Key Differences Between the Camino de Santiago and Via Francigena
It is important for pilgrims to know that the Via Francigena is completely unlike the Camino de Santiago in many ways. Beyond the obvious difference in distance, the Via Francigena is a more European route. The customs and languages are much more varied and there is truly no “common tongue” along the way. A good two-way translation app, such as Microsoft Translator (iOS/Android) or Google Translate (iOS/Android), as well as a willingness to learn courtesy expressions in English, French, German and Italian are recommended.
Another key difference is far fewer pilgrims walk the Via Francigena and even fewer walk through England, France and Switzerland. It is very likely that pilgrims walking prior to Italy will have multiple days were they do not meet any other pilgrims. In fact, much of the Via Francigena is a solitary walk with hours passing without crossing any other walkers or local people.
For those starting the pilgrimage in England, please be aware that post-Brexit immigration laws may be in effect and that traveling from the U.K. into France will require customs and immigration processing. At the time of this writing, French immigration and customs inspections are performed in Dover, England prior to boarding the ferry to Calais, France. Pilgrims should stay current on immigration matters from reliable sources and follow signs at the Dover Ferry Port for “foot passengers”.
A minor but important distinction between the Camino and the VF has to do with local currencies. While traveling in England, all prices and payments will be in British Pounds. Throughout the entirety of Europe, the Euro is the currency for prices and payments. In many areas it is expected that merchants will be paid in cash and some may not accept credit / debit card payments. This is especially true in smaller villages and rural areas.
If you have walked the Camino, you will be familiar with the albergues and pilgrim hostels along the way. These basic, inexpensive lodgings cater to the pilgrimage with cooking facilities and abundant beds. Unlike the Camino, there are very few pilgrim accommodations along the Via Francigena. In many locations, pilgrims will need to book hotels or bed-and-breakfast accommodations at least one day prior to arriving. This key difference in infrastructure can make for some longer stages along the VF, where Camino facilities are rarely more than 5km away at any time. If you are not opposed to camping, there are campgrounds nearby the Via Francigena that can help reduce lodging costs considerably. In some areas, abbeys and monasteries will gladly welcome pilgrims for a modest fee, but the difference in lodging (and lodging costs) is one of the more significant differences between these two pilgrimage routes.
Lastly, it is very important for pilgrims along the Via Francigena to be prepared with a map, the official Via Francigena app, or updated GPS track of the official way. Unlike the Camino where yellow arrows are very prevalent, you may find that some areas of the VF have no directional markings. It is very beneficial to be familiar with basic navigation and to refer to your map regularly.
For more information on the Via Francigena stages, GPS / KML files and route maps, please see this Guide to the Via Francigena.
Husband. Father. Backpacker. Pilgrim. Author.
My recent treks include the Camino de Santiago through Portugal and Spain as well as section hiking along the Florida Trail and the Appalachian Trail. In 2021 I began walking the California Missions Trail in the United States and – once it is safe to do so – I will complete England’s ancient Pilgrims’ Way from London to Canterbury. Afterward, I’ll begin the Via Francigena, the historic way in Europe connecting Canterbury to Rome.