The Celestial City of the Via Francigena

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Once the Pilgrim’s Progress has led him to Siena, the Pilgrim may be excused for thinking that it will not get much better than this For nearly a thousand years, the 2 km stretch of the Via Francigena that cuts through the city of Siena has been the highlight of the trail.

Imagine: most of the medieval pilgrims who came here from northern Europe would have been raised in smoke-filled peasant huts that were made from wood, and the cities they knew were tightly woven mazes of timber-framed hovels with an excrement-filled gutter running in the middle. They would have left behind the northern European lowlands with their leaden skies, muddy soils and near-permanent drizzle – and were now stepping into THIS.

Piazza del Campo

And remember: they would have been totally unprepared for this experience, with no illustrated tour guides around, no TV images

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Walking in the Footsteps of Ancient Pilgrims

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The half-stage to Monteriggioni delivers a good lesson in authenticity –and the key to unlocking the treasures of the Via Francigena

If you have neither the time for a full trip down the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome (a journey of 2000 km that features 80 stages and crossings of both the Channel and the Alps) nor for the three-week trek through Tuscany (the trail’s last stretch from Lucca to Rome), I strongly advise you to do the short walk from Abbadia Isola to Monteriggioni.

If you leave early on a balmy day in May, as we did, you will arrive at your destination in time for lunch – and are able to enjoy everything there is to enjoy about this blessed part of the world in a single day: the great scenery, the sunshine, the wonderful food.

Not to forget

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New York of the Middle Ages

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San Gimignano on the Via Francigena Truly great hiking trails are a mix of four elements, and the Via Francigena – stretching for nearly 2000 km from Canterbury to Rome – has them all.

Firstly and secondly, the Francigena Way features beautiful landscapes and variety: the combination that defines any “good” hiking trail. On top of that, it also offers a historical dimension: as the old pilgrimage trail from northwestern Europe to the “centre of Christianity”, the Via Francigena manages to connect you to history on a personal level, allowing you to follow in the footsteps of all those pilgrims who have come down this way since the Middle Ages.

Unfortunately, however, walking the entire Via Francigena would also take as much time as it did all those hundreds of years ago – i.e. roughly three months. Which is why few people

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The Architecture in Montecatini Terme

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Columns and cupolas in search of nervous excitement Montecatini prides itself, with a certain justification, on its reputation as a “city of the arts”.

The Montecatini Contemporary Art Museum is well stocked and the proud owner of a large-scale work by Joan Mirò, and for as long as anybody can remember, artists have always loved the resort: Verdi and all the other greats of the Italian opera came here frequently (sometimes to perform their works), but visual artists, too, sought peace, quiet and inspiration in Montecatini – including major figures such as Dior, Versace and Coco Chanel (do they count? I believe they should), René Magritte, Giorgio de Chirico and the film makers Vitorio de Sica and Pier Paolo Pasolini (surely the most unexpected name on the list).

Montecatini’s greatest works of art, however, are the buildings of the Terme themselves, specifically the Stabilimento Tettuccio, constructed

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The Splendours of Montecatini

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A walk through one of Europe’s most glamorous spa towns Tuscany is where two of Europe’s foremost cultural routes cross, one an ancient pilgrim’s path to Rome and the other a network of spa towns across the continent.

Such a crossing may be a great starting point, but eventually, you have to decide which way you are going – or, at the very least, which way you will be going first.

Which is why today we are exploring the European Route of Thermal Heritage: a group of currently two dozen thermal towns in Europe – the network is still growing – which have joined together to protect their rich common heritage as places of cultural exchange throughout European history.

Members of the European Historic Thermal Towns Association (which sponsors the Route) include spa towns from Bath in Britain to Bursa

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