Journey: Biking Through France

Pedaling the ancient pilgrim path of Via Francigena.

Tuscan countryside.

I am neither pilgrim nor soldier, clergyman nor thief. Those were among the original travelers along the Via Francigena (or “road that originates in France”) when, in the early Middle Ages, it provided a much-used link between England and Rome.

Rather, I am a 21st-century bicyclist who undertook a four-day, non-religious, self-guided bike tour of the Via in Tuscany, one of the regions traversed by the famous route.

Even before the Bishop Sigeric of Canterbury penned his personal account of stops along the way to visit the Pope in 990 A.D., the Via Francigena served as a major pilgrimage road. But he was the first to write an account of the route, his careful note-taking providing an itinerary of overnight stops and visiting points for future followers who cared to make the arduous, 1,600-kilometer journey. Now, as the world spins into the first century of the 3rd millennium, a curious traveler like me can see the famous walled towns, hilltop villages, and cities of Lucca, San Miniato, Gambassi Terme, San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, and Siena through new eyes.

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Individuals biking Lucca Walls.
Photo by Gigi Ragland

I had visited the region before to marvel at the amazing art and architecture and taste the delicious Tuscan food and wine. But this trip was different, more leisurely and intimate, as I pedaled slowly through the rolling landscape, forests, vineyards, and dusty roads, eyeing the scenery through the historic lens of a medieval pilgrim.

In recent years, more travelers have shown interest in cycling the pilgrimage road rather than walking it. Camino Ways, a tour operator that specializes in self-guided and guided pilgrimage tours, helped arrange my trip, providing the itinerary, lodging, luggage transfers, bike, panniers, helmet, some meals, and a repair kit. A GPS route helped in discovering the ancient off-road and on-road route, and signposts marked the way as well. I made the journey with a friend so we could both help with trail turns and enjoy the camaraderie of experiencing the route together.

If you’re looking for a unique way to explore favorite places in Tuscany, cycling or walking the Via Francigena may be perfect for you.

Optional Trips

Camino Ways
Provides guided and self-guided walking and cycling pilgrimage tours throughout Europe. Also offers tips, blogs, and e-books as well as 24/7 call support.

S-Cape Travel
Provides 19 full-service and self-guided cycling pilgrimage tours with carefully designed itineraries of select European routes. It also partners with “SABER Universal,” to offer accessible travel packages to special-needs travelers along the St. James Way in Spain and the St. Benedict Way in Italy.

Ciclismo Classico
Provides a very special Via Francigena Italy full-service guided bike tour with “top guides” in April. Cyclists will finish up the tour riding to the Vatican on Easter Weekend.