Being a pilgrim had never appealed to me. Slow suffering for organised religion? No, thank you. But cycling 300 kilometres from Siena to Rome on the Via Francigena taught me I was being as archaic in my thinking as the route itself.
Via Francigena (fran-CHEEDG-ena), loosely meaning the road through France, is a lesser known and longer Camino de Santiago. Since the 8th century, pilgrims have travelled its 1900 kilometres from Canterbury to the Eternal City at the risk of shipwreck and pirates, wild animal and bandit attacks, sickness and starvation. Those days it really was all about the destination.
Never one road but various routes between significant centres and safe havens, the Via Francigena eventually disappeared. In 2009 the Italian government launched a project to recover its section and also developed CicloVia Francigena from Swiss-Italian border to Rome. Hikers and cyclists are encouraged to travel one way.