The Way of Saint Francis is a set of paths that connect the many places linked to the life of San Francesco d'Assisi in Tuscany. From Florence, in particular from the Basilica of Santa Croce which is one of the most important Franciscan basilicas in Italy, today's walkers can reach the renowned Sanctuary of La Verna. Here, Francesco spent several periods of his life and, in September 1224, received the stigmata.
The itinerary then crosses the Valtiberina Tuscany, which boasts places inextricably linked to the life of Francesco such as the hermitages of Cerbaiolo and Montecasale and the castle of Montauto. From La Verna, two routes reach Anghiari, one route goes west to Sasso di Simone and another one joins the path that leads to Assisi, passing through Monterchi.
From Anghiari, the route goes further south and leads pilgrims to the heart of Arezzo, where the Basilica of San Francesco is located. Through the Valdichiana Aretina, it continues up to Cortona, another place of which San Francesco d'Assisi was very fond and where he founded the fascinating Eremo Le Celle.
In summary, Francesco's routes in Tuscany can be divided into 3 different sections, linked together:
The final stages of the journey by Francesco Rimini-La Verna are added to these sections, entering Tuscany from Balze and Pennabilli, in Emilia Romagna.
Identifying colour on map: brown
As we have noted, the starting point of the Way of Saint Francis in Tuscany is Florence’s Basilica di Santa Croce, which was built in 1294 on a convent that had been founded around seventy years before by a group of Franciscan friars. Francis himself, according to the Franciscan Sources, passed through Florence at least once, in 1217.
The Sanctuary of La Verna, at one end of the route, is located a few kilometres from Chiusi della Verna, a tranquil and historic place buried deep in the green National Park of the Casentino Forests.
There are two possible paths from Florence to La Verna, one north and one south. They are described below, and can both be taken to complete a ring route.
Northern Route, passing through the Passo della Consuma
Number of stages: 6
Total distance: 96.3 km
Difficulty: Tourist trail (stage 1) – Hiking trail (stages 2 -6)
The northern path takes you to the La Verna Sanctuary via Pontassieve, the Passo della Consuma, Stia, Camaldoli and Badia Prataglia. The itinerary begins by following along the Arno river for long stretches, sometimes veering into gentle hills and fields. Once past Diacceto, a few kilometres after Pontassieve, woodlands are more prevalent. After Stia, the route enters the Casentino National Park. Among the most unmissable attractions is the beautiful parish church San Giovanni a Rèmole in the hamlet of Le Sieci (Pontassieve), datinh back to at least the year 955. The spectacular panoramic views from the Passo della Consuma are another highlight, as are the church of Santa Maria Assunta and the Art and Wool Museum in Stia, not to mention the hermitage and monastic complex in Camaldoli, in the Casentino Park that is home to a number of panels by Giorgio Vasari.
Southern Route, through Vallombrosa and Poppi
Number of stages: 6
Total distance: 91 km
Difficulty: Hiking trail (stages 1-4, 6) – Tourist trail (stage 5)
The southern way takes walkers out of Florence by hugging the left bank of the Arno river and passing through Rignano sull’Arno, the Abbey of Vallombrosa, Montemignaio, Poppi and Santa Maria del Sasso, just outside of Bibbiena. In part, this route follows the Via Florentia Romana, a centuries-old road that remained important in the Middle Ages both for the number of pilgrims who passed through and for the important commercial exchanges that it facilitated between Florence and the family of the Conti Guidi.
On this path, you come across attractions such as the Spedale del Bigallo, near Bagno a Ripoli, one of many medieval guest houses devoted to welcoming pilgrims and wayfarers, a reminder of the legacy of the Roman era in the town and surrounding area. You can also see the domineering Vallombrosa Abbey, Castel Leone and the Oratory of Santa Maria delle Calle in Montemignaio, and the castle of the Conti Guidi in Poppi.
A land of nature, spirituality and art, Tuscan Valtiberina boasts immense expanses of woods and green areas that are now parks and nature reserves that can be explored by pilgrims and wayfarers. On the way, there are numerous hermitages and places of faith that keep alive the memory of the passage of Francis, but also characteristic villages that preserve the legacy of top-class artists such as Piero della Francesca and Michelangelo, born in Valtiberina.
From La Verna to Anghiari: east route passing through Pieve Santo Stefano and Sansepolcro
Number of stages: 4
Total length: 64 km
Difficulty: hiking all stages
Identification color on the map: red
After reaching the summit of Monte Calvano and its spectacular 360° view, we descend towards Pieve Santo Stefano, the renowned 'City of Diaries', which represents the end of the first leg. The second leg, 5.2 km from Pieve Santo Stefano, includes a visit to the Hermitage of Cerbaiolo, an ancient Benedictine monastery donated to St. Francis during one of his pilgrimages, where St. Anthony also found refuge, and where he finished composing his Sermons. The hermitage is built around a 17th-century cloister and consists of a church, sacristy, refectory, chapel and cells.
The second stage, immersed in greenery, crosses the Alpe della Luna Nature Reserve and leads to the Montagna area. In the next stage, on the road to Sansepolcro, we come across the Hermitage of Montecasale, a place of great importance for having welcomed Francesco in 1213 and remains a remarkable example of the typical architecture.
In Sansepolcro, the village in which Piero della Francesca was born, we find the Civic Museum that preserves some of the painter's great masterpieces and is also home to many churches which boast works by the artists Luca Signorelli, Perugino and Rosso Fiorentino.
The journey then continues towards Anghiari, the splendid medieval village-castle made famous by the "Battle" of the same name painted by Leonardo da Vinci. Here, among other things, we find the Church of the Cross, built right at the point where Francis planted a wooden cross into the ground during one of his return trips from La Verna to Assisi.
From La Verna to Anghiari: west route passing through Caprese Michelangelo and Montauto
Number of stages: 2
Total length: 47.40 km
Difficulty: Hiking (all stages)
Identification color on the map: red
While the east route winds along the Alpe della Luna, the west route weaves through the greenery of the Catenaia Alps that separates Valtiberina from Casentino.
About halfway through the first stage, ending in Caprese Michelangelo, the birthplace of Michelangelo Buonarroti, we see the Hermitage of the Casella. Legend says that Francesco, returning to Assisi after receiving the Stigmata, stopped in this location. Shortly thereafter the hermitage was built, with evidence dating back to 1228.
Along the second stage, shortly after passing Ponte alla Piera, the path reaches the Fabbrica della Natura, home to the Visitor and Environmental Education Center of the Monti Rognosi Nature Reserve.
Going further, you will arrive in the surroundings of Monte Acuto and Montauto Castle. Here, Francesco used to stay as a guest of the centuries-old Galbino family. It is said that the saint also stopped in Montauto in 1224, after receiving the stigmata, and on that occasion he gave his old habit to Count Alberto, now preserved at the Sanctuary of La Verna as a relic. Not far from the castle you can find the Maestà di San Francesco chapel and the Cenacolo di Montauto, a Franciscan convent that dates back to 1500.
From the Hermitage of Cerbaiolo to the Sasso di Simone passing through Badia Tedalda and Sestino
Number of stages: 3
Total length: 47.50 km
Difficulty: Hiking (all stages)
Identification color on the map: orange
The section that crosses the territories of Badia Tedalda and Sestino follows historic connection routes between the Valtiberina and the regions beyond the Apennines, linking to the eastern part of the La Verna-Anghiari stretch that passes from Pieve Santo Stefano along the top of the Passo di Viamaggio. On the way you will encounter acres and acres of shaded woodlands and fields rich in wild flora and inhabited by various types of deer and also birds of prey such as the majestic golden eagle.
Badia Tedalda, a charming mountain village surrounded by nature, can be considered the capital of the previously mentioned Alpe della Luna Nature Reserve. Don't miss the Church of San Michele Arcangelo which preserves five splendid 16th century Robbia terracottas.
In Sestino, the National Antiquarium is well worth a visit, in memory of the many legacies of the Roman era in the town and surrounding area. Also see the Church of San Pancrazio. Among the natural beauties, one cannot fail to mention the Ranco Spinoso Wildlife Park and the Sasso di Simone Nature Reserve.
Towards the Streets of Francesco in Umbria via Monterchi
Number of stages: 1
Total length: 11.60 km
Identification color on the map: green
Between Sansepolcro and Anghiari on the Tuscan-Umbrian border, along Bertine and San Leo, the network of Francesco's streets in Tuscany is linked to the path that allows you to head towards Assisi to follow the Streets of Francesco in Umbria.
After a first entrance into Umbrian territory passing through Citerna, the path returns to Tuscany to cross the village of Monterchi, proudly perched in the hills of the Tiber valley. Here, the Museum of the Madonna del Parto is definitely worth a visit, which preserves a famous fresco by Piero della Francesca.
Number of stages: 4
Total distance: 83.9 km
Difficulty: Hiking trail (all stages)
Identifying colour on map: blue
In this, the final Tuscan stretch of the Way of Saint Francis, the route proceeds through Valtiberina until Anghiari, then passes through Arezzo and important parts of the Aretine Valdichiana, such as Castiglion Fiorentino and Cortona.
Among the many attractions to visit in Arezzo, from Piazza Grande to the Cathedral of Saints Donato and Pietro, the Basilica of San Francesco stands out. Inspired in its simplicity by Franciscan aesthetics, it is home to a cycle of frescoes by Piero della Francesca narrating the Legend of the True Cross.
At the end of the third stage we reach the Parish Church in Sassaia, dedicated to Saints Quirico and Giulitta, dominating the surrounding valley. The building dates back to the eleventh century and is now a hostel for pilgrims.
From the Parish Church, the last stage takes pilgrims to Cortona, passing through the village of Castiglion Fiorentino that’s surrounded by almost intact medieval walls and features a Cassero (bridgehouse) and the majestic Montecchio Vesponi Castle.
Before arriving in Cortona, however, the journey stops at the historic Franciscan Hermitage Le Celle, founded in the thirteenth century by Francis himself. Even today, the Hermitage is a special place located in an inlet of Mount Sant’Egidio, an ideal place to find serenity and peace.
Cortona, the final destination of this itinerary, also boasts several places linked to the life of St. Francis of Assisi, such as the Basilica of Santa Margherita, flanked by a historic Franciscan convent, and the Church of San Francesco.
Pilgrims interested in continuing the journey from Cortona towards Assisi can follow the route of the ancient Via Lauretana.
To make things easier, click on the links below to download zip packages containing the kml tracks of the individual stages of the various sections.
More information and useful contacts: laviadifrancescointoscana.it