This go! adventure has been made possible by CanonTrappersRehidratHi-TecAtlasware en caminoways.com.

The GPS statistics from the Suunto watch

Starting point to end point: Bolsena to Montefiascone

Distance walked: 17,5 km

Time: 4:01 (4,3 km/h average)

Height climbed: 448 meters

Highest point on the route: 599 meters

Descent: 243 meters

Lowest point punt: 307 meters

After a rainstorm that lasted more than 24 hours, I crack open my eyes in Bolsena on Monday morning to sunshine! I pull the curtains open, and it’s a beautiful day outside.

The Hotel Royal serves breakfast in a beautiful old-world dining room but – typical Italians! – the table is decked out with sweet stuff. I just don’t have the stomach for it. I have a cup of tea and eat a banana instead (slipping a second one into my backpack for later.) 

My starting point this morning is once again the square in front of the St. Cristiana cathedral. The weather is cool but thankfully there’s no sign of rain…yet. The Via Cassia also goes straight to my overnight stop, Montefiascone, but the guidebook warns that this section of the highway doesn’t have a shoulder to walk along, and curls around dangerous corners, which makes life difficult for pedestrians.

Just too far to jump!

Early on, the route swings out and away from the town, and leads me up a steep hill to hike over a range of mountains. Within the first 2 km I find myself back in the most beautiful (but silent) fairy tale forest.

Before I’ve even walked 4 km I encounter my first obstacle: a water crossing. It’s not deep, but it’s about a meter and a half wide.

I realise that someone with longer legs than mine would take a running jump to clear it, but I’m neither tall enough nor fast enough to consider that option, and I’d end up, backpack and all, in the water. I’m not willing to chance it.

But I have to cross it, and because I can’t see the bottom, I’ll need to wear shoes. Thankfully, Hi-Tec gave me sandals to take along, so I don’t have to cross the water in my hiking boots.

Although I’m spending most of today walking through the mountains, I’m following farm roads, and off in the distance I can see the homesteads. At one stage I miss the entrance to a wood because the gate is locked, but luckily, I quickly realise I’ve taken a wrong turn, thanks to my Suunto.

The closed gate has an entrance specifically for hikers. At first, it’s quite a climb, but you reach the most stunning heights, and when you get there, there’s a picnic table with a breath-taking view over the Bolsena lake. 

Coffee time – I look quite pleased with myself
Look at that view!

It’s about 10:00 on Monday, and while my poor colleagues back home are sitting in our regular meeting at this time, I’m enjoying my stolen fruit with some coffee from my Atlasware flask. Life is good! There is no human or animal in sight.

The forest is lovely, and I whistle while I walk…that is until I reach the second water crossing. This is flowing much faster than the first one. Later, when I recounted this episode to friends, the stream became deeper and deeper (I think in the last version I told, just my nose was sticking out above the torrent).

But I measure it with my hiking sticks. Although it isn’t much deeper than my ankles at the cement bridge, it’s flowing very strongly. If I were to slip, the stream would carry me off downriver.

Should I turn around and walk back about 8km to Bolsena and just take public transport to Montefiascone, or should I take a chance and push through? 

I decide I can’t hesitant too long on this. I do want to walk the whole pilgrim’s route. So, I put on my big girl pants, pull on my Hi-Tec-sandals and plant both my sticks in ahead of me as far as I can, as I start to cross it step by step.

There’s no time here for faffing to take photos of my sandals in the water. My heart is in my throat – and thrumming hard by the time I reach the other side. 

I’m glad I did it! The forest is wonderfully accommodating for pilgrims, with picnic benches every few kilometres.

At one stage the canvas of trees opens up before me to reveal a spot with at least 20 picnic benches all together, near a drinking fountain with clear water. I start to think about what a lekker place this would be for a tour group to enjoy a break. I stop a minute to drink some, but I don’t want to hang around too long.

The rain has just started spitting again, and the place is a little creepy when its abandoned like today. In my mind’s eye I can image a group of go! readers enjoying a lunch break here! 

My Rehidrat break
Lots of benches between the trees

When I stop about an hour later for my second cup of hot coffee from my Atlasware flask, I suddenly hear the branches behind me snap. I’m paralysed with fright.

For a second, I consider dropping my Terra Firma backpack and making a run for it, but how quickly could I get away? Then out of the bushes emerges a familiar yellow and blue rain jacket. Would you believe it’s Gerhard whom I met in Radicofani. Gerhard can see that he’s given me a fright and holds his hands up like he’s surrendering at gun point. I could kiss him with relief, but I contain myself.

Then out of the bushes emerges a familiar yellow and blue rain jacket...

We swap stories from the past few days. Gerhard was one day ahead of me, but just like Fred, he also didn’t feel up to the “Bolsena” rain on Sunday and spent an extra day in the town instead. I encourage him to carry on ahead of me, but he kindly (and firmly) insists on walking together.

There’s still one more water crossing coming up, and he wants to make sure that I’ll be safe. I ask him how he managed with the first two, and he laughs. He says that before he could think twice, he threw his backpack over the streams so that he simply had no choice but to cross them.

Gerhard explains what the 3 means

Gerhard is a gentleman that discreetly and patiently waits for me when I need another countless break before tackling the next hill. He’s also loves reading, and has endless interesting facts to tell me about the area. For example, he explains to me why the route markers are so heart-breaking. 

The “3” indicates neither 3 km nor 3 miles. Because a kilometre can be misleading on a pilgrimage, the signs throughout the Via Francigena have been designated to mean “hours on foot”.

The 3 is thus interpreted as “you still have 3 hours to walk” And, as I realised later, it’s surprisingly accurate. 

It's raining again

At 14 km we reach a sign indicating an alternative route. If you turn right, the “official route” takes you via a circular route down into the valley, and for a little while it follows the busy Via Cassia, then climbs the hill up to Montefiascone.

It’s at least 6 km, according to the guidebook. On the other hand, if you turn left, the town (and by implication, a hot shower) is a mere 2.2km away. Did I mention it’s raining again? Be honest, would you have turned right if you were in my shoes? 

At the entrance to Montefiascone
Pelgrims are welcome!

First you walk through a new part of the town before a significantly steep hill takes you up to the gates of the old city. It’s another beautiful Italian village!

Gerhard is spending the night in a hotel just outside the city gates, but caminoways.com has booked a room for me in a four-star hotel, the Urbano. This is situated on the Via Cavour – the street that runs right through the old town. The woman at the reception desk is half surprised to see me.

“Did you walk all the way here?” she asks in perfect English. “Yes,” I answer.

“We were worried that the river would flood down from the mountains and asked the hotels in Bolsena to encourage pilgrims take the bus today.”

The Hotel Urbano
The Via Cavour
The Urbano’s dining room

I shower and start hanging up my clothes on every available chair and door handle I can find. After two days of rain, everything is damp.

Late in the afternoon I go exploring and fall in love with the town. I walk into a cathedral with a cupola, but I can’t find the “drunken bishops” grave (only later I realised this is in another cathedral, not too far from there).

The town sqaure

Although Montefiascone is tiny, the cathedral here has one of the largest domes in Italy is, similar to the St Peter’s Church in Rome and the one in Siëna. So, I’ve managed to see all three in one holiday! I buy some bananas in a shop and enjoy some coffee on the square. 

The cupola

On one of the towers in the town claims that Rome is 100km away, but that was obviously measured after a stiff glass of Est! Est!! Est!!! wine. 

Gerard and I have arranged to eat together again tonight. We find a snug place with a fire on the Via Cavour.

I enjoy lentil soup and ravioli. Gerhard explains to me how the three primary Christian pilgrimages (to Jerusalem, to Santiago de Compostela and to Rome) can be joined together for one long, epic pilgrimage. It gets me thinking… 

Dinner

That night I lie in bed and feel the river flowing around my ankles, and how I was paralysed by fear when I heard branches snap behind me. My last thoughts for the day are those of Edward Abbey in the book Desert Solitaire: “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”

I realise just how privileged I am. 

The Est! Est!! Est!!! wine

The story of the Est! Est!! Est!!!-wine

Journalists are often teased about not letting the truth get in the way of a good story, and this is just one such tale. A bishop, one Johannes de Foucris (translated in English as John Fugger), was travelling to Rome in the year 1111, and was trying to be discreet about his love of good wine.

Each day he sent an assistant out to his overnight stop and asked him to fasten a note to the doors of inns that served good wine. This note had just one word on: “Est!” (“there is”). At Montefiascone the assistant was so amazed by the wine, that the note on the inn’s door read“Est! Est!! Est!!!”

Some sources insist that the bishop was so delighted, he abandoned his trip altogether and never left Montefiascone again.

At Montefiascone the assistant was so amazed by the wine, that the note on the inn’s door read“Est! Est!! Est!!!”

Others claim that later in life he decided to settle in Montefiascone. Other, more juicy tales, say that the bishop drank himself to death on the Est! Est!! Est!!! wine. But what we do know is that Bishop De Foucris was finally buried at the San Flaviano church in Montefiascone and his tombstone reads: 

"Est est est - Propter nimium est - Johannes de Foucris - dominus meus - mortuus est." Which translates as “There is, there is, there is – and because there is too much - John Foucus - lord - is dead”.For at least 400 years his death has been commemorated by pouring a bottle of Est! Est!! Est!!! wine over his grave. 

Est! Est!! Est!!! is a blend of white wines that comes in four different styles. Wine snobs are not especially wowed by it, and it’s occasionally described as “A world famous, value-for-money, generic Umbrian wine”  

Today’s tip: Where can you get a pilgrim’s passport?

You have to get your pilgrims passport stamped every day if you want to apply for a Testimonium from Rome. Try get it before you head to Italy for your trip (Gerhard couldn’t find one anywhere on his route). 

The Confraternity of St. James in South Africa http://www.csjofsa.za.org/ can get you a passport for the Camino de Santiago, but not for the Via Francigena. Caminoways.com posted mine straight to my house in South Africa (along with a guidebook).

If you don’t book your trip through them, I think it’s best to order one from overseas in good time. You can find the details here.


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

Caminoways.com 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 info@caminoways.com or visit caminoways.com.)