LightFoot Guide to the Via Francigena

LightFoot Guide to the Via Francigena The LightFoot Guide to the Via Francigena by Babette Gallard and Paul Chinn was published in 2008 by Pilgrimage Publications, Fougères, France. At the time of this writing (9/2008) this is the only guidebook to the Via Francigena (VF) I have seen in English. It comes in two volumes, one on the VF from Canterbury, England to Great St. Bernard Pass on the Swiss-Italian border and the other volume from there to Rome. I received a copy of LightFoot Guide to the Via Francigena: Summit of the Great St. Bernard Pass to Rome. I am reviewing this book on the Italian segment of the FV.

Before I get into the details and nuances of my feelings, I must say that this an excellent book, well worth its higher than average price tag. Having said that, here are some details.

As I mentioned on other parts of this web site, in 2006-07 we walked from Germany to Rome following the VF from Fidenza. I review this book as one who has walked along the paths being described here.

The LightFoot Guide is a wonderful book, clearly a product of a lot of gathering, work, and organization. I reviewed it extensively and used it to cross-check some of my facts as I finished my book, Germany to Rome in 64 Days.

While walking the VF we used Guida della Via Francigena by Monica D'Atri and Franco Cinti and AIVF maps and their Dormifrancigena B along with their Vade Mecum. All are in Italian. We made it, indeed, we made it well with our marginal Italian. But now a book in English! And such a thorough book!

As I studied the book comparing it to my notes, recollections, and these other books I used, I wished more and more that I would have had it when we walked. The book supplies GPS waypoints and data to generate them. I have no feel for them so I can say nothing about them. Even without a GPS and knowing nothing about what all those numbers really can do for me, I can see the LightFoot Guide could be a great help to someone walking the VF. I seem to be able to flow with a map much better--maybe it's my 55 years of using a map :). The guide has information for the walker, the bike rider, and those going by horse.

The LightFoot Guide a wonderful work.

Here are some highlights of the book and (of course) a few things I'd like to see different:

  • The book is divided into 34 chapters, one for each day's segment of from around 20 to 40 kilometers. The maps give main and alternate routes. The alternate routes are both where required by bicycles and where someone may just want to walk an alternate.
  • Every segment has convenient altitude maps with kilometers and altitude for the day's walk. That gives me a nice idea of the whole day though it is not stated whether these altitudes are for only the main route and not the alternate. The charts do not identify specific locations through the day other than kilometer marks. So it does not help me make a decision of the main route or an alternative if I am at town Xyz (when I don't really know how far it is from the beginning of the day). Adding the GPS way-points to these altitude charts would do wonders to help. And I am, as many on the VF are, getting older, my eyes are getting weaker.
  • The numbers on the altitude charts are tiny. I cannot read them without an additional magnifying glass and bright sun. In a dark (as most are) hotel room, I am confident that I could not read them.
  • The altitude maps also sometimes are not as long as the segment they appear in. I have no way of know where they start/end in these cases.
  • The maps seem to be better than any that I used on our walk. Nonetheless, I would like more detail, I use them more than I use words. In addition, there are only a few GPS way-points on the maps. I would like to see all (or most of) the way points on the maps so I could quickly refer back and forth between the words and the map.
  • There are only a few city maps. More would be helpful. I got really lost in Sarzana and a bit less so in Lucca. Maps or even more words would have helped. But this book is more helpful in that way than the books I used.
  • The book does not show the remaining distances to Rome at the beginning of each day. That is, there is no "543 km left to Rome," or something like that at the beginning of each segment. A simple box on the corner of the page with the number would be a very convenient addition. I always want to know how far I have came and how far I have to go at as short a glance as possible.
  • The book includes "Blogs," which are running narratives from the authors' walks and bicycling down the FV. Their stated purpose is to let others know that they, the writers, had problems and joys also walking the VF just like the readers will. In fact, there are some 44 pages of "blogs." The book has 230 or so pages. Almost 20% of the weight of this "guidebook" is material not guiding me. I admit it is "nice," but it is unnecessary weight when every ounce has to be accounted for. I would rather read it before I left and leave it at home but I cannot rip it out as it stands; it is interspaced with the guidebook material. The authors are considering addressing this in future editions.
  • Another thing with the blogs: they are not always titled with the same from-to titles as the segments in which they are located. That confuses me.
  • The price is high. (...I know, one supper for two along the VF as you get farther south and you have spent the price of the book.) Is the color necessary? The authors think so. It seems to me it is not. You pay for color.
  • The book includes a lot of good general information and information on lodging all along each segment so you can stay in several places other then just the end of the segment. The lodging list is large but not exhaustive. We stayed in some places not listed here and the other guides we used include some not here. So you still should consider using more than just one guide.
In the end, despite these minor uncomfortable areas, This is a great book. I wish it would have been available in Dec 2007 when we started in Fidenza. Life would have been a lot easier.

Check out the online sample pages and then go for it. I think you will be happy you did so.

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Copyright © 2008-2012 Mike Metras,