Tuesday April 12 we left Florence, on our way to Assisi, a two week pilgrimage along the Via di Francesco, or Way of St. Francis. We walked first through city streets, then suburbs, then to the open countryside, to Pontassieve, which is about 20k upstream from Florence on the Arno River.

It’s been seven days now since we began our pilgrimage from Florence, Italy, to Assisi. I would call it a week of “ups and downs” quite literally, since we find ourselves mostly climbing and descending.

A view down the mountain valleys

That day, and the next, we passed kilometer after kilometer of olive groves and vineyards, slowly climbing our way into the Apennines, which form the centrail spine of the Italian peninsula. We enjoyed meeting other pilgrims, most of whom were from Germany.

Olive groves

We also met some wonderful people who love to host pilgrims and loved to hear their stories and passions for this pilgrimage route. One family in particular has resettled on a family farmstead and restored a 10th century church next to their house. The evening we spent with them was probably the best of the week.

1,000 year old church at Rifugio Jacobo
Luca and Elena and their children, our hosts at Rifugio Jacobo.

On our third day we entered the Casentino National Forest and have been in or through parts of it for the past four days.

Pine trees in the Casentino National Forest
Monastery at Camaldoli

The forest is very remote, but we also pass through some small villages and quite a few monasteries, some of a which are 1,000 years old. Yesterday, Easter Sunday, we arrived at a very famous Franciscan monastery, Della Verna, the place that St. Francis is purported to have received the wounds of Christ, or the Stigmata. This is a very mystical place, a very refreshing place to visit.

Della Verna

We left there this morning and arrived mid-afternoon in Pieve San Stefano, in the upper Tiber Valley. It was the first time in four days that we entered a substantial town or village.

Meeting a mountain biker on the way into Pieve San Stefano

The weather was quite warm the first several days and we hiked in shorts and a t-shirt. Since Friday, the weather has cooled and it’s been very windy, particularly in the higher mountain passes that we’ve been through.

Wading a mountain stream

The Apennines remind me very much of the Blue Ridge mountains at home, similar in altitudes. I was surprised by the large numbers of trees that have fallen over or been snapped in half by windstorms.

Altogether we have walked 115 kilometers, but even more challenging, we have climbed over 5200 meters in elevation. We are not done yet—more climbing to come as we leave Tuscany tomorrow wand head into Umbria.

In eight days we hope to reach Assisi. We feel fortunate not to have had any injuries or serious problems so far. We love this adventure!