Day 38 of our Via Francigena pilgrimage took us from Bolsena to Montefiascone. Distance: 12.7 miles. Weather: sunny, temperature: mid-80s.
We were out the door by 6:45 a.m. Our goal was to do what Sigeric the Serious apparently did not do in 990 A.D., which was visit Europe’s largest volcanic lake. It was an easy 10 minute walk.
Lake Bolsena’s calm, flat surface perfectly reflected the lovely pastel sky. Much to our surprise, there were a few bathers out enjoying an early morning October swim.
We walked across the black sand and each dipped a hand inside the lake. The water was clear and cool. Once again, I’m kicking myself for not having brought a swimsuit. I just never thought the fall temperatures would be so warm. The mornings are brisk, but we’ve hit into the 80s almost every day of the trip.
It took less than 25 minutes for us to intercept the trail again. It was a tough walk because of the altitude gains. However, the route was so interesting that I think that today might be one of my top five favorite walks.
It took us through shady woods lined with millions of delicate lavender-colored flowers, by meadows, and alongside grazing pastures.
A Sheep Traffic Jam
Hands-down, my favorite part of the morning was stumbling onto a country road. Hundreds of sheep waited in opposition. Much to my amusement, they stopped a good 30 yards shy of us, and had to be barked at repeatedly by their canine guardians to get moving. Once they did, it was a veritable sheep stampede.
We moved far to the side as they passed within inches. Surprisingly, they didn’t smell too bad. Unsurprisingly, they left several nasty gifts on the road.
Sheep dung notwithstanding, I have nothing but love for these sheep and their wonderful Pecorino cheese!
Arrival in Montefiascone
“Montefiascone” literally translates to “mountain of the Falisci”. Based on the fact that “mountain” is part of its name, we knew the walk would end with a steep climb. However, I was alarmed by how aggressive the driving around the city was. Despite the crosswalks, the cars just did not want to stop.
Montefiascone’s history dates back to the 9th century and marks the 100 kilometers (60 mile) distance to Rome. Mentally, it’s a significant milestone. It might be a clever tourism tactic, but I have to admire the welcome those on the Via Francigena get in this city. This is the first place where I’ve seen a permanent monument dedicate to pilgrims. I loved the inscription at the base.
Forget the steps you have taken. Remember the marks you have left.
Because of its close proximity to Rome, Montefiascone was a favorite Papal summer getaway destination during the 13th and 14th centuries. These days, the Rocca dei Papi is no longer a Papal residence or fortress. Instead, it houses a civic museum and archeological displays.
The reason Dan and I went to Rocca dei Papi was for the views. From there, we could see Lake Bolsena, vineyards, olive tree orchards, and rich farmland.
I felt both pride and utter disbelief that we had dipped a hand in the lake water only that morning.
“Est! Est!! Est!!!”
Montefiascone is known as Italy’s “city of wine”. In a country that adores wine – and where wine can be less expensive than a Coke – that’s a bold claim.
How did it get this title?
In 1111, Bishop Johannes Defuk was accompanying Henry V of Germany to Rome, to be recognized by Pope Pascal as Holy Roman Emperor. Since Defuk was a wine connoisseur, he sent his servant ahead to scout for quality wines along the route. (Talk about priorities!) The taste-tester was to write “Est” outside the doors if it was good, and “Est, Est” if the wine was very good.
According to legend, the servant was so bowled over by the wine he drank in Montefiascone that he gave it the ultimate rating: “Est! Est!! Est!!!”
The Bishop concurred. He was so impressed that after he completed his mission to Rome he returned to Montefiascone. It is here that Defuk drunk himself to death. His body is buried inside the magnificent 11th century Basilica of San Flaviano.
I’m not quite certain what the moral of the story is. But it’s an entertaining story!
A Montefiascone Pilgrim Menu
In the U.S. military, dinner is eaten early. Times vary based on what installation you are at, but generally speaking, meals END at 6 p.m. In Europe, GOOD LUCK finding a sit-down restaurant open at that time!
I’d love to know how many calories we are burning on the Via Francigena. We’re carrying our own packs and hitting double-digit daily mileage. In any case, my stomach is RUMBLING by 4 p.m.
Waiting for European restaurants to open at 7 or 7:30 p.m. is agony.
Of course, when the meal comes it’s almost always worth the wait. I’m a massive fan of the Pilgrim Menu.
For €20, Dan and I got bread; a large plate of pasta with choice of tomatoes or ragu; a choice of garden salad or French fries; 1/2 liter of sparkling water or 1/4 liter of wine; and choice of pork, chicken, or crostini. It’s a lot of food.
We will absolutely burn it off during tomorrow’s trek. Unfortunately, we were unable to book lodging for four in one place tonight. Therefore, I booked an apartment for Dan and me 200 meters from town center. Mom and Dad found a place a mile south of us. That means they’ll have a shorter distance to travel tomorrow.
Looking forward to Viterbo!
Breakfast: Supermarket snack
Lodging (per person): €36