Exploring the Via Francigena through Italy: A Multi-Part Journey with Kate Bolton-Porciatti - Context Travel

Exploring the Via Francigena through Italy: A Multi-Part Journey with Kate Bolton-Porciatti


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The ancient pilgrim route known as the Via Francigena stretches around 1200 miles (1900km) across Europe from Canterbury to Rome. Historically, it’s one of the most richly documented pilgrim paths in the world, and it offers unparalleled beauty and variety in its landscapes, culture, and history. 

Partly recorded in different locations along the route, this virtual journey will trace the Via Francigena through Italy in four stages, from the spectacular Great St Bernard Pass in the Alps across seven regions of extraordinary cultural and geographical diversity, eventually reaching the Eternal City.

Cultural historian Kate Bolton-Porciatti will discuss its history and its connections to Lombard and Roman trade routes, and she considers why - for over a millennium - pilgrims and hikers have been drawn to explore it. We'll listen to accounts of pilgrims and monks from the Middle Ages, including the famous writings of the Archbishop of Canterbury Sigeric who walked the entire route in 990 AD, as well as more recent writings and reflections.

We’ll follow the Via from the snow-capped mountains, alpine meadows, and river valleys of Aosta and Piedmont in northern Italy, through the misty flooded fields and emerald rice paddies of the Po Valley. Crossing the mountains and vine-clad hills of Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, we reach the volcanic terrain around Monte Amiata, and then pass glittering Lake Bolsena to the wilder landscapes of Lazio. We’ll pause at abbeys, rural churches, roadside shrines, and ancient hospices; we’ll visit medieval castles and fortified ‘borghi’, as well as some of Italy’s historic towns and cities. Finally, we’ll sample some of the typical foods that characterize the different regions, from Alpine to Mediterranean traditions.

The four conversations will also offer practical advice for anyone considering walking, biking, or horse-back riding along the Via Francigena, as well as suggestions of where to join short stretches of it by car or public transport.

This journey is offered in four, 1.5-hour sessions. For those who might have to miss a session, Context can send a recording.

Lecture 1: From the Alps to Pavia

The spectacular journey across the Alps via the Great St Bernard Pass brings pilgrims and hikers from Switzerland into Italy. In our first lecture, we will pause at picture-book mountain villages, pass ancient castles, and wander through the alpine pastures and orchards of the Aosta Valley. We will explore the beautiful city of Aosta, with its impressive Ancient Roman remains, and then enjoy the tranquil landscapes around Lake Viverone before reaching the historic town of Ivrea. Crossing the emerald rice paddies and exotic flooded fields around Vercelli, we will arrive at our destination: the enchanting city of Pavia with its famous medieval charterhouse.

Lecture 2: From the Po Valley to the Tuscan Hills

Initially passing river terraces scattered with crumbling medieval shrines and chapels, the Via Francigena continues through the Po Valley. In lecture two, we will cross the river with a little ferry at the historic Ford of Sigeric, to reach our ‘pleasant abode’: Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna. We will take in the great Cistercian Abbey of Chiaravalle della Colomba and the Romanesque Cathedral of Fidenza before making the steep climb – with literally breath-taking views - to the Cisa pass. From Pontremoli (‘Shaking Bridge’), the route passes through the Magra Park and then threads along the coast. We will pause at Luni, the ancient Roman harbor where pilgrims could board the ship for Santiago da Compostella, before wending our way inland to some of Tuscany’s most beautiful towns: Pietrasanta (known as ‘Little Athens’), Lucca, San Gimignano, and Monteriggioni.

Lecture 3: Across the Val d'Orcia to Monte Amiata

From the rose-red city of Siena we meander through southern Tuscany, pausing at the beautiful town of San Quirico d’Orcia, with its medieval hospice and Romanesque churches, Bagno Vignoni, dominated by its vast Roman thermal pool, and Radicofani, dramatically situated on a volcanic crest. We will cross the hauntingly beautiful landscapes of the Val d’Orcia, taking in the impressive Romanesque abbeys of Sant’Antimo and San Salvatore, finally reaching the tallest mountain in southern Tuscany, Monte Amiata.

Lecture 4: From Lake Bolsena to Rome

Skirting the glittering volcanic Lake Bolsena, the Via Francigena rises to Montefiascone for an unforgettable panorama from the Tower of Pilgrims. Our final lecture follows the Via Cassia (walking along Ancient Roman paving stones) to reach the hot-water pools of Bagnaccio, where weary pilgrims would bathe. En route from Viterbo to Vetralla, we pass Etruscan catacombs, Roman bridges, ruined rural churches, and monasteries – all of which bear silent witness to two-and-a-half millennia of history. We will visit the impressive Ancient Roman amphitheater of Sutri, and linger at the refreshing waterfalls of Monte Gelato, before the final haul which takes us - at last - to St Peter’s Square in the Eternal City.

Kate Bolton-Porciatti is a professor of Italian cultural history and music at the Istituto Lorenzo de’Medici in Florence, where she teaches BA and MA courses in the humanities. She also lectures at the British Institute, Florence, and at the Chigiana Music Academy in Siena. Kate has published extensively as an academic and a journalist; she is a music critic for BBC Music and a travel writer for The Daily Telegraph, UK. Before moving to Italy permanently in 2005, she was a senior producer and broadcaster for BBC Arts & Classical Music in London and has won prestigious Jerusalem and Sony Awards for her programs. She did her M.Phil. thesis in Italy, exploring the musical culture of early Renaissance Florence.

How does it work?

This is a four-part journey series hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the journey?

$140 for four 90-minute lectures.

Is a recording available?

If you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is not suitable for children under age 16

4 x 90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

Customer Reviews

Based on 42 reviews
98%
(41)
2%
(1)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
S
S.M.
The Via Fracigena with Kate Bolton-Porciatti Parts III and IV

WOW, wow, wow! These sessions were just wonderful. Practical information if you wish to do this yourself (when we are free to travel, of course), history and culture -- what an exploration! This was really really wonderful.

A
A.H.
Where are my hiking boots ...

This wonderful overview of the Italian sections of VF provides accessible historical, social, religious and architectural information. Best of all you experience so many sections with Kate and benefit from her insights on the actual day to day of the pilgrimage. This is a truly lovely introduction that is sure to get you planning :-)

E
E.D.
Walking Forward Through Time

Kate is extremely proficient in creating an informative, engaging and culturally rich presentation, with her native British wit and easy cadence for the listener. She is an expert in her field of history and culture, and quite literally knows the field as she has walked it for decades, uncovering more jewels that she imbeds in her lecture each time she takes us virtually on tour with her. From this course I have gathered a multitude of resources to follow up on and "digest." This was my first course with her, and I am certain I will join her again. But more importantly, I have the confidence to experience my own pilgrimage and see with my own eyes, the most "evocative" landscape of Italy that has inspired pilgrims and "slow tourism" for over 1000 years!

V
V.C.

This was a wonderful journey along the Via Francigena. Even if you do not plan on walking the route, Kate's videos, insights to the places along the route and tips about taking such an undertaking are beyond helpful. Kudos to her (and her husband) for sharing this
interesting way to explore Italy.

S
S.-.B.
Lovely Journey

All 4 parts of this course were unbelievable. Learned so much about this pilgrim route which I did not even know about. Kate's soothing voice, ample beautiful photos, and her own videos shot along her walking tour of the route made this a truly wonderful experience. History was included along the way plus travel tips. Loved it!

Customer Reviews

Based on 42 reviews
98%
(41)
2%
(1)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
S
S.M.
The Via Fracigena with Kate Bolton-Porciatti Parts III and IV

WOW, wow, wow! These sessions were just wonderful. Practical information if you wish to do this yourself (when we are free to travel, of course), history and culture -- what an exploration! This was really really wonderful.

A
A.H.
Where are my hiking boots ...

This wonderful overview of the Italian sections of VF provides accessible historical, social, religious and architectural information. Best of all you experience so many sections with Kate and benefit from her insights on the actual day to day of the pilgrimage. This is a truly lovely introduction that is sure to get you planning :-)

E
E.D.
Walking Forward Through Time

Kate is extremely proficient in creating an informative, engaging and culturally rich presentation, with her native British wit and easy cadence for the listener. She is an expert in her field of history and culture, and quite literally knows the field as she has walked it for decades, uncovering more jewels that she imbeds in her lecture each time she takes us virtually on tour with her. From this course I have gathered a multitude of resources to follow up on and "digest." This was my first course with her, and I am certain I will join her again. But more importantly, I have the confidence to experience my own pilgrimage and see with my own eyes, the most "evocative" landscape of Italy that has inspired pilgrims and "slow tourism" for over 1000 years!

V
V.C.

This was a wonderful journey along the Via Francigena. Even if you do not plan on walking the route, Kate's videos, insights to the places along the route and tips about taking such an undertaking are beyond helpful. Kudos to her (and her husband) for sharing this
interesting way to explore Italy.

S
S.-.B.
Lovely Journey

All 4 parts of this course were unbelievable. Learned so much about this pilgrim route which I did not even know about. Kate's soothing voice, ample beautiful photos, and her own videos shot along her walking tour of the route made this a truly wonderful experience. History was included along the way plus travel tips. Loved it!