When booking an Italian vacation, there’s the obvious temptation to head to Rome, Florence, or Venice.
The country is full of options for relaxing and indulging in good food and good wine. But there are other ways to experience Italy, and as the home of European Christianity, there are plenty of pilgrimages to pick from.
At Ciao Italy, as we’re especially fond of the road less travelled, we’ve put together a guide exploring one of the lesser known Italian pilgrimages on offer. When booking your next Italian vacation, embrace the wanderlust, put on a good pair of walking boots and get out there and see a different side of Italy.
A pilgrim walking trail with plenty of food and wine options, the La Via Francigena is the main pilgrimage route through Italy. Starting in Canterbury, England, and traversing France, this route ends in the Italian capital, Rome. Named a European Council Cultural route in 1994, this centuries old pilgrimage encompasses 994 miles. It’s certainly not as popular as it once was, but the Italian government has committed resources to reviving this once busy pilgrimage route.
This is the first leg of the Italian section of La Via Francigena, and it’s certainly the most scenic. As you begin your journey from North to South, the Alpine scenery provides a spectacular introduction to Italy. You’ll pass through villages and towns that date all the way back to Roman times, and there are some famous castles too: Castle Verres and Castle Fenis.
The Academy of the Art of Design, founded in 1563, was the first school established in Europe specifically to teach techniques of drawing, painting, and sculpture. The art collection displayed here was formed in 1784 to provide material for students to study and copy. The most famous work is Michelangelo’s David (1504) a colossal (5.2-meter/17-foot) nude of the biblical hero who killed the giant Goliath.
While much of Florence was rebuilt during the Renaissance, the eastern part of the city retains a distinctly medieval feel. With its maze of tiny alleys, it is an area that would still be familiar to Dante (1261 to 1321), whose birthplace allegedly lay somewhere among these lanes.
The richly-decorated cathedral, known alternately as the ‘Duomo of Florence’ and the ‘The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore,’ along with its orange tiled dome, has become Florence’s most famous symbol. Typical of the Florentine determination to lead in all things, the Duomo is Europe’s fourth-largest church and the tallest building in Florence.
The Uffizi, Italy’s greatest art gallery, was built between 1560 to 1580 CE to house offices for Duke Cosimo I. The architect Vasari used iron as reinforcement, enabling his successor, Buontalenti, to create an almost continuous wall of glass on the upper floor. This was used as a gallery for Francesco I to display the Medici art treasures. The collection was divided up in the 19th century. Ancient objects went to the archeological museum and sculpture to the Bargello, leaving the Uffizi with a matchless collection of paintings.
Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio have been at the center of Florence’s political and social life for centuries. The great bell once used to summon citizens to ‘parlamento’ (public meetings) remains here, and the square has long been a popular promenade for both visitors and Florentines. The piazza’s statues (some are copies) commemorate the city’s major historical events. Its most famous episode is celebrated by a simple pavement plaque near the loggia: the execution of the religious leader Girolamo Savonarola who was burnt at the stake.