Day 28 of our Via Francigena pilgrimage took us on a gorgeous route from San Miniato to Gambassi. Distance: 16.2 miles. Weather: sunny, windy, temperature high 70s.
Today marks a full four weeks on the Via Francigena for me and Mom. It’s simultaneously impossible and all too believable that we’ve been going at it this long.
Today was also one of those days all Via Francigena pilgrims get a knot in their stomachs. It’s Sunday. A day when most restaurants and stores are closed. GOOD LUCK finding an open place in a small town! An added challenge is that there’s almost no potable water on this segment once you leave San Miniato. You can uncomfortably cover these 16 miles without food; it would be ghastly to get to Gambassi without water.
Thanks to the warnings, each of us carried several bottles with us.
The Road to Gambassi
After almost four beautiful but dull miles on paved road, the path suddenly shifted to gravel and dirt. And that’s when things got very good.
Dad had been YouTubing videos of this segment. Even so, we were all stunned by the utter beauty of the Tuscan landscape. What INCREDIBLE views! It was sunny, but a powerful breeze that lasted the whole day kept things feeling light and happy. The route featured Cyprus, olive trees, and vineyards. And the aromas that wafted around the entire day were amazing. Mom introduced me to a new yellow flower – wild fennel – which smelled like licorice. I couldn’t get enough of the fennel and oregano plants that covered the entire path.
This Tuscany segment may well be my favorite in Italy.
This walk was also unique because of its pilgrim drop boxes. We came across two pilgrim boxes, which contained bandages, cough drops, tampons, sanitizing gel, moleskin, and single-pack honey. It’s such a thoughtful gesture!
We’ve noticed that not only is the number of pilgrims continuing to increase every day; the demographic is also skewing much younger. There are a few couples walking together, but a surprisingly large number are female travelers.
A Pilgrim Canine
Dan may be the youngest human on the Via Francigena, but he no longer is the youngest in absolute terms. That title now belongs to a 3.5 year old Italian dog named Kobe.
We had pulled off to rest in the shade and eat cookies. A few moments later I blinked in disbelief as a black and dog scampered by and casually positioned himself beside us.
“Buon giorno. Lui, come si chiama?
“Lui è Kobe, come Kobe Bryant.”
We would later learn that Kobe’s affable humans hailed from Milan, and that their young, basketball-loving sons had gotten the dog on the same day the NBA legend died. They had named the dog in his honor. Kobe the canine was both adorable and fearless.
I’m so interested in Kobe’s travels. On the Via Francigena, we’re far more likely to encounter a horse on the trail than a dog.
Generally, Italians view dogs much differently than Americans. It is very rare to see an Italian dog wearing a cute costume. The reasons so many dogs on the Via Francigena have growled and barked as we’ve passed is because that’s what they’ve been bred and trained to do. Their job is to watch and guard. They sleep OUTSIDE. They are cared for, but by and large, these country dogs are not household pets.
Kobe was the first dog we’d seen trotting along without a leash. He’d move ahead, find a shady spot, and settle down to wait. We were curious how they managed to find accommodation on the road. Apparently, it hadn’t been a problem. They simply stayed at campsites and private hotels. Kobe was welcomed everywhere, including inside Italian restaurants.
All dogs go to heaven. Kobe is just going to have an extra special place.
A Final Push to Gambassi
As beautiful as the walk is, those final two uphill miles into Gambassi are rough. I wound up giving half a water bottle to a couple from California who looked like they were about to faint.
I had booked an apartment at Ostello Sigerico, a half mile shy of Gambassi proper. The good archbishop had stayed at this very location during his journey from Canterbury to Rome. The Ostello turned out to be located in a former monastery, adjacent to Santa Maria Assunta a Chianni, a 12th century church.
I have a bit of a giggle about how the concept of “amenities” varies from place to place. “Amenities” used to mean Wi-Fi, washer and dryer, and perhaps central air conditioning. “Amenities” these days means the place comes with toilet paper, hot water, hangars, and PERHAPS shampoo!
There was a bedroom and bathroom on the ground floor. Up a very narrow circular staircase was a kitchen/sitting room and an adjacent 2nd bedroom with two twin beds. We were told that cooking in the apartment’s kitchen was not possible. (There was no gas to power the stove, because the church was undergoing restoration and no one wanted to risk an explosion.)
Since cooking was not an option, and food sources on a Sunday were limited, we booked three pilgrim dinners.
A lizard scampered up a stone bedroom wall.
The funny thing about being on pilgrimage is that there soon comes a point on every trip when you cease to care about much. We’ve seen between 10-15 lizards a day in Italy, and I’ve come to feel affection for them. As long as the lizard stayed off my pillow, we were fine.
Dinner and a Sweet Surprise
To our surprise, the communal pilgrim dinner was held in separate dining rooms. The room we were taken to had a small sign with our names and the names of an American couple. We learned during a lovely meal of pasta, salad, pork, and an apple that they were from Michigan and had chosen to come in celebration of their 20th anniversary.
For an extra €3, we got dessert, and I had a traditional dessert: biscuits to dip in sweet wine. Delicious!
The undisputed highlight of the evening was when the hostess asked whether we would like to visit the church before going to bed. We said yes, and prepared to exit the monastery. She shook her head, and simply opened a door behind the dining room: the church was RIGHT THERE.
There’s something especially nice about seeing an ancient church at night. It was such a special way to close out the evening.
Next stop, San Gimagnano!
Pilgrim encounters: at least 30 humans + 1 dog
Breakfast: Supermarket snack
Dinner: €18 (19.02)
Lodging (per person): €37 ($39.10)