Starting point to end point: Montefiascone to Viterbo
Distance walked: 17,25 km (4,6 km/h average)
Height climbed: 115 meters
Highest point on the route: 640 m
Descent: 371 m
Lowest point on the route: 305 m
Distance to Rome at the start of the day: 128 km
Breakfast at the Hotel Urbano doesn’t disappoint – I enjoy toast with ham and cheese, and I’m out the door before 08:00. It’s a beautiful day.
The arrow on my Suunto watch leads me up a hill to the highest point in Montefiascone, and from here I get the most exquisite view of the cathedral’s cupola. I can even see Bolsena’s lake in the distance.
The city gates of Montefiascone
It’s a beautiful day for walking. The weather is cool, but it’s (finally) not raining. And soon I reach a meaningful part of the Via Francigena, a segment of the route where you walk on the ancient Roman road.
This road was built in 127 BC
Perhaps this is where Sigeric stood
According to a sign on the road, the construction is possibly from the fourth century before Christ, and it was the road that Sigeric would have also walked along.
I step carefully between the slabs of stone with my Hi-Tec’s and wonder where exactly Sigeric’s feet would have fallen back in 760 (If you don’t know who Sigeric was, read here.)
This is how the route markers look now
For the rest of the morning, the route winds between farms before you officially leave the region of Montefiascone. Once I’ve climbed the steep hill and crossed the border into Viterbo, I decide it’s time for my morning cup of coffee from my Atlasware flask.
It’s pretty much downhill all the way from here – it’s a quick and easy route. While I’m making myself some Rehidrat, I notice my fellow Dutch pilgrim, Gerhard, away in the distance. But because I walk far slower than him, I decide he can catch up to me if he wants to.
It’s begun to rain softly, and I’m not keen to hang around in the drizzle.
This sign means I still need to walk 3 hours and 20 minutes
Unbeknownst to me, at some point on my journey I walked past the Parco Termale del Bagnaccio – the famous hot water springs just outside the city of Viterbo.
I only realised I’d missed it once I reached the edge of the city. Gerhard explained to me later that there are a few motorhomes that show where the spa is, but I didn’t notice them. Don’t expect 5-star facilities - Parco Termale del Bagnaccio is kind of in the bundus (which is why I missed it), but there’s more than one bath, and the temperature goes up to 59 degrees C! Entrance is 5 euros.
So while I was shivering in the rain, there were people who were sitting snug and warm in the spa baths.
It’s a bit soul destroying to think of that.Viterbo is not the sort of town that immediately blows you away. It’s the capital of the region (of the same name) and with just more than 70 000 residents, it definitely qualifies as a city and not a town.
Just follow the blue line
The end is nigh. I walked this exact route
Just before you enter the town, you walk past the strangest cemetery – a sort of “funeral park” where there are at least six double story warehouses next to one another in a row, each with about seven rows of niches that are soullessly stacked on top of one another.
The city gates of Viterbo
Once again, I’m grateful for the blue line on the Suunto, because Viterbo is unexpectedly large, and takes me through three busy traffic circles with four lanes of traffic to the old city.
The drizzle has now become a storm. Again. After one last little hill, the busy double lane highway spits you out in front of the city gates and onto the Piazza della Rocco.
The directions from Caminoways.com take me straight to the Hotel Tuscia, just a short distance from the town square.
The signora in the reception area greets me by name. To be fair, it’s a strange pronunciation of “Gerda” but there’s no mistaking it’s mine, and she hands over my room keys. I have to confess, the last two nights of accommodation at Bolsena and Montefiascone have spoiled me somewhat.
This hotel is less luxurious, but it still ticks all the boxes: I’ve got my own bathroom, the hotel is centrally situated, it’s on the Via Francigena, and there’s free WiFi!
The street in front of my hotel
Sorry, Tim Noakes
There’s a little pizza place just next to the hotel – a real little “hole in the wall” where a few locals are hanging around.
They have such interesting pizzas! The assistant isn’t picking up what I’m putting down, so I point to a slice with potato and rosemary on it (Tim Noakes would have a heart attack! Carbs on carbs!) and hold out a few coins in my hand. The assistant counts out 1 euro. It’s the most amazing pizza imaginable…
I take a bit of a rest, but I just can’t get the thought of clean, dry clothes out of my mind. I’d seen a laundromat just outside the city gates. Dilemma: It’s raining, so I’d still need another set of dry clothes waiting at the hotel after I’ve done my washing (it’s a catch-22).
It's good, and clean, and fresh.
‘It’s good, and clean and fresh, tra-la-la’
I’m now writing this blog in the laundromat. I decided “screw the weather” and came to do laundry. The washing cycle is 28 minutes, and costs 4 euros. After that you can tumble-dry the clothes at 2 euros every 8 minutes.
The label on my only warm top tells me it can’t be tumble-dried, but there aren’t many options open to me, so I do it. The last damp thing in my bag gets chucked in the machine.
For a change, I’m glad I don’t have company tonight. I’m keen to do a bit of reading. So, by 20:00, when the rain was still “bolsena-ing” I decide to enjoy another slice of pizza from next door and climb into bed.
Approaching the halfway mark
I struggle to switch off tonight. Tomorrow I’ll be halfway through my pilgrimage on the Via Francigena. It’s gone faster than my hike along the Camino de Santiago. It’s because I’m only walking 200km in 9 days on this pilgrimage – and not the 330km I did in Spain last year.
I’ve enjoyed every moment so far, possibly because I find this route much easier. In Spain I had to do 30km on 4 of the 13 days, which is too far for me. I was tired, teary and injured. The most notable feature of this pilgrimage so far is the unsettling seclusion. Today I barely spoke ten words to another human. Initially the silence had frightened me, but now I’ve become entirely comfortable with it.
I’ve enjoyed every moment so far, possibly because I find this route much easier.
Paul Theroux writes in The Tao of Travel:
“The wish to travel seems to me characteristically human: the desire to move, to satisfy your curiosity or ease your fears, to change the circumstances of your life, to be a stranger, to make a friend, to experience an exotic landscape, to risk the unknown, to bear witness to the consequences, tragic or comic, of people possessed by the narcissism of minor differences. Chekhov said: ‘If you’re afraid of loneliness, don’t marry.’ I would say, if you’re afraid of loneliness, don’t travel. The literature of travel shows the effects of solitude, sometimes mournful, more often enriching, now and then unexpectedly spiritual.”
I’m increasingly experiencing the solitude as enriching, even spiritual. This is supposed to be a pilgrimage, after all.
Stats on my Suunto-GPS-watch
Starting point to end point: Viterbo tot Vetralla
Distance walked: 18,6 km (4,6 km/h average)
Height climbed: 313 meters
Highest point on the route: 352 m
Descent: 355 m
Lowest point on the route: 222 m
Distance to Rome at the start of the day: 110 km
Throughout the night I can hear the man in the room next door snoring and breaking wind. The hotel’s walls are paper thin, and the weather’s not doing much for my mood.
The hotel at Viterbo has at least one luxury – breakfast is served from 07:00, which means I can hit the road early. I can even enjoy ham and cheese on a fresh bread roll.
Viterbo is not too shabby
That’s how cold it was ...
I’m out the door before 7:30 and the sky is a clear blue. I can see I was a bit unfair about Viterbo. It’s actually quite a beautiful city. Paul Theroux describes this sort of place as “picturesquely awful”. Like places that initially make a bad impression on you.
I think it was just the disconsolate weather that did Viterbo a disservice. On the edge of the town I walk past the most beautiful cathedral.
The Viterbo cathedral
Seen at the cathedral. These facilities are only for those who can’t wait any longer
The past few days of rain have now been exchanged for an ice-cold gale force wind that cuts right through me.
The electronic sign on the square says that the temperature is 4 degrees, but according to my weather app, the real feel temperature is closer to 2 degrees. I’m freezing. A few times I consider turning around, but to what end?
I could sit in a coffee shop, but for how long? According to the weather app, this wind’s not dying down anytime soon. I pull my beanie further over my ears, put my head down, and keep walking.
Two cars have to get past each other here
Look at this tree’s roots!
The wide and narrow roads
It’s another day on lonely roads. Today my Suunto directs me to the alternative route, which cuts out 1.5km.
But the road crinkles and curls between sharp cliffs, through which two-lane traffic swerves around the hairpin bends. The road is so narrow that motorists hoot before taking corners to warn oncoming traffic. And you have to make yourself as small as possible to prevent becoming roadkill by cars shaving past each other.
I decide to carry my Terra Firma-backpack in my hands, so that I can press myself as close to the rock wall as possible.
The road spits me out at a thoroughfare, and for a kilometre or two I walk along the shoulder of the busy Via Cassia. It’s not pleasant for any walker to trek along a highway, but it is lekker to see the street signs showing me how the kilometres to Rome melt away. I now have just over 100km before I reach Rome.
After 8km, with still no picnic tables in sight, I decide to take my coffee break from my Atlasware flask on the move. The wind is pumping, and it’s freezing cold.
The last 7km of the day crosses over some hectic hills, but you walk for a bit over farmlands and between the most beautiful olive and nut trees, The trees are full of blossoms just waiting to burst open. I can imagine how these orchards will look in a few days.
I look for an excuse to spend some more time between the orchards, and make myself some Rehidrat. It’s really been quite a pleasant day.
Up there is Vetralla
Old MacDonald in Italy
I’m already at the edge of Vetralla when I take out my documents from caminoways.com to see where my accommodation is.
Turns out, it was 2km before the town, which means I’ve got to make a U-turn. Antica Locanda is on a farm just outside Vetralla, and has a huge, snow white restaurant. And a gazebo on the lawn.
I’d guess this would make an ideal wedding venue. The Italian version of Old MacDonald floats out of the kitchen as I go check in. All I can understand of it is a “quack quack here and “moo moo there”.
I have a little flat to myself, with an enormous double bed, a fireplace and kitchenette.
Late in the afternoon, I’m debating whether or not to walk back to Vetralla to explore the town, but the wind is pumping, and the rain is back, which means I’d have an extra 4km walking there and back in the rain. I make some tea in my own little kitchen and snack on the cheese and biscuits that I’ve been carrying around in my backpack since Radicofani.
Two Italians are involved in a serious argument in the flatlet next door.
Dinner is at 20:00, and I have to set my alarm. I’m prone to dozing off and startling myself awake at midnight. By the time I get to the restaurant, there are eight men decked out in camo seated at one of the tables. They look like hunters. The owner brings one plate after another to that table, and the food looks delicious.
I decide on the fettuccini with Portobello mushrooms, pear and walnuts, imagining that the nuts come fresh from the orchard near the farmhouse. I enjoy it with the house wine and an espresso afterwards. This I throw down my throat in one slug, like someone who’s lived in Italy for years.
When I head to bed, the men have moved to the corner of the reception area and are watching soccer. Italy is 0-2 behind Argentina, and the noisy bunch are dead quiet, for a change.
Tip for the day
A miracle plaster for blisters
I didn’t get any blisters on this pilgrimage, thanks to Hi-Tec.
But I do have a soft spot that is prone to blistering on the balls of my feet, under my big toe. Compeed is a product that I still haven’t been able to find in South Africa, but you can generally find it in pharmacies along the Camino de Santiago and the Via Francigena.
You use the plaster if you’ve got a blister, or if a spot is becoming raw and could possibly turn into a blister. (Because I do get blisters quite easily on that specific spot, I just stick one of these plasters on before I even start walking!)
Compeed forms a layer of gel on your foot that works like a second skin. It clings like a net. Don’t try and pull the plaster off, or your skin will come off with it! If the spot under the plaster is healthy, the plaster will fall off by itself. Like magic!
It usually takes about 4 or 5 days. The plasters are on the expensive side (about 8 euros for 5 plasters). But you won’t mind paying that if you’re hobbling around on one foot. Because the plaster lasts for 5 days (it’s not as gross as it sounds) it’s unlikely you’ll finish a pack in one go.
If you hike often, ask a friend who’s travelling overseas to bring a packet home for you. It’s a little bigger than a matchbox.
If anyone knows where we can buy these in South Africa, please let us know.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit caminoways.com.)