Via Francigena: Bolsena to Montefiascone

Lake Bolsena

At last, after 2.5 years of planning and Covid-induced re-arranging we finally completed our long awaited ‘Road to Rome‘ 100 mile trekking adventure! Sadly Flo & Mike were unable to participate however we had a brilliant time with Russell & Roza.

Just a few days before we left, Italy had scrapped its Passenger Locator Form (yay) although there were strict mask restrictions we had to comply with. All passengers on public transport, including flights into and out of the country had to wear FFP2 protective face masks. Any old cloth face mask was not allowed! But a small price to pay to enable us to resume foreign travel and enter beautiful Italy πŸ™‚

What is the Via Francigena?

The Via Francigena is an ancient pilgrim route which runs from Canterbury in England, through France and Switzerland and ends in Rome. Having watched a TV series called ‘The Road to Rome’ Roza gave us the idea back in 2019 when we first discussed it and agreed to walk the final 100 miles from Bolsena to Rome. We followed the ‘official’ route which took us 7 days to complete.

Viafrancigene.org has a huge amount of information for anyone interested in walking a section, or even the entire route if you have the time, money and energy!

This was our route:

Beach at the Malibu Beach Club

Beginning our adventure

Following multiple flight changes over the course of 2.5 years the 4 of us arrived at Rome Fiumincino airport in the morning and spent a day and evening next to the glamorous sounding Malibu Beach Club.

However in early May and in dull grey weather, there wasn’t much happening with many beach bars being closed. We stayed in the Hotel Intorno Al Fico and are hugely grateful that this clean and informal hotel with its helpful staff repeatedly agreed to re-arrange our dates free of charge. With such close proximity to the airport this makes an ideal stay for a late flight.

Had we not paid for the hotel when we originally booked in November 2019, for morning flight arrivals it would make sense to take a train and bus straight to Bolsena and spend more time there as there is so much more to see in historic Bolsena.

Bolsena

Transfer to Bolsena

Anyway – the following day we went by Uber back to Fiumicino airport train station and took the train with its direct line to Rome. We changed trains at Trastevere and embarked on one of the frequent train services between there and Viterbo Porta Romana station. This journey takes 1 hour 47 minutes, has 21 stops and the cost from the airport train station to Viterbo is just 11 euros each.

We settled down on the train watching the scenic poppy-filled countryside pass by and thinking this seemed an awfully long way to be walking all the way back to Rome!

While the train journey was easy, getting the bus was a different matter… There was no Uber and Google Maps didn’t show any bus routes from Viterbo but we checked online and discovered a bus company called Cotral with bus connections throughout the entire Via Francigena route, linking the towns along the way. We were not clear which bus to take, where the bus stop was or which side of the road to be at, however having asked a couple of locals and 5 different bus drivers we were on our way for the 45 minute bus ride to Bolsena! (And we were thankful that Roza speaks some Italian… a skill which helped us out throughout our trip!)

So, from Viterbo Porta Romana train station you walk across the road, take the road downhill (slightly to the left) and at the bottom you’ll see a bus stop. Stay on the same side of the road and hopefully one of the Cotral busses will be heading for Bolsena.

Bolsena is an incredibly picturesque mediaeval town and having checked into our centrally located hotel Chris and I set off to explore. We began by heading uphill to the castle with its pretty narrow cobbled streets.

Bolsena Castle

The castle is the Rocca Monaldeschi della Cervara and area around the castle was built in the 11th century.

Views of Lake Bolsena from the castle

Food and wine is an integral part of Italian culture and we had pleasure relaxing in one of the little restaurants down a cobbled street to sample a bottle of local wine and some tasty snacks for lunch πŸ™‚

Bolsena
Basilica of Santa Cristina
Tomb of St Cristina

The Basilica of Santa Cristina stands on an ancient site of catacombs and contains the tomb of St Cristina, the tragic story of the 3rd Century exceptionally beautiful martyr who was eventually beheaded.

Lake Bolsena

Before dinner we walked down to the shore of Lake Bolsena as we had realised that while the Via Francigena route would be adjacent to the lake for much of the following day, the trail would be higher up in the hills and we wouldn’t actually pass near to it.

Down by the lake in Bolsena

There are some restaurants near to the lake but they seemed a little touristy… we decided to return to the historic old town in search of something more rustic and traditional.

Perfect! Later in the evening we found a lovely traditional restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious meal with Russell & Roza.

Day 1: the start of the walk

We organised this trip independently, booking each accommodation along the route and navigating our way to Rome. To lighten our loads to just a day pack each, we booked a company to transfer our main luggage each day. Sloways Travel have a range of routes and trips that you can book with them and they also do the luggage transfer service. They were brilliant! Each day we left our luggage at 8 am at the hotel reception and every afternoon it was always there at the next hotel waiting for us when we arrived. They also had kindly allowed us to re-arrange our booking with them 4 times with superb customer service each time!

Bolsena Via Francigena starting point

After breakfast we set off to find the arch which marks the official Bosena Via Francigena starting point. Just before we began, I popped into the Sisters of the Holy Sacrament Convent at the Piazza Santa Cristina where I was able to obtain my free Via Francigena passport and the first stamp of Bolsena! The idea is, you collect a stamp at each town along the route and present this at the Vatican for your certificate.

Chris, Roza and Russell at the start of our walk

We soon realised that navigating would be easy as there are many signs throughout the route showing the direction and the number of hours to the next main stop. So much so that we hardly needed to use our maps or the guidebook.

Bolsena in the background

We soon left Bolsena behind as we made our way towards Montefiascone. Today was a relatively short 17.7 km and not too many hills so we didn’t need to rush.

En-route

Much of today’s route took us through pastureland, woodland, vineyards and olive groves.

Lake Bolsena

We caught glimpses and lovely views of the lake throughout the day.

Picnic area

We came across a picnic area with some benches and a drinking fountain where it was handy to top up our water bottles and stop for a break.

Vineyards
Olive groves

May is an ideal time to walk the Via Francigena as the entire route was lined with a huge abundance of colourful wild flowers. There is also the advantage of light evenings and pleasant temperatures. Most days the average was around 25 degrees whereas in July this is more likely to be 35 degrees.

We later came across another picnic bench and shared half a bottle of wine as left over from yesterday πŸ™‚

Lake Bolsena

We had followed the length of Lake Bolsena throughout the entire day. The above picture was taken as we approached Montefiascone.

Montefiascone perched on the top of a hill

Montefiascone coming into view!

Montefiascone
Easy to identify the start and end points each day!
Inside the Basilica of St Flaviano

We completed this section of today’s walk at the Basilica of St Flaviano, a romanesque church built in 1032 at the site of the earlier church of St Maria. Inside are fresco paintings of the XIV and XV centuries of Roman, Tuscan and Umbrian schools.

18th century gate at Montefiascone

From the official end of todays walk we entered the old town through the 18th century gate and found our hotel along the main street inside the gate.

Feature found on the gate

Est! Est! Est! is a wine region which dates back to the legend of a German Bishop who was travelling to the Vatican to meet with the pope. He sent a wine scout ahead to survey the villages which contained the best wine. When he found it, the scout had to write β€˜Est” on the door so the bishop would make a stop. (Est means β€˜It is’ in Latin). Apparently when the scout arrived at Montefiascone he was so impressed he wrote Est! Est! Est! on the door. The bishop got so excited and drunk so much that he died and his tomb can be found in the St Flaviano Basilica.

As today’s walk was fairly short taking around 4 hours we checked into the hotel and spent the afternoon exploring Montefiascone

Rocca dei Papi

Rocca dei Papi (fortress of the Popes) stands at the very top of the hill of Montifiascone. This was used as a summer home by popes and from here you can see panoramic views of Lake Bolsena. We paid 5 euros each to enter and climbed to the top of the tower to take the above picture.

Cathedral of Santa Margherita

From the tower we could also see amazing views of the Santa Margherita cathedral and the plains beyond looking back to Bolsena (and where we had just been walking).

Tower at Rocca dei Papi

There is also a museum at the Rocca dei Papi which contains a great deal of information

Montefiascone

We walked past and pre-booked dinner in the highly recommended MammaPappa restaurant, the cream coloured building in the photo above.

Tiramisu

We don’t usually have dessert but on this occasion we both had tiramisu which is more authentic when you are in Italy… apparently…

Est Est Est!

As well as a fabulous meal we were able to try the local Est! Est! Est! wine which was delicious! Paired especially well with the cheese platter starter which included ‘red wine cheese with honey dressing’ πŸ™‚

Aerial view of Lake Bolsena

Finally, we later flew back directly over Lake Bolsena and the area we were walking through! Bolsena is the little built up area to the left and Montefiascone will be to the right (off the picture).

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