When you are walking, you need to keep eating. As long-distance walkers quip, “this is one vacation where you can eat all you want and still come back weighing less.
In Italy walkers along the Via di Francesco (Florence to Rome) have a variety of places to eat. When hilltop towns and cities are on the route, or at the end of a day’s stage, there are many choices. But in remote areas, the choices are fewer and farther between and this requires some planning. Following are some points to keep in mind so that you stay well fed and watered along the way.
- Bars/cafes, restaurants, trattoria, pizzerias: these are in most towns, just not always open when you’d like them to be. Bars/cafes are generally open all the time, excepting holidays, some Sundays, or at the whim of the owner. They are a great place to pick up a sandwich, pastry, coffee and other drinks. Good guidebooks will tell you about them and you should plan ahead. They will also fill your empty water bottle from their tap.
- Restaurants/trattoria, etc… are usually open over the midday and then close until 7 or 7:30 p.m. Just about the time that you are finished with walking, say around 3:00 or so, they will be closed. You will need to go to a bar/cafe, or grocer (which might also be closed) or just wait.
- A pizzeria is a great place to get a reasonably priced and filling meal, typically for around 8 euros. You can split a pizza, if you like, but they are usually for one person.
- Italians eat a small breakfast and a late supper and the biggest meal is usually in the middle of the day. Late afternoon (4:00 or later) they head to bars for a drink, sometimes staying out until the restaurants open. Plan accordingly.
- A good hotel usually provides a buffet breakfast, sometimes quite large. You can find this out in advance. A big breakfast is a hiker’s best friend, in my opinion.
- A B&B, hostel, rifugio, agriturismo, may have a typical Italian breakfast (coffee and bread) or they may supply a bit more, such as yogurt and fruit. Just ask. They may advertise “breakfast available” but that could mean a wide range of possibilities.
- When all else fails, you can go to a grocery. Some larger towns have larger supermarkets, such as COOP, Euro Spin, Lidl, EMI and they are open at all hours, even late. These have a great selection of fruits, cheeses and breads, as well as packaged sandwiches. You can also find an alimentari or neighborhood grocer, in some smaller towns. Some say, frutta et verdura which means they also sell fruit and vegetables. Check your guidebook for information about this, but Google Maps will also show you these places. This is a very economical option, especially for lunch. Smaller grocers may close during the afternoon.
- B&Bs, Rifugios, agriturismos, typically provide supper and breakfast. Some towns have fixed price and/or pilgrim menus. These are good deals. Look for them.
- An Italian menu has the antipasto (a savory appetizer) the primo (first course, often pasta) a second or second course (mostly meat) and desert or dolce You can pick and choose. You can also order a mixed salad (insalata mista) and vegetables, which typically are whatever is in season.
- Watch out for longer stages that the guidebooks say do not have stops for food along the way. Stock up in advance. If there is no grocery or bar where you are leaving from, ask for a packed lunch ahead of time if you are staying at an agriturismo, B&B or rifugio. They may be able to help.
- Take plenty of water. While most stages have a place to fill up, some are very remote. You will also come across public fountains with a tap. If they say “agua potable” they are safe. I carry up to two liters of water with me on hot days. Don’t get dehydrated on the trail!
- Make sure you sample the local food, especially the pasta! This was our favorite part of eating.
With good planning, any hiker/walker can keep themselves well-fed on the Way of St. Francis. Food in Italy is one of the main attractions, after the scenery, so be sure to enjoy it. And don’t miss an opportunity to have a picnic!
Russ Eanes is a writer/walker/cyclist from Harrisonburg, VA and the author of The Walk of a Lifetime: 500 Miles on the Camino de Santiago. He has a forthcoming book about walking the Way of St. Francis.