With its over 3000 km, the Via Francigena is one of the most well-known routes among pilgrims and trekking enthusiasts. Stretching from Canterbury in England to Rome, this path has connected Europe over the centuries, allowing those who traversed it to atone for their sins.
Today, this red thread has also become a fascinating way to discover new places and rediscover ancient traditions. It’s a true attraction of immense cultural and touristic value that, in the Tuscia region, encounters some of its most captivating stages among ancient villages, unspoiled nature, rivers, lakes, and breathtaking landscapes.
From the small village of Proceno to Monterosi, passing through Acquapendente, San Lorenzo Nuovo, Bolsena, Montefiascone, Viterbo, Vetralla, Capranica, and Sutri, the Viterbo section of the Via Francigena is a route not to be missed, easily adaptable to every type of pilgrim or tourist due to its numerous stops.
Starting Point: Proceno
Our journey begins from the northernmost part of Tuscia. It’s here that Proceno is located, a small medieval village perched on a tufaceous hill. Its characteristic crescent shape makes it unique, as do the many historical sites that can be visited. Among them, we particularly remember the Medieval Fortress (privately owned but accessible) that dominates the village with Etruscan origins. Alongside it, churches, gardens, and artisan shops enrich this first, unmissable, stage of our journey.
Second Stage: Acquapendente
Thanks to its extremely favorable location, Acquapendente was a strategic center sought after by many, primarily by the Church and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Its position, precisely on the Via Francigena and at the border of Tuscany, Lazio, and Umbria, allowed it to prosper in the past, but also to suffer numerous plunderings.
Today, the city is a tourist destination that we cannot miss, renowned for the Cathedral of the Holy Sepulchre, built around the year 1000 on an even older structure, which still houses what is called the “stone wet with Blood.” According to legend, the stone is impregnated with the blood of Christ and, for this reason, it continues to attract the interest of many believers and simple tourists.
Before departing, we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to experience the hospitality and local cuisine by visiting some of the local farms, such as Il Tesoro (note: link absent pending materials upload), managed for over 15 years by the family of Rita Favero and situated within historically renovated farmhouses.
Third Stage: Bolsena
A few kilometers away, our journey continues to the enchanting Bolsena. The beautifully preserved medieval village overlooks the namesake lake, the largest volcanic origin lake in Italy. Upon reaching the lakeside town, our view is immediately captured by the castle, built by the Monaldeschi della Cervara family, which dominates the surrounding area. From up there, we can admire the beautiful view, observing the Bisentina and Martana islands. Descending through the maze of historic streets rich with shops, we can reach the VesConte, an ancient historic residence that today serves as both a museum and a place to stay. It’s a pleasant and unique way to recharge, discover the history of the place, and immerse ourselves in the lives of some of the illustrious personalities who stayed here, such as Prince Carlo Ludovico di Borbone, Stendhal, Giovanni Verga, Guglielmo Marconi, Federico Fellini, and even two Popes. Not to be missed is also the Basilica of Santa Cristina, the patron saint of Bolsena, whose life we can learn about by visiting the village on the evening of July 23rd. On this day, the Sacred Representation of the Mysteries of Santa Cristina takes place, a festival dedicated to remembering the miracles and sufferings experienced by the young saint.
For those interested in exploring the region from a culinary perspective, they could visit some of the well-known agritourisms and mills located on the nearby hills. From Bolsena, it’s easy to reach AgriSpa Frà Viaco (Valentano) with its wellness paths and traditional cuisine with local products, or the Antica Tuscia olive mill, surrounded by its olive groves, where you can savor the unique flavor of extra virgin olive oil produced by three generations of passionate olive growers.
Fourth Stage: Montefiascone
After resting and replenishing our energy, our pilgrimage along the ancient Via Francigena leads us to the nearby Montefiascone. The town, with its rich history tied to the presence of popes in Tuscia, overlooks the lake from its high hill, making it one of the most captivating places in Tuscia.
Here, the various cultures that alternated their dominance, particularly the Etruscans, have left significant traces of their rule that we can rediscover in the many historical buildings, such as the Rocca dei Papi with its public park and the numerous churches. To further enrich our journey, there are also many wineries that make Montefiascone famous for its wine-making tradition, particularly the production of the white DOC wine “Est! Est!! Est!!!” and olive oil.
Before departing, we could explore these flavors by visiting some of the local olive mills, such as “Il Molino” (note: link to be added pending material), a family-run business that allows us to taste the varieties of extra virgin olive oil Caninese and Frantoio or the “Frantoio Presciuttini,” famous for producing the “…diNotte” oil, winner of numerous awards.
Fifth Stage: Viterbo
The adventure of discovering the places and traditions of Tuscia through the Via Francigena leads us next to Viterbo. The provincial capital, also known as the City of the Popes, is certainly a stage that deserves special attention. In the past, the city’s fortune was primarily due to the presence of large thermal springs, such as those of Hotel Salus Terme, where we can rejuvenate with the many wellness packages and guest rooms, and the Bullicame, mentioned in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.
Today, these unique attractions combine with other local riches to attract a multitude of tourists daily. Among them, we must mention the Papal Palace, which allowed the city to become a papal seat from 1257 to 1281, hosting nine popes. Today, it houses the Polo Museale del Colle del Duomo. Throughout the streets of the historic center, one of the largest medieval centers in Europe, we can also rediscover ancient crafts such as ceramics and bookbinding, still alive thanks to true artists like Cinzia Chiulli, Daniela Lai, and the Antica Legatoria Viali, workshops where we can personally experience the history that ties the city to these ancient arts (note: workshops are mentioned briefly, as they will be the subject of upcoming more specific articles). Not far away, in the village of Bagnaia, we shouldn’t miss a visit to the marvelous Villa Lante, a historic residence built by Vignola upon the order of Cardinal Gambara, home to some of the most famous Italian gardens ever.
Sixth Stage: Vetralla, Capranica, and Sutri
Departing from the City of the Popes, we return to the Cassia road and face the penultimate stretch of the Via Francigena that will gradually lead us into the province of Rome. These kilometers give us the opportunity to visit three neighboring towns known for their cultural and historical wealth. The first is Vetralla, whose territory hosts the nearby rock-cut Necropolis of Norchia, inhabited since prehistoric times and rich in Etruscan, Roman, and medieval artifacts. Not to be missed within the historic center is also the Church of San Francesco, from the Romanesque period, where we can admire, among others, the 13th-century fresco “St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins.”
From here, it’s easy to reach a perfect place to stay and savor local flavors: the “Petrignanum” farm, also known for its production of extra virgin olive oil and the natural tranquility of the surrounding area.
A few kilometers away, our journey continues as we encounter the town of Capranica, whose fortune in the past derived from the Via Francigena that passes through it entirely. The village, dominated by the Anguillara family, is rich in churches and historical buildings, including the Church of San Francesco, which houses the precious tomb of the aforementioned noble family.
Last but not least, the sixth stage of the Viterbo journey to discover the ancient pilgrimage to Rome continues with a visit to Sutri. Known as the “Ancient City,” it has recently become part of the circuit of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Within its territory, you can admire some of the most famous historical and cultural testimonies of the Viterbo area. We start with the archaeological park at the foot of the village and adjacent to the Cassia road. Here, we discover the fascinating amphitheater, a large necropolis, the Mithraeum temple, and the millennia-old Etruscan rock-cut passages. As we ascend to the village, we first reach the beautiful Piazza del Comune and then explore the surroundings, known for hosting the medieval Villa Savorelli and its gardens, as well as the Cathedral, the Doebbing Museum, and the Lombard Crypt.
Before continuing, a visit to the legendary Grotta di Orlando is a must. It’s here, in the territory of Sutri, that according to myth, the Paladin Orlando was born as Charlemagne passed through the city with his pregnant sister, the mother of the legendary warrior.
Seventh Stage: Monterosi
The final stretch of the Via Francigena, which connects Viterbo to the Roman province, touches the town of Monterosi. This small village in Tuscia, whose name refers to a “mountain of roses,” has been an important strategic point due to its proximity to the Via Cassia. This has led to its economic and cultural development and the interest it has garnered from Romans, Goths, and Lombards, who plundered the area repeatedly in past centuries. As we enter the village, we encounter historically significant buildings, such as the Baroque Church of Santa Croce, dating back to the 16th century and dominated by a unique and rare sail-shaped bell tower. Further ahead, we come across the Palace of the Cardinal, built by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese.
Before bidding farewell to Tuscia, we can finally reach the nearby Lake Monterosi, once known as Janula. It was here, halfway between Viterbo and Rome, that the meeting took place in 1155 between Pope Adrian IV and Frederick I Hohenstaufen, also known as “Barbarossa,” who was about to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor. Today, the area is known for its natural beauty, so much so that it was recognized as a Site of Community Importance in 1995.