Our group of 6 female relatives (ages 18 to 70) completed a self-guided walking pilgrimage from Assisi to Rome on June 14. We walked for 9 days, skipping 3-4 of the stages with most elevation gain due to time limitations. Overall, we found the Way of St. Francis challenging yet rewarding. A highlight was Rieti and the spiritual solace of the Sanctuaries surrounding it. Two of us had walked 160 km of the Camino Frances last April, so we can make comparisons to that experience:
- The arrival in Rome did not create nearly the same feeling of awe and fulfillment as the arrival in Santiago. Perhaps that was because we found ourselves surrounded by tourists and souvenir hawkers, rather than by other pilgrims who had shared our journey experience.
- The Way of St. Francis required mental exertion from having to navigate, rather than just follow a well-marked trail. Although we had the Sandy Brown guidebook, 2 maps, gpx tracks, and occasional blue and yellow markers, there was still uncertainty every day. Some of our group found this stimulating, while for others this created a lot of stress.
- Food was much better Italy. Inexpensive house wine was better in Spain, in my opinion.
- Some stages ended up being longer than we expected (14-18 miles). Some of us had issues with this, either due to insufficient advance preparation, or not pacing ourselves properly that particular day.
- We did expect there to be far fewer services available in Italy, so we were more prepared with snacks and water. A positive surprise was the availability of refreshing and pure drinking water fountains in many (sometimes obscure) places along the route.
- The towns and small cities we stopped at in Italy were fascinating. This made for even more exhausting days, because we could not resist exploring once we arrived at each destination. In Spain, we stayed in the countryside or villages where there wasn't much to see, so we got more rest.