Elsa River

Day 31 of our Via Francigena pilgrimage took us from Colle di Val d’Elsa just shy of Monteriggioni. Distance: 9.6 miles. Weather: sunny, temperature mid-80s.

Colle di Val d’Elsa (“Hill of Elsa Valley” gets its name from the river Elsa. During today’s route, we scored an up close and personal view of this river as we completed the segment to Monteriggioni.

It took some time to clear out of busy morning traffic as we departed Colle di Val d’Elsa. Once we did, the change was immediate and drastic.

The Elsa River

Suddenly, we were in Sentierelsa and surrounded by nature. The area consists of approximately 4 kilometers (2.4 miles) of trail through thick woods and is home to varieties of frogs, fish, and snakes. I had to blink several times at the color of the river water. Later, I’d learn that Elsa’s rich, otherworldly blue hue comes from limestone.

It was an incredibly fun stretch to cover! We had to cross the river multiple times. Up until this point the streams have been navigable by either using small rocks or simply walking through 2” deep water. During this segment, the water levels are high enough to require thick rocks. There are also two heavy lines of fixed rope for additional balance support. While Elsa was not deep – perhaps a few feet – a tumble with a fully loaded backpack definitely would not have been fun!

I know many Via Francigena pilgrims had no problem doing the full 31 kilometers (19 miles) from Sienna to Monteriggioni in one day. Those who did told me that when the afternoon temperatures soared, jumping in the cool waters felt FANTASTIC.

Alas! We packed for many scenarios on this trip. (Unfortunately, swimming was not one of them.)

Moreover, we found that splitting the segment and overnighting at Colle di Val d’Elsa worked best for us. Because we were refreshed, it was such a nice treat to begin the walk with the river crossings. I doubt we would have had the same appreciation for if we’d attempted it when our body was tired!

The Walk to Monteriggioni

I’ve got to give a massive shout-out to the brilliant minds who created the trail. They knew EXACTLY where to place the picnic tables for amazing views of the river. 

While enjoying a quick prosciutto and cheese, we ran into our friends from Milano and their adorable dog Kobe. They’re leaving the trail soon, and although we have only known each other a few days, we are going to miss seeing them.

As sad as it is to bid farewell to one group, I do love that there continue to be others on the trail that give it plenty of sparkle. We met a Tasmanian couple who recently sold their farm before embarking on a six month Via Francigena pilgrimage. They represent two of only a handful of pilgrims we’ve met who started in Canterbury and ending in Rome.

Had it not been for their bright-eyed enthusiasm and careful research, we would never have ventured a quarter-mile off course to seek out the Necropoli di Scarna.

The Necropolis is now an archeological site where you can freely explore ancient Etruscan tombs.

It’s slightly off track, but it was definitely worth it.

Hunting Season and Funny Signs

Generally, I’ve been very impressed by the Via Francigena signage. However, we came across TWO sets of “what the heck?!” signs today. Fortunately, the App was working well, and we quickly figured out which way to go.

A good thing, too, because today we learned firsthand that it’s hunting season! Two rugged gentlemen wearing camouflage, carrying rifles, and accompanied by dogs came out and gave us sweet “Buon Giornos”. Dad struck up a conversation with them and admired the photos they showed him on their phones.

They were out hunting pheasant.

I’m amused that our trail covers so many wild areas during hunting season in Tuscany. However, I’ve got immense faith these locals know what they’re doing.

Overnight at the Abbey near Monteriggioni

Tonight we are staying at an Abbey three kilometers short of Monteriggioni. The Abbey of Santi Salvatore e Cirino was built in 1001. Over several centuries, this monastery has been a resting point that provided refuge and care for hundreds of thousands of tired pilgrims. It’s always incredible and humbling when you get to sleep in a place with so much history.

A handsome young man from Senegal checked us in and stamped our Pilgrim Passports. We also got a warm greeting when we accidentally ran into the woman who had allowed us to stay at her apartment the night before in Colle di Val d’Elsa. It’s astounding to me how paths keep crossing at unexpected places, and in unexpected ways. It turns out she works at the nearby museum.

Our room consists of a 4-person room with two double bunks. There’s four other multi-person rooms and a kitchen located on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Each floor has a shared bathroom.

We had an on-site pilgrim dinner in the kitchen at 7 p.m. It was a lively and eclectic group: a Ukrainian, an Italian, a German, 3 French, and us. The delicious dinner featured bread, salad, wine, chicken cacciatore, potatoes, egg with eggplant, and spaghetti with tomatoes fresh from the back garden.

I really enjoy pilgrim dinners. Yes, for the first five minutes it’s awkward eating with complete strangers. And of course there’s always some nervousness about hoping you understand what language will be spoken. But I have yet to have a pilgrim meal where the banter is not playful and unforced. The languages are constantly shifting, and people find a way to laugh.

Pilgrim dinners are AWESOME.


Breakfast: Supermarket snack

Lunch: €6

Dinner: €18

Lodging (per person): €18

By Katie Cerezo

Thank you so much for visiting. 😊 I have always loved traveling, and my legs are my primary means of transportation. It's a beautiful world, and I'm eager to explore it…one step at a time.

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