Our Journeys

Walking the Franciscan trail with the Sierra Club
May 17 - 28, 2016


Walking the Franciscan Trail – Spring 2016

Called “Tuscany without tour buses,” Umbria boasts a rich history, picturesque villages, and a beautiful countryside. Our outing combines the mysticism of the Franciscan Trail with the history of an influential Italian family. We will be introduced to the region by its locals: a respected priest, a titled contessa, and an assortment of villagers who approach the world with a medieval perspective.

We will walk parts of the Franciscan Trail and discover Umbria’s most enchanting – but lesser known – places, explore a few regional and national parks, and possibly view one of Gubbio’s medieval festivals from the balcony of our guide’s palazzo. Our tour includes a day on Trasimeno Lake visiting a bird sanctuary and a special island nature preserve. We will stay in small hotels and an agriturismo (countryside cottages with pool and sauna) and sample the regional cuisine. Hikes will be three to six miles a day, with gains of 2,000 feet at the most – a moderate trip.



DAY 1 - Orvieto

After meeting in Rome, we will be transported by private bus to the beautiful village of Orvieto, a picturesque hill town built high on a plateau of tufa rock. Besides its spectacular cathedral, Orvieto is known for its mysterious Etruscan caves and delicious wine. We'll visit the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, have time to explore the town on our own, and sample local cuisine at a small restaurant in town. Sleep in Orvieto

DAY 2 - Civita Bagnoregio

This morning we will explore the beautiful, crumbling historic village of Civita Bagnoregio, and hike through the countryside to enjoy the stunning landscape. We will also sample typical bruschettas and local wines at an old mill before returning to enjoy Orvieto's duomo. We will then try the region's best gnocchi (potato dumplings) at a local restaurant. Walking distance: 4 miles. Sleep in Orvieto

DAY 3 - Parco Fluviale del Tevere

An early departure from Orvieto will take us to Parco Fluviale del Tevere, the Tiber Park, where we will enjoy a hike and learn how the locals are preserving two separate river basins. If time allows, we will visit Todi, another exquisite Umbrian hilltown. Then we will drive to a beautiful countryside agriturismo situated in the peaceful Umbrian countryside near Gubbio, where we will have time to get settled before another delicious dinner. Walking distance: 5 miles. Sleep near Gubbio

DAY 4 - Gubbio

Today we will enjoy one of the best preserved medieval villages in central Italy -- Gubbio -- at the base of the Appennines. By special invitation, we will visit an ancient palace, now an historical monument, where our hostess Alessandra will transport us back in time and tell us how the locals used to live, eat, pray, and die. She will also explain Gubbio's famous Ceri Festival and what the people from Gubbio are doing to protect their cultural identity and traditions. A direct descendent of the first person to preserve St. Francis' basilica in Assisi, Alessandra will share the history of St. Francis and describe the various trails walked by the saint in his lifetime. We will then hike the local mountain, Monte Ingno, and visit the St. Ubaldo Monastery. From this point on, we will be on the Franciscan Trail. Walking distance: 4 miles. Sleep near Gubbio

DAY 5 - Monte Cucco

Today we will visit the highest mountain in Umbria, Monte Cucco, part of Parco de Monte Cucco. Hiking the ring route, we will enjoy incredible views of surrounding mountains. During our walk we can search for fossils in the sloping sedimentary rock. The flower varieties here are diverse and, on a clear day, we may see the Adriatic Sea. The park has mineral springs, healthy beech forests, and deep caves accessible only to small groups of travelers. It is also home to wolves and golden eagles. After our walk we can enjoy the quiet of a tiny church where St. Francis frequently prayed. Walking distance: 5 miles, 1,500-foot elevation gain. Sleep near Gubbio

DAY 6 - Assisi

T'Assisi is a mountain town situated just above the setting where the Franciscan movement started. We will climb to the mystic Eremo delle Carceri, a monastery hidden among holm oaks. This is the single most important part of the Franciscan trail, and the birthplace of the modern Italian environmental movement. In the 1970s, the World Wildlife Fund launched its Operazione San Francesco, to save the very last wolves in the country, a tribute to St. Francis's love of and devotion to nature. During our tour of Assisi we will see the treasures that adorn St. Francis' basilica including the tomb of the saint and Giotto's frescoes. We will enjoy the evocative atmosphere of Assisi's roads and piazzas, and a panoramic view of the Umbrian plains. Walking distance: 3 miles, 1,000-foot elevation gain. Sleep near Gubbio

DAY 7 - Gubbio Double Ring Trail

Today we will walk the trail called Gubbio Double Ring from the top of Monte Ingno down into town through the prettiest unspoiled countryside in Umbria. The trail winds through a forested canyon and past a small stone shrine and chapel that were recently used in filming a movie about St. Francis. Wildflowers here are identified on park display plaques. We will follow a stream through a rocky area of exposed (calcare) limestone, and at the end of the hike, it's possible to visit the open market or enjoy time on your own at the unique Gubbio shops in the afternoon. Sleep near Gubbio

DAY 8 - Spello

We will drive by bus to the beautiful hill town of Spello, where we will see incredible frescoes and walk through the cobblestone streets. We will then go to La Spella church, on top of a hill, to start a very scenic walk on the hillsides of Monte Subasio, the mountain of St. Francis. On our way back to Gubbio, we will stop at Santa Maria di Angeli, a pilgrimage site, where a tiny church sits within a large cathedral, all dedicated to St. Francis. Walking distance: 5 miles, 1,000-foot elevation gain. Sleep near Gubbio

DAY 9 - Fonte Avellana

Today we explore a mystical abbey and one of the most important monasteries in Italy. Surrounded by chestnut trees and wildlife diversity, the Fonte Avellana was an important learning center at the time of St. Francis. It is regarded today as the place where history was remembered by monks who worked long hours transcribing ancient documents. Walking distance: 3 miles, 2,000-foot elevation gain. Sleep near Gubbio

DAY 10 - Trasimeno Lake

Today we will move from Umbria to Tuscany, the region of Italy that's most familiar to Americans. However, instead of staying on the beaten path, we will visit Trasimeno Lake, part of Trasimeno Park, which is also home to the Oasi Naturalistica La Valle, a bird sanctuary and environmental research center. Here we will take a local boat to the island of Polvese. We will also visit what is arguably the best olive oil production center in Italy. After tasting here, you will never think the same way about olive oil again. Tonight we will sleep in a picturesque small hotel. Walking distance: 3 miles. Sleep in Tuscany

DAY 11 - La Verna

La Verna is the other famous Franciscan center of Italy. Today we will drive to a mountain near La Verna, where we will walk the Franciscan trail to Monte Calvano, Monte Penna, and finally to La Verna. Here you will visit the site where St. Francis received the stigmata. After a visit to the monastery where we will see the art of della Robbia, we will drive back to our inn for our farewell dinner. Walking distance: 3 miles. Sleep in Tuscany

DAY 12 - Departure through Arezzo

We'll take a morning transfer to Arezzo where we will arrive just before 11 a.m. From here you can get by train to Rome or Florence, where you can either fly home or further explore the wonders of Italy.


What is included in the trip

  • Lodging with private bath in small inns and an agriturismo
  • All meals (except one dinner)
  • On-trip transportation

What is not included

  • International airfare to and from Italy
  • Personal expenses
  • Travel Insurance
  • Tips for drivers and guides