out and celebrate the environment, the arts, and various other things.

Climbing back up out of the valley I reached the outskirts of Formello. I stopped for a rest at a small area where there were seats, a water tap, and a small recreational area. There was a youngster playing on a skateboard being supervised by his father. I greeted them and they immediately engaged asking where I’d walked from. The father told me he’d lived in Coventry for a year and was very enthusiastic about his time there, despite difficulties he’d had learning English. In contrast, his young son spoke very good English. When I asked if he learned it at school, he replied no, he watched a lot of You-Tube videos and movies. That explained the rather American accent!

Entering Formello

Pressing on into Formello, I was rather surprised to find Julie seated on a bench at the gateway to the old walled town. She’d decided to break her bus ride there anticipating that I might be passing through at about that time. She’d tried phoning and left a message, but it was only relayed to me about three hours later! Not very impressive Mr O2! Whilst waiting, Julie had noticed a group of about 20 people gathered in the main square. A couple of posters on nearby trees later revealed them to be linked to the Partisans who fought a guerrilla war against the occupying German forces and Italian Fascists, and continue to promote peace.

So an unexpected coffee break in a lovely cafe in the old city of Formello ensued. After coffee we wandered through the cobbled streets together, bumping into our friends from Helsinki once again.

Entering the walled city of Formello

Soon we parted company again as I headed back down into the valley and Julie returned to find her bus. In fact, she spent a while sitting on a bench in the sunshine outside the church waiting for a christening ceremony to finish so she could look inside. A friendly Italian woman leaving the church, having established that Julie was neither Italian nor German, then sat down for a long conversation. Sylvia is an interpreter into English and German, currently studying to teach Italian to foreigners, and married to a journalist who has been spending a lot of time in Ukraine – a source of considerable anxiety. When Sylvia got up to leave Julie found that the church was locked so there was nothing for it but to go to the bus stop.

From Formello the VF path dropped back down into a broad fertile valley. It made very pleasant walking in the midday sunshine. After some time I found a suitable spot to stop for lunch and a bit of a sleep. How lovely spring can be!

The view from my lunch stop

I was heartened to find a milestone a little further on telling me that there were just 26.9 km left to get to Rome!

The last part of the journey to La Storta was along the Ponte Sodo path variant. This took me past a number of interesting archaeological features including a necropolis dating from the Iron Age containing more than 650 graves and an underground aqueduct tunnelled through the volcanic tuff dating from Etruscan times.

Here again I came upon numbers of people out walking: not just pilgrims, but families with dogs and interestingly quite a number of teenagers simply out for a walk in the sunshine.

Two further river crossings (presumably the potentially ‘dangerous’ ones referred to on the VF website) with sound footbridges brought me to the outskirts of Isola Farnese

One of the potentially dangerous river crossings?

From Isola Farnese it was a short urban walk into La Storta to meet the busy Via Cassia again.

Julie was already installed in our hotel for the night. After a luke warm shower we headed out for an aperitif in a rather down-at-heel bar nearby. Here we met a very interesting Kenyan man and his family. John has been in Italy for 14 years and works at the South African Embassy in Rome, commuting on a daily basis. Another example of the interesting people we’ve met along our pilgrimage, adding a major element of enrichment to the whole experience.

So, we retire to bed with just one more day to the Vatican and St Peter’s square.


We woke to the sounds of birdsong and argumentative jackdaws. How we miss our rooks at home since they left the trees at the bottom of our garden! We used to have 10-12 nests and lots of noisy activity, but this year the rooks have deserted us. In Sutri the sky this morning was overcast with low cloud despite a good forecast. Tom set out early. Julie reapplied an icepack to her knee before setting off an hour later, still pursuing plan B, the bus.

The entrance to our apartment was on the left beside the ramparts. The second bedroom had the 1st floor balcony whilst our room faced out over the ramparts. The inside was much nicer than the outside suggested!

Tom’s path and Julie’s bus stop were both adjacent to the Roman amphitheatre we missed seeing yesterday, so we both got to see it though separately. It is unusual in being hewn directly out of the volcanic tuff without any additional supporting walls, probably around 300 BC. What an impressive feat of engineering! Today, rather than gladiatorial contests, it is used for theatre and musical performances during the summer.

The Roman amphitheatre at Sutri, at approximately 40m x 50m, is relatively small but still impressive – viewed from the Villa Savorelli’s woodland above
Entering the arena at ground level to a crowd of several thousands must have been very daunting!

Just around the corner there are 65 tombs hewn out of the tuff, some used for burials and some for cremations. The necropolis continued in use until the Middle Ages.

Around the next corner is the Mithraeum, a very old church which is thought to have been used previously as a Roman temple, also cut out of the tuff. Because of the difficulty of preserving the frescoes inside, access is limited to appointed times, but they are well worth seeing.

A line of pilgrims ascending the mountain sanctuary under St Michael’s protective gaze – standing in the atrium glimpsing through into the main nave
The main nave with earthen floor (boards laid over for visitors) and frescoes on the pillars and side walls
Entrance to the Mithraeum, locked again until the next appointed visiting slot

Standing above the Mithraeum and necropolis is the 15th century Villa Savorelli with its Italianate garden and chapel, still in private ownership. A woodland path leading away from the formal garden ends at a viewing point overlooking the amphitheatre, providing another perspective on its size and scale.

Villa Savorelli and part of its formal garden – a box hedge maze in need of some tlc!

Whilst Julie was sight-seeing and negotiating the bus service, Tom was well on his way walking along the Via Francigena.

I passed the amphitheatre some time before it opened but managed a glance and photograph or two through the iron gates. From the amphitheatre it was a fairly stiff climb back onto the plateau and back into walnut growing country again. The route briefly clipped the SS Via Cassia which was busy with fast rush hour traffic.

Only this morning we’d been wondering where are all the cattle which supply the milk for our coffee, yoghourts and other breakfast fare. Not long after the Via Cassia, I found them!

Joking apart, we’ve seen so few cattle that given the amount of milk and other dairy products which are consumed here, we rather wonder if they are kept indoors in sheds. On the same count where are all the pigs to supply the huge volume of prosciutto, salami, and other charcuterie we see?

View to the west of the Bracciano Caldera which contains one of the largest of the series of caldera lakes.

Further along the route there were good views of the Bracciano Caldera to the west. Albeit hidden from my view, this contains one of the largest of the Lazio caldera lakes. Somewhere on the web I’ve seen a satellite photograph of these calderas. They are most impressive, especially as they were active so recently, geologically speaking.

Approaching Monterosi I met a Frenchman walking in the other direction and stopped for a chat. He is on his way from Rome to Avignon, where he lives. Avignon was, of course, the seat of the other Pope. He knew Salisbury because his daughter is living in England, in Swanley in Kent and working in the city. I explained that I grew up in Kent and we both agreed that it was a lovely part of the world. It felt very relaxing to converse in French, with which I’m rather more familiar than Italian.

Ancient laverie on the outskirts of Monterosi

I stopped for a rest at a laverie on the outskirts of Monterosi, at the gates of the Centro Golf Nazionale. Here I met two young German chaps who are cycling from Milan to Rome. They anticipated being in Rome this evening. How much quicker this journey must be by bicycle.

Like many of these towns the entrance to Monterosi showed its less attractive side.

Rather deprived looking housing at Monterosi

I was too early at Monterosi to meet Julie as she hadn’t yet left the amphitheatre at Sutri, so I pressed on. The old centre was very similar to so many of these hilltop towns. I found sanctuary in the Chiesa San Croce and thought of St Cross in Winchester which we’d visited on the second day of this pilgrimage, and where we have sung a number of concerts.

Chiesa di San Croce at Monterosi

The other similarity with Winchester was the huge area given over to golf with all the buggies, electric propelled golf trollies and Donald Trump-like ball caps. I was reminded of the notice at the Royal Winchester Golf Club which warned users of the public footpath to take “appropriate cover” on hearing the word “fore”! No such warnings here.


The departure route from Monterosi was far from obvious or seemingly safe. It involved taking the motorway slip road, behind the crash barrier and pretending to be a car looping around and then along, the motorway. I was passed by two Americans (or Canadians?) on bikes, who had been equally confused. I was flattered when, on seeing the banner on my rucksack, they remarked that I’d come a long way. I suppose I felt I had.

It was a big relief when at last the path broke away from the motorway and all the associated noise, along a white road as we’ve come to know them (gravel road). However this led through a huge area of large residential plots with fancy houses, big fences and ……dogs! After several kilometres I found a suitable Eucalyptus tree bordering a very grand property, laid down my sack and had some lunch. No sooner had I opened my sandwich than a speeding car passed throwing up volumes of dust, then another and another. I packed my sandwich away and went to sleep for twenty minutes instead.

Further on, once I’d left ‘private property land’ I came upon some real countryside and some more cows, white ones which might have been charolais (Vache qui rit cows).

More cows!

The route took me some way to the east facing the high mountains of the Apennines. It reminded me of the wonderful time we had crossing them, further to the north back in November.

I crossed the River Treja close the the entrance to the Parco Nazionale di Veio. It looked a lovely river which should have been thick with ranunculus and fish, but sadly neither were to be seen.

A short while later I came across a sorry example of bad farming resulting in huge soil erosion and loss. Sadly we’ve seen so much of this on our pilgrimage, not just in Italy. Where does the soil end up ? In the river!

For some time I was bothered by the noise of a motor racing circuit, the Vallelunge Circuit Pierre Taruffi. The Montegelato Estate through which I was passing seems to try to pride itself of its environmental credentials, but the circuit is a definite negative.

View of the Bracciano Caldera

A slow climb up the following valley eventually brought me to the foot of the spur that is Campagno di Roma.

Campagno di Roma

A stiff climb up to the top of the ridge brought me into Campangano di Roma. Like many other hilltop settlements, a long straight road up the crest of the ridge delivered me to the main part of the town and our lodgings for the night where Julie had already arrived and checked in.


View from our bedroom window high in the ramparts of the old town

Sutri is a delightful place. It is quite small, with a population of about 5,000, centred on the old town with its cobbled streets and tiny back alleys. Our accommodation is a few yards off the Piazza del Comune, so it is handy for bars and restaurants but quiet. It is surprising how much noise is generated by the echo of many voices in these squares enclosed by stone buildings, as we discovered in Siena.

Piazza del Comune

With the luxury of a washing machine in this well renovated and equipped apartment our clothes are smelling much sweeter! It becomes impossible to get sweaty shirts properly clean by repeated hand washing, we have discovered. Although breakfast is provided we decided to go out for more coffee and cake at one of the cafes in the square. Today the tourist office opened as advertised (it didn’t open at all yesterday), albeit late, and we were able to get our pilgrim passports stamped. As there was a barber/hairdresser’s shop adjacent Tom decided to get a haircut. He is now concerned about whether his hat will stay on with so little hair left! The hairdresser took off a lot more hair than Julie usually does – one of the consequences of insufficient Italian to explain what was wanted. Julie says I look like a thug!

Sutri’s duomo

All chores done we wandered down the street to look at the duomo. It is originally late 12th century romanesque in style, with 18th century changes so that it now looks baroque. The crypt gives some sense of the earlier simpler building, whereas the main church is heavily ornate. We were surprised at how large the church is for the relatively small size of Sutri, but of course times have changed: Sutri was more important to former popes in the struggles for supremacy over the wealthy nobility than it is today.

Sutri’s duomo – mosaic tiled aisle and west end with organ
Romanesque crypt

After a short rest we returned to the Piazza del Comune and turned off into an adjacent street to find a butcher’s shop selling platters of cold meats and cheeses for lunch with a nice glass of white wine. Excellent! When we left Tom was also able to buy a filled roll for his lunch tomorrow.

Another caffe latte sitting in the sun at a different cafe on the square and we were ready for a siesta. Unfortunately all this activity left too little time to visit the amphitheatre for which Sutri is famous as it closes at 4pm in the winter. Julie may go there tomorrow as it is adjacent to the bus stop and she will not be able to check into our accommodation until later in the afternoon. Meanwhile, she is applying repeated icepacks to her poorly knee as we have the additional luxury of a freezer as well as a washing machine.


Unfortunately Julie’s knee has not improved sufficiently to walk on it all day and so we are still working to plan B: she takes the bus and Tom does the walking. First, breakfast at a cafe and then a quick look around the old part of Vetralla.

Our room was to the left of the arched doorway in the big building

Like Viterbo, Vetralla was an Etruscan settlement. Much later its strategic position was favoured by a sequence of popes, Pope Eugene III famously declaring the start of the Second Crusade from here in 1145. Later, in 1512, for reasons not clear from what we’ve read so far, Henry VIII gave Vetralla the protection of the English Crown. It now has a population of about 15,000 and seems quite busy, with good transport links to Rome. The cathedral is dedicated to Sant’Andrea Apostolo and is 18th century with a later west facade. It is neither very old nor architecturally interesting. The inside is baroque, with liberal use of trompe-l’oeil, but light rather than oppressive.

Sadly the town’s fort was destroyed by Allied bombing of a German supply depot towards the end of the Second World War, in June 1944. Just one tower was rebuilt from the rubble.

After breakfasting on the remnants of a bag of cereal and a cup of tea, Tom left Julie to the cafe and headed out of town. It was a long straight steady climb out of Vetralla on a poorly maintained road heading into fast rush hour traffic.

It was with some relief that the route turned left at the top of the hill past the Benedictine Monastery of Regina Pacis, while most of the traffic went the other way.

Another twenty minutes and I was on a pleasant track contouring along the side of the caldera of Monte Fogliano in lovely deciduous woodland. Finding a convenient rock to sit on for a rest, I called friend Jo who’d expressed concern about Julie’s knee. We compared notes on the emerging spring here and at home. It was a delight to learn that they’d had the first lamb of the season this morning.

Leaving the woodland I crossed back south of the busy SS2 Via Cassia to enter a large estate of hazelnut groves.

Hazelnut grove with the Monte Fogliano caldera behind

It took me some time to work out that they were hazels. Each tree seems to be carefully pruned to three or four stems, while the older plants seemed to have been coppiced in much the same way as hazel coppicing for staves is done at home. The giveaway of what they were occurred when I found some trees in full leaf.

The route paralleled the Via Cassia through hazelnut groves to within a kilometre or so of Capranica, before dropping down into a steep sided valley. Here I met a man riding a rather edgy horse. Perhaps it was my light coloured shirt which was worrying the horse – I’ve often noticed horses being nervous of white things – so I stood off the track to allow them to pass.

In the middle of one hazel grove I came across a pair of stone towers: the Torri di Orlando. From what we have been able to find, they are Roman in origin, from the first century BC. Quite what they were for or why they are there, seemingly without any other buildings or ruins close by, we’ve not been able to ascertain. Can any of our blog-followers help here?

One of the two Torri di Orlando in the middle of a hazel grove

The approach to Capranica, through some pretty awful housing blocks, belied what was to come in the wonderful historic centre on the ridge. Julie had texted me to say that she’d got off the bus there so we met for a coffee and a bun just outside the old city gate.

Entering the walled city at Capranica

The old walled city is perched on the crest of a ridge of volcanic rock overlooking the junction of two valleys. Despite much evidence of Etruscan occupation around it seems that Capranica was not established until the 8th century. Legend has it that it was first settled by goatherds fleeing a Lombard invasion: hence its name after capra, meaning a goat.

Wandering through the walled town of Capranica

Both the way to Julie’s bus stop and my onward route on foot took us through the old walled city to a steep staircase at the end of the ridge where the two valleys meet. There we met a couple, Travis and Juliane, who have set up a pilgrim donativo in Capranica. He an American and she from Germany met as pilgrims on the Via Francigena. We chatted for a while about their project and proposals to establish an association of donativo accommodations along the route ( Jan the Czech man we walked with two days before had stayed with them last night and told them about us. They recognised the banners on our rucksacks.

After leaving Julie to catch her bus my route took me up and over into an adjacent valley. What then followed was an extremely pleasant walk in the mid afternoon sunshine down a steep sided wooded valley criss-crossing over a pretty tumbling stream. The woodland floor was covered in pretty little lupin-like flowers.

There was much evidence of path restoration work, with timber balustrades and footbridges. At one point I came across an assortment of seats made from logs and took the opportunity for a brief but welcome stop. In many ways this part of the day’s walk reminded me of the Orbe Valley we had walked through back in early July, just after we’d crossed from France into Switzerland – only on a smaller scale.

In time the valley opened out to reveal the town of Sutri up on the ridge to the left.

The town of Sutri. Our accommodation is high on the crest to the left.

I called Julie, who was by now already in our accommodation, for instructions on how to find it and then made my way up the hill.

All in all a very pleasant day’s walk with a welcome break in the middle. It would have been better to have walked together, but needs must and Julie’s knee definitely needs to be rested.

Sunset from our bedroom window


Julie’s painful knee is beginning to present us with a problem. Simply pressing on and ignoring it is not a viable option. It has become clear that some good rest is what is needed. After exploring various options we decided that the best thing would be for her to have a break from walking for the next few days by taking trains and buses to each day’s destination while Tom continues on foot on his own. With the planned rest day in Sutri, that would give a total of three days rest, leaving just three days to get to Rome. Public transport links along our remaining route are good so if it isn’t sufficiently recovered that option remains. As our good friend Christina pointed out, pilgrims of old wouldn’t have shunned a ride in an ox cart in such circumstances, if it was on offer.

The pretty Piazza del Gesu just up the hill from our lodging

From our lodgings it was a short walk up the hill for both of us to the duomo. On the way we passed cherry trees in full bloom in the Piazza del Gesu. “Bella” said the lady cleaning the cafe tables after Tom pointed at them. “Bellissima” he replied.

Further up the hill we passed a series of large Inca like stone blocks set in the base of a wall. From an adjacent notice we gathered that they are the remains of the wall of the original town built on the hilltop by the Etruscans in pre-Roman times.

Remains of the Etruscan wall
The duomo with its Siena-like campanile

We’ve seen that many beautiful cathedrals on this walk that it’s easy to get be rather blasé about them. What is special about this one however is the Siena-like campanile built of white marble and black serpentinite.

Inside, the dumo is remarkably plain. The scars of May 1944 when it was badly damaged are clear to see, with chunks of stone missing from the colonnades and the fractured mosaic floor.

Tom felt a slightly emotional as we parted at the door of the duomo: Julie to go and find her train and he to set off on foot to Vetralla. Silly really, but we’ve walked all this way together and now he was to be on his own, if only for the day.

Descending from the duomo down the north side of the hill was initially quite steep demonstrating just why the Etruscans had chosen this place for their fortified settlement.

Leaving Viterbo

The current Via Francigena route from Viterbo to Vetralla is temporarily closed for maintenance and so our app proposed an alternative further to the east. I was initially a bit concerned that route finding might not be so easy but in the event it was well signposted suggesting that it has been an alternative for some time. Once across the busy ring road and past some rather shabby post-industrial buildings the road entered a curious narrow gorge cut vertically into the volcanic rock at times as much as ten or fifteen metres deep. This wound its way from left to right for several kilometres. Marks on the walls clearly indicated that it had been cut using implements, rather than by any natural process. I wondered by whom and why? Was this a relic of the last war? Perhaps it had been cut to provide some sort of safe transport or escape route? I later learned that I was correct about its purpose, but hopelessly out on the time of its construction. This was an Etruscan road dating from around 500BC! It was cut into the volcanic rock in order that armies moving along it couldn’t be seen and presumably the winding profile served a similar defensive purpose.

After several kilometres the road emerged from the cutting into rolling farmland. At one point a field of oilseed rape in full bloom came into view.

The road became a gravel track as fields of grass gave way to olive groves. I stopped for a rest and some water, sitting on a convenient bank. Soon I heard voices and Elizabeth the Italian living in Lausanne who we’d first met in Acquapendente appeared. She was with a friend, Giuseppe, who lives in Viterbo and was walking with her for the morning. I asked him about the cutting earlier on and it was he who explained that it was built by the Etruscans. We chatted a bit before they went on their way. I decided to wait a bit so as not to walk on top of them. Not long after, as I approached a crossing under the SS2 motorway Guiseppe appeared again walking back towards Viterbo. He explained that he had to return to his wife. I may have misunderstood, but it sounded like she is not well. Interestingly he was clutching a bunch of wild asparagus he’d picked along the way. He reiterated his advice for Julie about buses along our route to Rome in case she needs them. What a kind and thoughtful man!

Being on my own I was able to walk at my own pace without the frequent stops necessary to rest Julie’s knee. This was some recompense for walking alone, and I felt a certain spring in my step. Spring, of course was all around me. A little while later I came across sweet peas in full bloom intertwined with other wild vegetation. Were they really wild, or just feral?

Sweet peas in March!

On the east side of the motorway was a large horticultural enterprise growing cauliflowers and cabbages under irrigation. It was interesting to see that having been recently cut, the cauliflower plants were being turned back in using a large implement looking like a cross between a disc and a plough. Presumably the fertile volcanic soils here are ideal for this sort of farming.

Cabbage land

Shortly after, the joy of spring was pushed aside by the sight of fly-tipping on an almost industrial scale. Such a beautiful country, but such a wonderful landscape spoilt by this! A short while later I came upon Elizabeth taking a rest. We talked about the rubbish and the litter issue along the way. She talked about an attitude in Italy which has not changed with the rest of the world: an attitude which just doesn’t appreciate or cherish the environment around them. She put it down to education. Having said all of that, I think we have almost as big a problem in the UK.

Dumped toilets and bathroom furniture
And then this lot dumped into the river below!

For some time the route followed alongside the motorway with its ever present noise. Eventually we ducked down underneath it into a landscape of olive groves. I stopped in one, sitting on a rock and called Martin, secretary of the WFA about the sudden recent death of my successor as chairman. Somewhat ironically he was sitting in the car park of Salisbury Hospital for which we are raising funds. It was good to talk. He’s a thoroughly good egg.

An hour later I found another spot to stop for an orange amongst olive trees and a wonderful display of dandelions in flower. By this stage I was about 2/3rds of the way to Vetralla so I called Julie who was on her way from the station into town.

Dandelions amongst the olive trees

More up and down through olive groves, though none too extreme, brought me eventually to the outskirts of Vertralla. At La Panchina del Pellergrino Barbara I stopped to stamp my credential. Interesting, the reference to Barbara, who is, of course the patron saint of miners, a soul-mate, you might say.

As I was stamping my credential, the English couple from Rye arrived and we spent the next half hour chatting. I was somewhat flattered when he said we’d inspired them to think about doing a long distance walk like this. I hope they do. We’ve got so much out of it.

Vetralla was a short distance off and Julie was already ensconced in our overnight lodgings when I arrived. We enjoyed a cup of tea in the afternoon sunshine in the garden before a good hot shower and the usual necessities.


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.


We awoke to pouring rain, with a forecast of rain for most of the day. It had been forecast for several days so we couldn’t really complain, and anyway the farmers have been praying for it. We couldn’t see the lake for cloud and rain. Supper had been indifferent but we slept well. The prospect of walking in full wet weather gear in the rain was not enticing, and we were slow getting started.

Hotel Platani in the rain

After a walk back up the road to a supermarket to buy lunchtime sandwiches we finally left the hotel at 0950, heading back up the hill and on southwards. We didn’t feel inspired!

Fairly soon our path took us up the side of the hill and into olive groves. The ‘proprieta privata’ signs persisted for some distance as we made our way out of Bolsena passing flamboyant unoccupied properties with pretentious gateways. Who are the owners of these places which steal the best views of the lake and surrounding countryside, hiding it from users of the Via Franchigena? How often do they come here?

Think wet Welsh hills and olives…….that pretty well sums up most of the morning. The oak woodland was lovely despite the rain. At least there was very little wind. As lunchtime approached we could sense a slight lightening of the sky in the direction of Lake Bolsena. This lifted our spirits.

After crossing a swollen stream, fortunately over a newly built footbridge, we found a shelter under which to rest and munch our tuna sandwiches.

Lunch in the shelter of the lavenderia

At one end of the shelter was what looked like a lavanderia with a constant throughput of water. What was so interesting was the temperature of the water which was emanating from the ground – truly warm enough to bath in! We assumed that this was the consequence of a steep geothermal gradient due to the thinner crust in this recently volcanic environment. Lunch finished we realised that it had stopped raining, and as we emerged from the shelter the sun began to force its way through the clouds. As we reached higher ground the lake came into view, the air now clearer after all that rain.

The afternoon began with walking through farmland on a sunken and badly eroded track with a lot of plastic litter embedded in the soil, bringing us out onto a minor road before walking alongside a busier road for a while.

Just as we were about to cross said busy road and head off on a track we were confronted by an extremely aggressive Alsation dog barking, slathering, and bearing its teeth at eye level in the fenced garden above us. The owner then turned up, retrieved her mail from the postbox and, despite encouragement from us, did absolutely nothing to quieten her dog. We find the attitude to dogs here, and the apparent inability or unwillingness of their owners to control them, very perplexing. When we commanded the dog very authoritatively to shut up, it did!

Very aggressive dog harassing us as we use the footpath

The track climbed steadily upwards towards Montefiascone for several kilometres, eventually giving us a spectacular view of the lake and, on the horizon, the Mediterranean glinting in the late afternoon sun. It was magical and a great reward after the soggy grey morning we’d had.

Lake Bolsena and on the horizon the Mediterranean (to the left of the lake) glinting in the afternoon sun
Approaching Montefiascone perched on the hilltop overlooking Lake Bolsena

Further along the road we came to the 100km point where various organisations had set up a pilgrim self-stamping station. Just 100kms to go to St Peter’s in Rome!

The red arrow on the side points to the knob to open up the locker with pilgrim stamp marking 100km to go to St Peter’s in Rome

On passing a supermarket we decided to buy sandwiches and an orange for tomorrow’s lunch so we can get going a bit earlier than we did today. We found our hotel higher up the hill, close to the old town and on the Via Francigena. We were glad to arrive earlier than we did yesterday, giving us longer to relax, as well as doing laundry and the blog, before going to sleep.

View from our bedroom window late afternoon, a rainbow in the distance

The highlight of the day was the wonderful view over the lake and the Mediterranean on the horizon glinting in the late afternoon sunshine.


Electricity supply cables outside our room in Acquapendente!

Today’s walk was going to be relatively long at 23kms so we rose early and went down to the square for breakfast with our rucksacks packed. It was very quiet and there was hardly anyone around this early on a Sunday morning. After breakfast we wound our way through cobbled streets and found another cafe that was offering both sandwiches and stamps for pilgrim passports. There were a couple of intriguing pieces of street art painted onto the houses along our route. The dog is typical – though more usually seen barking in our experience! – and we assume the man with shovel over his shoulder represents the dependence on agriculture in this area. Both pictures made a pleasant change from the usual graffiti.

As we were passing the duomo (it isn’t actually a duomo any more as the bishopric has changed) a man sitting in a car outside told us it was about to open so we waited a few minutes for the door to be unlocked and went inside. It turned out that he was waiting whilst his wife unlocked the church. The Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre is essentially 12th century romanesque building with much later west facade.

The chancel was raised to accommodate the crypt below

Just up the road the pharmacy was open and the elasticated knee support in Julie’s size had arrived in the overnight stock delivery, so she swapped it for the compression bandage she’d been making do with since San Quirico, and it was much more comfortable. Next door the supermarket produced an orange for our lunch, and then we got on our way. We were quickly into countryside, winding our way along flat tracks around fields bounded by hedges and small stands of trees. It was easy walking, if a little uninteresting except for the other pilgrims we met.

After about an hour the Swiss woman from Lausanne who had been in the restaurant at our lodgings last night caught up with us. We chatted a while. She is a nurse and was sympathetic with Julie’s knee issue and offered valuable advice. She went on ahead of us so we didn’t see her again as she is much faster than us.

At our next rest stop the young German woman, Charlotte, who we’d first seen in San Quirico also caught up with us. She too had had an awful time with the rally drivers on the track out of Radicofani on Friday, and said they had been very rude to her. After a torrid time with them she’d stopped at the Ostello at Ponte a Rigo which was how she had ended up behind us.

Moments later we were joined by a Czech man who we had seen but not previously talked to back at Monteriggioni. He said he knew all about us after finding our blog on the internet while doing research for his walk.. He and his wife have recently moved to Florence for a year whilst she pursues postgraduate training as a paediatric neurologist. He said he goes off walking for a few days at a time, and had walked 42kms yesterday!

Looking back northwards from the only higher ground for miles

Our pilgrim friends walked on ahead as they are much quicker than us. After going around three sides of a field we ascended the only high ground around. It wasn’t very high but it did give some perspective over where we had just come from, showing a panorama of fields, hedges, and light industrial buildings. We worked out that the small sheds dotted around the fields are probably housing the pumps which manage the field irrigation system. We also noticed that artificial fertilisers are being used liberally here as there were small dumps of the stuff on the track and the crops were a bright nitrogen green.

As we headed towards the road into San Lorenzo Nuovo a cat came trotting along the track towards Tom and repeatedly brushed against his legs and walking poles, seeking attention and almost tripping him up. What a pleasant contrast with aggressive barking dogs – Tom was almost converted! No ways (T)!

In San Lorenzo Nuovo we went into the first cafe we came to, hoping for a warm drink, but they were out of milk and offering only neat coffee. Instead, we shared a pizza and were sad to see that at 1.30pm on a Sunday we were the only customers. Life must be very tough for these small family businesses, and we hope they do good trade once the season gets going after Easter. Further along the road there were several more cafes and restaurants all vying for pilgrim trade, though there is still little of it this early in the year.

At this point we were on the crater rim of an old volcano which last erupted in about 100 BC. Subsequently the magmatic cap collapsed allowing the formation of Lake Bolsena, which was just coming into view…or would have been coming into view but for low cloud merging land and sky today. For now our path took us into woodland on the side of the collapsed caldera, winding along the hillside towards Bolsena.

Unfortunately this didn’t last, and as we passed from one area of land ownership to another we walked through a huge area where almost every tree had been felled. The devastation was quite shocking, the more so when we came upon the relatively small piles of logs created from all those lovely trees.

A bit further along the track we came upon another plaque commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Swiss Guard in 2006. We wondered how it had been decided where these commemorative plaques should be placed as they seemed a bit random to us.

By late afternoon we were descending towards the lake, which eventually came into view as the clouds lifted slightly. We tried to imagine what the view might have been like on a clear sunny day. Today the lake seemed rather mysterious.

Lake Bolsena beginning to emerge from the murk
At last – a proper view of the lake!

Once we had come down closer to the lake we thought we were almost there, but no! There was still another couple of hours walking to go, with Julie getting slower and slower as her knee complained that it had had enough for the day. We eventually got into Bolsena as it was getting dark, the impressive castello lit up against a darkening sky. The path took us down through the cobbled streets and steps of the old town, emerging at the bottom of the hill into the newer part of Bolsena.

We eventually stumbled into our hotel at 1845, very tired and glad to be able to put down our heavy packs put our feet up, and drink a cold beer!


We were very pleased to meet up with Dave (Tom’s former work colleague) and Jude for supper last night, and enjoyed a good meal together in the restaurant downstairs. It has meant a lot to us to be able to share our experiences with family and friends along the way, and we really appreciated Dave and Jude making the detour from their place in Umbria to rendezvous with us before returning home to the UK.

We were much in need of our rest today after breaking our own rule by walking 6 days, instead of 5 days, since our last rest day. Getting out of bed for our breakfast rendezvous was a bit of a struggle! The cafe just down the hill in the main square was open, so we tumbled in there for coffee and croissanti.

Acquapendente’s main piazza – it was much busier yesterday!

Julie’s left knee has been worsening over the last 3 days and needed a day off from walking, but she also decided to go to A&E at the Ospedale to see whether they could offer any advice on alleviating her symptoms. Julie came away with an x-ray report confirming no fracture and a prescription for stronger Ibuprofen than she had been taking.

Overall, Julie and Dave (who was allowed to stay with her to translate) came away feeling that the NHS is really pretty good and we need to be more appreciative and less critical of what it offers. The hospital in Acquapendente is run down, the doctor seemed disinterested, and hygiene was noticeably poor. We have previously seen people around with obvious untreated health issues, suggesting that the Italian healthcare system doesn’t serve its population as well as it might.

Having come away with a prescription we couldn’t get dispensed until late afternoon there was only one thing to do next – find somewhere for lunch! We ended up sat in the sunshine in the main square eating slices of take-away pizza with a cold beer/aperol spritz. Dave and Jude then needed to leave to drive to Bologna for their flight home early tomorrow morning.

The next challenge for us was to find a pharmacy open to dispense Julie’s prescription. The pharmacy near our digs was closed, despite what its website said, and the only other one was 1.5km out of town, so we asked our hostess to call up a taxi for us as Julie didn’t feel up to walking that far. After initially telling us there are no taxis in Acquapendente a kind woman in a small red car turned up to offer private hire, which suited us just fine. At the pharmacy Julie was surprised to be asked whether she wanted one or two boxes of Ibuprofen. It seems that an Italian prescription states what drug is to be dispensed and its strength, but not the quantity. We took two boxes and arranged to return at 9am tomorrow to collect an elasticated knee brace of the right size.

We chose to eat in ‘our’ restaurant again, as it had been good last night and seemed to be popular with the locals. It is run by five women who love home cooking and produce very good meals. We were not disappointed!