The official Via Francigena route from the Cisa Pass to Pontremoli is a beautiful cross-country hike with almost no road walking. The route has a mixture of glorious vistas, interesting woodlands, old stone roads and many interesting bridges. However, it is not for everyone as it is quite challenging and takes longer to walk than one would expect. Loose gravel and the tough ascents and descents slow one down. Estimates of the length of the walk range from 19.25 kilometres to 24.2 kilometres depending on the source consulted, and it includes 527 metres of ascent and 1,327 metres of descent. It took us around six and a half hours with breaks.
There is some debate as to whether or not this route is the original Via Francigena route as recorded by Sigeric the Serious, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the 10th century. Some claim it is a route designed by the local Club Alpino Italia (CAI) to attract day walkers, as it is too arduous for the long-distance walker. As a result, pilgrims often ignore the official route and instead choose to walk to Pontremoli via the minor roads (the SP64 and the SP42) through Gravagna and Groppoli, missing out on one of the most beautiful stretches of the Via Francigena. Certainly, this is what the Austrian and French pilgrims we met at the Cisa Pass decided to do, and we saw no other walkers the entire route. Whatever the truth may be, it is a marvellous hike over a well maintained route.
Briefly, from the Cisa Pass you head for the Righetto Pass and then descend to Groppoli. After passing through the villages of Groppodalosio, Casalina and Topelecco you climb to the Crocetta Pass, where you join an old mule track that takes you down to Arzengio and finally to Pontremoli. You can download up-to-date maps of the route on the official Via Francigena website.
The highlights for me were the vistas, albeit a bit hazy, at the Righetto Pass and the many marvellous bridges. Where once you had to ford the Torrente Civasola, there is now a splendid suspension bridge. The 16th century bridge at Groppodalosio is always a pleasure to cross, as are the many other stone bridges past Casalina.
The route is generally well signed, but make sure you follow the Via Francigena way marks as other footpaths intersect the route. We walked the route in late summer, and it was in excellent condition with signs of recent maintenance having taken place. Replenishing water supplies is not a problem as all the villages have water fountains. There is nowhere to buy food along the route, so take a picnic. The only bar – and most welcome it was on a warm summer’s day – is at Arzengio.
If you are a day walker, getting to the Cisa Pass from Pontremoli can be tricky. The easiest way is to get someone to drive you there and drop you off. Alternatively, you could get a taxi from Pontremoli station. I was told that it costs around €30. Finally, you could take the train to Berceto and get the Pronto Bus to the pass. The Pronto Bus only runs to the Cisa Pass by special arrangement, so it is absolutely essential that you phone them in advance. See the Pronto Bus website for details.
You may also be interested in:
- A winter walk along the Via Francigena – Villafranca in Lunigiana to Aulla
- The Bridge at Groppodalosio
A summer walk along the Via Francigena – the Cisa Pass to Pontremoli appeared on Ciao Lunigiana on 30 September 2014.