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The Suunto watch's stats

Starting point to end point: Ponte-A-Rigo to Aquapendente

Distance walked: It’s complicated…

Time: 2: 47’38 (4,2 km average)

Height climbed: 128 meters

Highest point on the route: 378 meters

Descend: 63 meters

Lowest point: 251 meters

I’m awake long before my alarm goes off, lying in my room in the Albergo del Torre watching the sunrise. The hotel has an amazing view across the valley. Or at least, I’m hoping that the sun’s coming up, but all I can see is a bank of cloud that seems to be growing at the same rate as the unease in my stomach.

I recall how soaked Gerhard was two days ago when he arrived at Radicofani.

The view from my window
My room

Breakfast is already laid out for me when I get down to the hotel restaurant at 7:55. It’s off season, and I’m the only guest in the hotel. The table is laid with at least ten different types of confectionary: cakes, tarts, croissants, jam and chocolate spread, honey, syrup.

But if I’m honest with myself, I’m so nervous about my first day of hiking that nothing I eat now is going to stay down very long. But I grab a slice of toast and take a tub of yoghurt.

When the hotel manager offers me something warm to drink, I decide on some tea, and I’m glad when he brings a pot of boiling water to the table – what I don’t drink disappears into my Atlasware flask for this afternoon’s tea break.

Yesterday at the store I stocked up on a few rice cakes and cheese wedges for today’s lunch, all tucked away in the small compartment of my Terra-firma backpack.

Cellphone sins

It turns out that I was worried about the start of my pilgrimage for no reason. I’d asked whether I could start my journey at Ponto A Rigo, but there was no accommodation there. It sounds to me like it’s even smaller than Radicofani.

So Caminoways organised for me to spend the night in Radicofani, but to take a taxi to my official starting point at Ponto. I just had to call and confirm. But there’s one small problem: I don’t have roaming on my cellphone.

So, I can’t phone the taxi driver to confirm my pickup point. I’d been wondering about this the day before, and eventually decide to type out my dilemma on Google Translate. I click “translate to Italian” and shove my phone under the nose of the hotel manager.

He patiently dials the number of the taxi service for me, but all I can hear is a screeching noise coming down the line, and a message saying, “the number you have dialled does not exist.”

At least, that’s what I gathered. I’d begun to envision myself walking from Radicofani to Aquapendente – 32 km according to the guidebook. I have walked that distance before, but from my experience on the Spanish Camino, I know it’s a case of “too far too soon”.

I’d hike myself exhausted and spend the rest of the time trying to recover. If the taxi could drop me in Ponto, that would cut out the first 11km, which would mean I could start Day 1 with a more manageable 21km. 

Back in the room, and I need to come up with Plan B. I check the message again and realise that the international code has been included in the number. The hotel has a landline and doesn’t need to use the international code.

With some searching, I find my phone’s setting for WiFi calling, activate it and try the number again. But again, I get the engaged tone. One more try, for luck, I think, and this time I use the international code again and…ta-da!

The phone starts ringing, and an angel with a perfect English accent confirms my pick-up for Saturday morning. 

Thus begins my Via Francigena

Last bit of luxury

I’ve barely wiped the breakfast crumbs from my mouth when that same taxi man is standing Mafioso-style in the restaurant: black suit, tie and dark glasses. He introduces himself as Giuliano as he shakes my hand and takes my backpack to a fairly new Mercedes.

The interior is kitted with shiny wooden panels, and there’s a sparkling water in the drinks holder. I smile, thinking that this is the last bit of luxury I’ll get to enjoy for a while.Giuliano is young, but he tells me he’s the owner of the taxi company.

Although he’s got a couple of guys that work for him, he lives in Ponto, and it was easiest for him to come pick me up this morning. He was born and raised in Ponto, and did a bit of travelling after school before deciding to settle down here.

“The wine is good,” he says by way of explanation. 

Just follow the blue line
Walk this way!

And so, it begins…in the middle of nowhere

You know the story of the guy that swerved for a chicken in the road and missed the town?

That’s based on Ponto A Rigo. It really is smaller than Radicofani. Giuliano stops the Mercedes in the middle of nowhere and indicates across the road. I look all around me. Where? He points to a tiny yellow arrow that’s nailed to a tree, and below that on a pole is a red and black sticker with the words “Via Francigena” on it.

This is how the route is marked. Flip, I would have totally missed those signs! Luckily the Suunto is never lost for a minute, and starts showing me the familiar blue line of the route. That’s certainly gives me some peace of mind.  

Where is the beast?

It’s not raining at the moment, but the last 48 hours’ deluge has turned the path into a muddy mess. I’m grateful for the Hi-Tecs, I can just imagine what my takkies would have looked like on this path.

That buck was attacked by something...

In my first hour on the road, I come across a buck carcass. I carefully look to see if it’s been shot, but it seems like this animal – about the size of a springbok – was attacked by something.

Gerhard had told me about encountering wolves on the walk, but I’d written him off as a Dutchman who probably also believes that lions walk the streets of Cape Town. But now I’m wondering. Are there still predators roaming the hills of Tuscany? (The short answer: yes, there are!) I look around carefully, but it’s dead quiet.

In the distance I see a spring hare that’s watching me from the grass, but there’s no other soul, animal or human, in sight. 

These distances can't be right

Are we there yet? 

It’s not an exceptionally beautiful path. The whole day the route criss-crosses the Via Cassia. The Via Cassia runs through the Via Francigena in Italy like a golden thread.

Decades ago it was the main road to Rome, but nowadays you can also take the highway. 

Taking a short break
Playing in the mud
At least my feet are still dry!
This sign is about the size of a business card

It’s a road that is still regularly used, and I’m grateful that it’s a Saturday morning. You never walk on the shoulder of the Via Cassia – there is a pedestrian path right next to it that runs over farmlands.

At some point I take a rest on a little bench to drink some Rehidrat. I’m half surprised when I see a sign that reads “Aquapendente 9 km”. It’s far too early, and the whole time I’m expecting the path to swing down towards the town of Procena. 

The border between Tuscany and Lazio
The Paglia river
Just 5 km left!

I cross the bridge over the Paglia River, about 5 km before Aquapendente, and see a sign announcing that I’m officially leaving Tuscany behind and entering Lazio. Then I see another road sign: Aquapendente 5 km.

It seems to me like Aquapendente is approaching far too quickly. The last 5km takes you away from the Via Cassia again, through a fairy-tale forest called Monte Rufeno. The wood has a few waterfalls that gives the town its name (Aquapendente means “the hanging waters”.)

 A sign explains that centuries ago pilgrims were attacked by wolves and gangs here, and that the towns folk would patrol the forest in holy years (when there were more pilgrims than usual). It’s a rather quiet morning, and I’ve still not seen another soul, human or otherwise.

I’m expecting a nice steep hill before I reach the town, so I’m knocked for a six when I get to the outskirts of the village…How is it possible?

I was prepared to walk 21 km (because I was concerned about walking 32km) but now I’ve barely done 11km? 11,67 km, to be exact, says my Suunto.

My hotel for the night
Street art

“Being lazy again?”

The directions from are easy to follow, and I find my accommodation at the Albergo Toscana easily. I didn’t even have time to drink coffee from my flask today! 

I almost feel guilty for a moment because my day was so short, but I decide it was Providence: an easy day to get my pilgrimage started. Plus, there’s another threatening storm on the way, and I’m glad to have reached safety. “I see you were lazy again today,” my boss teases when I let my WhatsApp group know about my “cheat day”. 

Later, while I finally enjoy a coffee from my Atlasware flask, I pull my guidebook closer to see where I went wrong. I followed the GPX map on my Suunto to a T, but I see now that the GPS-folder was “Sigeric’s route”, and not the official (longer) route. Sigeric was a smart guy (If you want to know who he was, read here). 

Horses are welcome
Remember, you have a deadline
Beautiful, but quiet

The “bustling town”

Chinn and Ballard’s Lightfoot Guide describes Aquapendente as a “bustling town”, but I can hear them giggling while typing those lines. 

Aquapendente has less than 6 000 residents (about the size of Touwsrivier). The town is beautiful, but quiet. There is definitely nothing “bustling” around here on a Saturday afternoon. I ensconce myself in a little pizza place with my book.

The pizzas are sold in blocks, at a euro per block. Later, back at the hotel, around 19:00, I ask if I can order dinner. The manager wants to know if I’ve made a reservation. At first, I think he’s just being difficult, there’s no one else at the restaurant!

“I’ll eat quickly so that you can use the table for other guests,” I argue, somewhat irritated.

But long before I’ve swallowed my spinach ravioli, along with a glass of the house wine, every table in the restaurant is full, and outside its pouring.

I tuck myself (and my book) in early. Today might have been ridiculously easy, but I won’t be so lucky tomorrow. And my weather app is warning me that there’s 100% chance of rain ahead. Yay. 

How my walk went today...
Today’s tip

Cellphones in Europe

  • If you know you’ll need to make local calls, buy a SIM card for the country at the airport or the train station, or get an international SIM card on the airplane. I regret not doing that.
  • If, like me, you can’t afford to roam, use the free Wi-Fi facilities to make calls through messenger services like WhatsApp. All the hotels that Caminoways booked for me included free Wi-Fi.
  • Check if your phone has a Wi-Fi calling function. On the iPhone it’s under settings > mobile data > Wi-Fi-calling. With this you can call landline numbers.
  • While you’re overseas, check that your phone roaming is off under mobile data options. A friend got a hell of a bill when she got home, because her phone was automatically connected to expensive international networks. On an iPhone it’s under settings > mobile data

This go! Via Francigena adventure has been made possible by Canon SARehidratHi-Tec,  Trappers and Atlasware. All photos and videos were shot with the Canon M100 organises walking and biking tours on a variety of Camino de Santiago routes. A six-day trip on the famous Camino Frances from Sarria to Santiago starts from 420 euro (about R7 000) per person sharing. (For details and a free quotation, contact or visit