view over Florence

Hiking St Francis Way

For as long as I can remember I have been in love with and dreamed about Italy. So when I was excited to hike the first section of St Francis Way. It was literally a dream come true. With stops at Pontassieve, the Santuario della Verna, and Sansepolcro, hiking St Francis Way First Section proved to be one of the best experiences of my life.

Why the First Section of St Francis Way?

You might be wondering why I choose the first section of this hike over the other three. For me, the answer lies in the destinations that are hit on the first portion of St Francis Way.

One of the biggest selling points was that the first section starts in Florence, Italy. As one of the oldest and most historic cities in the country, Florence is an art, music and history lovers’ dream destination. I got to the city a few days early, simply so I could explore more of what the amazing city had to offer.

st Francis way hiking

Another reason I choose the first section of St Francis Way was the challenge of the hike itself. Instead of being an easier walk across the Italian countryside, I opted for a route that would challenge me a bit more physically. This hike featured many different types of terrain and scenery, including many uphill climbs, a few strolls through olive groves, and a visit to Casentino National Park.

The first section of St Francis Way also offers a look into the traditional Italian lifestyle. Whereas life in Florence is often full of tourists, I was excited about the idea of roughing it throughout the Italian countryside. Along the first section of St Francis Way, I got the chance to stay in small, local Italian villages. I got to experience how life must be like on an everyday basis.

The Highlights of My Trip

From the food to the scenery, every part of my trip was full of joy and excitement. As promised, the majority of the hiking provided me with a challenge. But the sweeping views of the valleys and the Italian countryside made it all worth it!

Of course, one of the best parts of my trip were the days in Florence. I went to as many museums and monuments as possible. Naturally, I stopped and stared endlessly at the gorgeous Statue of David in ‎the Galleria dell’Accademia. I spent several hours in the Basilica of Santa Croce. Its houses are the remains of many renowned individuals like Michelangelo, Rossini and Galileo. I also made sure to try my hand at amateur photography. I was trying to capture the iconic red roofs and the famous domed cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

Quite possibly the most rewarding part of the trip was the upward hike on the second day to view the Sieve Valley and the Castello di Nipozzano. While the day was long and at times exhausting, the panoramic views made the effort worth it!

The latter half of my trip proved to be just as wonderful as the first half. Around the fourth day of the hiking trip, I made it to Stia, which is a hub to the Casentino National Park. Since the hike to Stia was easier and mostly downhill, when I arrived I made sure I had time to explore the National Park.

st Francis way hiking

The Beauty Outside of Florence

I thoroughly enjoyed the day I left Stia, mostly because the hiking of the day consisted more of climbing, which was both physically challenging and rewarding. By the time I reached Rifugio Cotozzo, I was ready to call it quits, but the breath-taking scenery provided me with renewed energy.

Going into this trip, I expected my favourite part to be visiting Florence. But I was wrong. Of all the towns I stopped in and all the sites I saw, I think my favourite part of the trip was the day climbing up Mount Penna to the Santuario della Verna. One of the most sacred spots in all of Italy, the Santuario della Verna is far off the centre. It proved to be great for a quiet, relaxing evening.

The last two days of my trip were indescribable. I took as many photos as possible. But I fear that the photos do not do Monte Calvano or the summit of Monte della Modina justice. Of all the days, since it was towards the end of my trip, I was feeling more tired. The climb to both Monte Calvano and the summit of Monte della Modina were physically exhausting.

The remainder of the hiking revolved around the Tiber River and the Upper Tiber River Valley. The terrain was a much welcomed change from the constant uphill climbs. Similarly, since I was hiking alongside the river, the scenery changed as well. There were many small villages and towns; there was even a highway very close to the river.

After eight days of hiking and climbing, reaching Sansepolcro was both wonderful and horrible at the same time. I was grateful for the chance to relax and re-energize; however, since it is the final stop of the first section of St Francis Way, I was also terribly sad. My reward for making it to Sansepolcro, however, was several bowls of Buitoni Pasta.

My Advice to Others

Having finished the first section of St Francis Way, I know that I will be back. I am keen to do more of hiking the St Francis Way. My advice to adventurers, I would warn you that this hike is challenging, but most definitely worth it. There are days where you are constantly hiking uphill, so prepare for that. There are also breath-taking views, amazing locals and of course, fantastic food and wine.

If, like me, you love Italy, hiking the country is perfect. If you cannot wait to see the variety of Italy, then St Francis Way is the perfect fit for you. However, if, you prefer easier, more relaxed hikes, you might find other parts of hiking the St Francis Way interesting.

Want to learn more about St Francis Way? Check out our available packages on our sister website: Follow the Camino.

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