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 seventy-odd 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 place of peace and history buried deep in the green National Park of the Casentino Forests.
Walking to La Verna from Florence takes you on one of two possible paths, one north and one south. They are described below, and can both be taken as a complete circuit.
Northern Route, via the Passo della Consuma
Number of stages: 6
Total distance: 96.5 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 starts by coasting the River Arno for long stretches, sometimes veering off among gentle hills and arable fields. But once past Diacceto, a few kilometres after Pontassieve, woodlands begin to predominate; after Stia, the route enters the National Park of the Casentino Forests. Among the not-to-be-missed attractions around here, we recommend the beautiful parish church of San Giovanni a Rèmole in the hamlet of Le Sieci (Pontassieve), a church that dates back to at least the year 955. The spectacular panoramic views from the Passo della Consuma are another highlight, as are the country 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 Forests Park, which is home to a number of panels by Giorgio Vasari.
Southern Route, via Vallombrosa and Poppi
Number of stages: 6
Total distance: 90.9 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 River Arno 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 adheres to the Via Florentia Romana, an ancient road that remained important in the Middle Ages both for the number of pilgrims who bestrode it as well as for the commercial exchanges that it facilitated between Florence and the family of the Conti Guidi.
On this path you come across such attractions as the Spedale del Bigallo, near Bagno a Ripoli, one of many medieval guest houses devoted to welcoming pilgrims and wayfarers; the domineering Vallombrosa Abbey, a vital religious centre that even today offers hospitality; the old Castel Leone and the Oratory of Santa Maria delle Calle in Montemignaio, and the castle of the Conti Guidi in Poppi.