Italian Pilgrimages: all you need to know

11 Apr 2024

If you're planning a hiking tour to Italy, you might consider the experience of walking one of the many pilgrimages the bel paese has to offer.

But what exactly is a pilgrimage, and how does it differ from a "regular" walking tour? How many are there in Italy, and which one should you choose? What can you expect, and what kind of accommodation will you find along the way?

In this article, we shed some light on these questions, preparing you to choose your first (or next) pilgrimage – especially considering the upcoming jubilee in Rome in 2025, now may be the best time to do it!

What is a Pilgrimage?

A pilgrimage (in Italian – pellegrinaggio) is, according to the National Trust, a devotional practice consisting of a prolonged journey, often undertaken on foot or on horseback, toward a destination of significant meaning. The most well-known Catholic pilgrimage in Europe (and possibly the world) is the Camino de Santiago, which means "the road to Santiago," leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, housing the remains of Saint James.

In Italy, Rome and the Vatican are the ultimate places of significance, with Saint Peter's Square traditionally marking the route's end. Many pilgrimage routes end in Rome – including the Via Francigena (also known as the Camino to Rome), St. Francis Walk, Via Romea Germanica, and more. After visiting Rome, pilgrims could continue towards Brindisi, in the southern region of Puglia, from where they would embark toward the Holy Land.

Some pilgrimages, like the Camino di Oropa in the northern Piedmont region, lead to the Oropa Sanctuary, one of the largest Marian Sanctuaries in Europe, significant for devotees of the Holy Mary.

What’s Different from a Regular Walking Tour?

Pilgrimages have unique characteristics, notably the credential: a type of passport that pilgrims carry, collecting stamps from accommodations and villages along their journey. Beyond being a cherished reminder of their journey, a credential is crucial for obtaining the completion certificate – in Santiago called the Compostela, and for the Via Francigena, the Testimonium – which is awarded after walking a specific distance before reaching Rome. For the Via Francigena, this distance is 100 kilometers on foot or 200 by bike.

Pilgrimage Routes have fixed itineraries with defined "stages" - often determined by ancient pilgrims' travelogues. For example, the Via Francigena's itinerary was based on the travelogue of Sigeric, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who returned to England from Rome in 999 and noted all his journey's stops.

Another characteristic is the type of accommodation available to pilgrims. Ancient pilgrims would sleep in "hospitales" (the modern hostels), religious buildings, parishes, and what is known as "pilgrim accommodation" - which still exists for modern pilgrims. However, those who wish to walk a pilgrimage route can also choose to stay in hotels and B&Bs.

Pilgrim accommodation is generally focused on the official stops of the itinerary.

Do I Have to Walk the Complete Pilgrimage?

Definitely not. While the ancient idea was for pilgrims to walk the entire itinerary as a sign of devotion, modern pilgrims can choose the number of stages that best fit their training and time availability.

At SloWays, we have pre-created trips of approximately one week to 10 days, representing "slices of the itinerary" that one can choose to walk. Someone could decide to start from the beginning and walk the entire route year after year, or maybe start from an area they are most attracted to (for example, Tuscany) or even from the end – similar to the Camino de Santiago, where the last section is the most popular as it grants access to the Compostela. The section of the Via Francigena connecting Viterbo to Rome is very popular as it allows obtaining the Testimonium.

Do I Need to Be Religious to Walk a Pilgrimage?

No. According to research by the European Association of Vie Francigene, only a minor percentage of people who walked a camino in 2023 did so for religious reasons.

Many decide to walk a pilgrimage to pursue their own idea of spirituality, for the pleasure of walking, or just because they want to immerse in the beauty of the places in a way only a walking tour can offer.

What’s the Difference Between Cammino and Pilgrimage?

The short answer is: all pilgrimages are cammini, but not all cammini are pilgrimages. We call "Cammini" long-distance trails with a defined itinerary that can be walked in different stages, but refer to "pilgrimage" for cammini originally walked by pilgrims on their way to a place of devotion.

For example, we consider both the Via Francigena and St. Francis Way as both a Cammino and a Pilgrimage, but the Via del Viandante (the Wayfarer’s Path) and Cammino della Costa Salentina (Salento Coastal Walk) as Cammini but not Pilgrimages.

At SloWays, we offer both Cammini and Pilgrimages, so the choice is yours – if you are not looking to walk a pilgrimage for religious reasons, we suggest choosing your itinerary based on the places you’d love to visit and, of course, your level of training. We would be delighted to help you choose the perfect trip.

How Do I Choose the Perfect Pilgrimage or Stage to Walk?

Some Pilgrimages are quite short – for example, the Cammino di Oropa is 4 days long and well suited for beginners, making it the perfect choice for a first camino.

With longer itineraries such as Via Francigena or St. Francis Way, several factors can help you decide which stage to choose – the areas you’d like to visit, the sceneries you’d like to walk through, your level of training, and more.

For Via Francigena, we have created a blog post to assist in your decision-making:

For other pilgrimages, we always suggest our travelers read the trip pages dedicated to each stage of the pilgrimage, which include a description of each day of the stage as well as details on the difficulty and a section called “Is This for Me?” with further details on why you should (or shouldn’t) choose that specific section.

We are always here to assist. Send us an email or give us a call!

Which Italian Pilgrimage Do You Suggest?

Some of our favorites:

Our top pilgrimage is surely Via Francigena – the Cammino to Rome – connecting the Great Saint Bernard Pass in Aosta Valley to Rome and then continuing down to Brindisi. It’s a stunning walk through the whole country, offering ever-changing scenarios and a true immersion in our culture and beauty.

St. Francis Walk – this pilgrimage follows the steps of Saint Francis, the Patron Saint of Italy, through the central, greenest regions of the country. It includes beautiful, energetic places such as Assisi and Spoleto, offering stunning scenery – a meditative, beautiful walk.

Cammino di Oropa: located in the untamed, beautifully lush region of Biella, one hour from Milan, this surprising pilgrimage is perfect for both beginners and experienced walkers alike and leads to the stunning Oropa Sanctuary.

Via Romea Germanica: Named after the 'Germanic' countries of Northern Europe, the Via Romea Germanica was once a preferred path to reach Rome - an alternative to the well-known Via Francigena, sharing the last section into Rome. From the enchanted forests of Casentino to an ancient city suspended on a rocky cliff; from the rugged beauty of the Tuscan-Romagnolo Apennines to the serene beauty of Cortona, ending with the well-preserved Roman roads of Latium.


Wanderlust Nominee Best Specialist Tour Operator 2023
Nominee Best Specialist Tour Operator 2023
Change currency:

We accept:


We accept:

FTO ATTA member
100% Green Travelife
FTO ATTA member 100% Green Travelife

S-Cape Countryside Travels srl
Borgo Allegri 16R
50122 Firenze FI
P. IVA 05227330486

© 2024 SloWays. All rights reserved.
Touroperating S-Cape Countryside Travels srl Borgo Allegri 16R 50122 Firenze FI, Italy
VAT Nr 05227330486

We and selected third parties use cookies or similar technologies for technical purposes and, with your consent, for functionality and marketing (personalised ads) as specified in the cookie policy. Denying consent may make related features unavailable.