Making the most of our time at the I Casali del Pino as we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast we left slightly later today at just after 9 am. The four of us checked out and walked up the long drive for the 4th time to rejoin the Via Cassia and begin the final section of our Via Francigena adventure.
Walking for 5 km along the dual carriageway was a bit grim however the path took a right turn straight into the Parco dell’Insugherata, a large nature reserve on the edge of Rome. We soon had a steep decline as the path led us to into the heart of the woodland.
We were amazed to come across a shepherd, 3 sheep dogs and hundreds of sheep on the path! Who would have thought this would happen now we are so close to Rome! We stepped back and watched as the sheep dogs expertly herded the sheep, rounding them all up and keeping them focussed.
The path continued for about 2.5 km through the nature reserve which was a welcome relief from the busy traffic! We came across a fellow pilgrim who had stopped at one of the picnic benches. He was about mid 30’s, American and had plans to continue travelling to the likes of Turkey and Georgia. Lucky him!
The nature reserve ended somewhat abruptly and on the basis of what goes steeply down must come steeply back up again we were confronted with a steep tarmac road to climb up into the city. This time one of the friendly locals chatted to us and mentioned the boars that roam the nature reserve! Thankfully we found out about this after trekking through it. And incidentally throughout the entire trip the locals have always been incredibly friendly and helpful. Every day random strangers would always greet you with a cheerful ‘bonjourno’, some even slowing down their cars and shouting out of the window waving at us!
At around 26 degrees, today was a hot day and we took a couple of refreshing cafe breaks as we continued to make our way towards the Vatican. Just before entering the Monte Mario park, some of our fellow pilgrims caught up with us! We turned around to see the Danish couple and the Dutch guys behind us. So at that point, all 8 of us formed a group for a short time until they decided to have their lunch in the park while we continued on.
After nearly 100 miles of walking we could finally see the dome of St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican as we crossed the Monte Mario park.
Following a quick sandwich in a pavement cafe for lunch we pushed on for the final stretch, arriving at the Vatican at around 4 pm in the afternoon.
We had calculated walking exactly 100.72 miles of the Via Francigena! (And a few more if you include the evening trips exploring the wonderful little towns along the way).
We collected one final ‘Roma’ stamp and we were now ready to collect our official certificates.
It seemed we would have to queue up with thousands of tourists to enter St Pauls Basilica to obtain our certificates so we decided not to bother. The first priority was a celebration drink!
From the Vatican we walked in the direction of our Rome hotel, planning to stop en-route in an outside pavement cafe.
It didn’t take long before we came across an outdoor bar where we spent some time relaxing and enjoying a few drinks.
As we continued on our way to our hotel we passed the famous Trevi Fountain which draws huge numbers of visitors. With its intricate detail this is certainly impressive although with the crowds it’s difficult to get near to it.
The hotel was actually nearly 3 miles from the Vatican so we knew it would take an hour or so to walk there. On top of today’s walk into Rome and the 100 miles we had done all week we finally reached the hotel at about 8 pm feeling pretty shattered! That night we stayed local with a late evening meal in a little backstreet near the hotel.
Rome rest day
Having visited Rome twice before and seen the main attractions both times (and in 2002 and 2010 there seemed far less crowds) Chris and I decided not to have a specific agenda for our non-walking day. The delicious beakfast on the roof terrace was a real treat as we had wonderful views across the city.
Chris and I left the hotel at around 11 am and set off towards the Palatine Hill thinking it would be lovely to have another look around there and the Roman Forum.
Passing the Colosseum and Constantine Arch we arrived at Palatine Hill, the most famous of the seven hills of Rome. However at the entrance to the Roman Forum we found that we needed to have pre-booked tickets. So we decided to find an outside cafe to think about what to do next.
The Piazza Venezia is in the heart of Rome, close to main attractions and with several road intersections. Above are excavations which were uncovered in 2009 and are said to the the most important archeological find in 80 years. These ruins were an art centre and seating for 900 people, built by Emperor Hadrian in AD123.
During our cafe break we had googled ‘off the beaten track in Rome’ hoping to find something that would avoid crowds. A helpful blog suggested a visit to the Doria Pamphili Gallery! And what an incredible place… People queue for hours and get jostled around the likes of the Sistine Chapel when they could come to somewhere like this, or many of the free churches in Rome to see and appreciate impressive art.
Ancient ruins and historic features can be found at every turn in Rome. We saw this as we walked to Trastevere later in the evening to meet Russell & Roza.
Trastevere is the edgy, urban and bohemian neighbourhood of Rome, similar to the Friedrichshain district of Berlin. We met Russell and Roza in a lively bar before heading to a restaurant at about 9 pm.
In the bustling heart of Trastevere is the Santa Maria Piazza and it was near to here we had a wonderful last meal of the trip. Trastevere is very busy at night, buzzing with locals and tourists alike. Following a recommendation from an Italian friend of Roza’s we found the Tonnarello restaurant and joined the queue waiting to be seated. This was a popular time and queuing would be necessary for any restaurant. But it was well worth the wait! The food, service and atmosphere was amazing.
We had a fantastic time walking the last 100 miles of the Via Francigena: the weather was perfect, the lovely local Italian people were incredibly friendly and the scenery was stunning. We enjoyed a great mix of accommodations and, as it was a holiday, we spoilt ourselves each evening indulging and appreciating amazing Italian food and drinks in atmospheric restaurants.
According to some of the people we met along the trek, the section further north around Lucca and Siena is even more spectacular! So we are planning another stage of the Italian section of the Via Francigena already… maybe for next year…
P.S. Russell got up at 7 am the day following the end of our walk and went back to St Peter’s Basilica on his own to collect our Via Francigena certificates before the crowds arrived. That was so kind and we were very grateful to him.