Day One on the
Way of St. Francis ~
La Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano, 14.9 Kilometers (9.26 Miles)

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The first stage of the Way of St. Francis, La Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano, was a joyful one, full of anticipation for the journey that was ahead. 

“A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi

Maps and Stats of the Way of St. Francis, La Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano

The Way of St. Francis from La Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano, walks from the Sanctuary high in the mountains, almost entirely downhill the entire 15 kilometers and into the town of Pieve Santo Stefano. 

On the map below, I have included the 650 meter walk from the bus stop in La Beccia to the La Verna Sanctuary, for clarity, however this addition is not included in the total stats for the day. 

Here are my GPS tracks for the entire walk from La Beccia to Pieve Santo Stefano, with services included along the route. You will notice that no services are available for the entire day, and the Way consists of a beautiful forest walk for almost the whole 15 kilometers. You will need to bring your own food and water. 

As you can see, aside from a few ups, the day is mostly downhill, for a relatively easy first day. The total elevation gain is 493 meters (1617 feet) and the total loss is 1180 meters (3871 feet). Notice the word "relatively," as this day has a considerable amount of elevation gain and loss. As you guessed, there are a lot more elevation changes to come on this Cammino! 

Elevation Profile, Day One, La Verna to Pieve Santo StefanoElevation Profile, Day One, Way of St. Francis, La Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano

Remember, you can download my entire Via di Francesco Map, with all the available GPS tracks, and all important services and places on it! Just click on the link in this paragraph to get the file. In order to make the file usable, you will need to upload it to your GPS device or to Google Maps. It's easy! You can contact me for help if needed. 

Photo-Rich Travelogue on the Way of St. Francis, La Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano

The Sanctuary of La Verna is a special place, where St. Francis received the stigmata, and indeed, the veil is thin here, especially at dawn. Please enjoy my video of the sunrise over this most sacred place, on the morning of our first day of our pilgrimage, as the basilica bells call the faithful to morning mass. 

I was awake and up before the rest and while I did not attend the mass (in Italian), I sat here in silence for a long time, watching the sunrise. Breakfast was not until 0800, and with an 0700 sunrise, there was no hurry. 

La Verna Sanctuary at DawnLa Verna Sanctuary at Dawn

Soon enough I joined my walking companions, and we attended the pilgrim's blessing at 0755, just after the mass and just before breakfast. 

Italian breakfasts consist of coffee and croissants, and the breakfast at the sanctuary was even simpler. Only pre-packaged toast and/or cookies and coffee. 

We had gathered all our belongings prior to breakfast (checkout is no later than 0900) and set off as soon as we finished our breakfast.

The above quote is a wonderful quote from St. Francis as the metaphor felt so appropriate as we three, Rich, Nick and myself set off for the day through the thick forests of the mountain above the Santuario della Verna, called the Monte Penne. The rays of sunshine were trying to break through the trees, but even if it were raining, the sunshine in our hearts could not have been squelched!

From the pilgrim's dormitory, the Way of St. Francis from La Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano is to the east and through the main road. We walked together, initially with a hushed reverence, eastward on the cobblestone road. 

Immediately outside of the gate is a painted waymark, shown below. Seeing my first Via di Francesco waymark was exhilarating for me! Yay! I was finally on the Way!

First Painted Waymark on Rock CliffFirst Painted Waymark on Rock Cliff

Just beyond the waymark is a lovely statue of St. Francis and a child (not pictured).

Here it is a fabulously shaded walk along walls and split rail fences of the Sacred Mountain, with few rays of sunshine penetrating through the deep shadows of the morning.

Deeply Shaded WalkDeeply Shaded Walk, Leaving the Sanctuary

At the first remote parking area, you stay to the left as the signs indicate. While there are a lot of different signs, remember to follow the small sign with the yellow Tau, or "T" on it.

In a few meters, you pass the 2nd parking area and a restaurant. Continue onward for a few more meters and take a wonderful forest lane to the left when the paved road takes a huge hairpin turn to the right, shown below. You are approximately 780 meters total from the Basilica at the La Verna Sanctuary. The turn is well-signed.

Turn Off Pavement and Onto This Lane, on Day One of the Way of St. Francis from La Verna to Pieve Santo StefanoTurn Off Pavement and Onto This Lane

At approximately 1.2 kilometers from the sanctuary, the lane branches into two, and we take the decidedly uphill one to the left. 

In the photo below, you can see an Italian couple that we met as we gathered by the now-familiar conglomerate of signs at the turn. They were toting full size backpacking packs! We continued on together.

Left Turn Onto TrailLeft Turn Onto Trail

And quickly after the turn above, the trail becomes rocky and quite steep, with a cross visible ahead at the top, the Monte Calvano. This felt like a significant climb to me, so get ready for a good warm-up, straight out of the gate!

Trail SteepensTrail Steepens, Way of St. Francis, La Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano

As the steepness and rockiness intensified a bit, the sun tried to break through the trees. The Via di Francesco does not disappoint! 

Rocky and Steep PitchRocky and Steep Pitch

By about 2.4 kilometers into the day, the first summit is reached at the Monte Calvano after about 150 meters (492 feet) of elevation gain. You know you are at the summit, when you approach your first gate, shown below, leading you to a path of grass, of sorts. 

Gate to Meadow at Monte CalvanoGate to Meadow at Monte Calvano

The signs guide you onward and into an open meadow, where the views abound as you walk up the hillock shown in the photo below. The five of us paused here for a brief snack and to admire the stunning views at the top.

Open Meadow at the First Altitude Top, at Monte Calvano, on Day One of the Way of St. Francis from La Verna to Pieve Santo StefanoOpen Meadow at the First Altitude Top, Monte Calvano

The Via goes onward, across the meadow and down the other side, with visible signs ahead, beckoning you to go the right way. Eventually,  you come to another, almost identical gate as shown above, at the end of the clearing. 

As the path takes a wide bend to the north, a two-track lane appears, making the way more easy to follow, shown below. 

A Lane Appears at the Foot of the MeadowA Lane Appears at the Foot of the Meadow

The lane continues onward, more strongly, and you re-enter the lush forest, with occasional breakthrough views of the mountains along the way. The walk is essentially all downhill from the meadow.

Walk Through Lush ForestWalk Through Lush Forest
Views at Break in the Forest, Day One on the Way of St. Francis from La Verna to Pieve Santo StefanoViews at Break in the Forest

At approximately 4.75 kilometers into the Way of St. Francis from La Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano, you come to a prominent gravel road at the Passo della Pretelle, a low point and a pass between your two climbs of the day. 

Cross Gravel Road at the Passo della PretelleCross Gravel Road at the Passo della Pretelle

Of course, if you are at a low point, your next two kilometers will be a gradual uphill once again, rising only 110 meters (360 feet) this time.

After the pass, the wide lane has now become a nice single track trail. After two kilometers on the single track, at approximately 6.7 kilometers total, you reach the second altitude top of the day. The mountain above you to the north, which you have skirted is the Monte della Modina.

Rich Approaches the Second Altitude Top near the Monte Della Modina, on Day One on the Way of St. Francis from La Verna to Pieve Santo StefanoRich Approaches the Second Altitude Top, Near Monte della Modina

In a few more meters, after the second summit, the cammino takes a sharp turn to the left at the signs, below.

If you look closely on the white sign, it reads "Pieve Santo Stefano, 1.52." Interesting. Now, we knew that the town was not a mere 1.52 kilometers away, but we didn't know what the number meant.

It wasn't until some time later, we figured that the number must mean approximate hours to walk. With Pieve Santo Stefano about nine kilometers away, that seemed about right. Here is Nick, explaining this phenomenon as he points to the sign.

Nick at Left Turn, Below Monte della ModinaNick at Left Turn, Below Monte della Modina

After the turn above, the Way begins its strong descent, however, it remains on a ridge top, almost all the way from here into Pieve Santo Stefano. 

Shortly after the second top, as you follow the high ridge line, the forest turns from a thick deciduous one into a pine forest. It is a striking change for the next several kilometers.

It seemed like an inviting place, so Rich and I stopped for lunch, as the others kept moving. Plus, we were more than halfway for the day, and I fully enjoyed taking it more slowly on this first day. 

Pine Forest on Ridge Top, on Day one of the Way of St. Francis from La Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano.Pine Forest on Ridge Top

And then quite precipitously the cammino drops steeply from the ridgeline. You can see the Italian couple at the bottom of the steep pitch. We had caught up to them once again, despite our stop for lunch.

Precipitous Drop From RidgePrecipitous Drop From Ridge

Here is a look back up the precipitous drop, from below. 

Look Back Up from the BottomLook Back Up from the Bottom

At the bottom of the drop, is this nice open area at a crossroads, shown in the next photo, that would have been a better place to stop for lunch as the Italian couple is doing. The sign indicates that Pieve Santo Stefano is only an hour and a quarter away and continues straight on. We had come about 8.44 kilometers by this intersection and had about 6.5 kilometers left to go. 

We chatted a bit more with the couple, and left them to continue onward. We were never to see them again. Most likely we were moving much faster, due to the size of their packs. It's a shame because they were a really nice couple. 

Opening at the BottomOpening at the Bottom at Crossroads

Just as precipitously, the pine forest ended and we were back into the lush deciduous forest. The gravel road through the forest continues to descend steeply, with more prominent twists and bends.

Return to the Deciduous ForestReturn to the Deciduous Forest

At about 10 kilometers total, the gravel road takes a big bend southward, and picks up a power line for about 100 meters, before turning away and to the southeast.

Following the Power LineFollowing the Power Line

The Way follows this gravel road in essentially a straight shot for another two kilometers, descending steeply. This section of road is long, straight, hot and more open. I found it to be rather boring, not to mention a bit hard on the feet because of the steep grade. 

In addition, we could now hear the roar of the highway to our left, the SS3bis, which was also not very inviting. 

Open, Unattractive Stretch of Gravel RoadOpen, Unattractive Stretch of Gravel Road

At about 12 kilometers into the Way of St. Francis from La Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano you come to another big bend in the road, this time towards the west, shown below. 

Large Bend in Road to the WestLarge Bend in Road to the West

All of the sudden you can see glimpses of the town of Pieve Santo Stefano before you, shown next. It was a welcoming sight, nestled in the valley below. 

First Glimpse of Pieve Santo StefanoFirst Glimpse of Pieve Santo Stefano

In about another 100 meters from the bend with the views, the landmark horse stable called AsvaNava comes into view. 

AsvaNara Horse FarmAsvaNara Horse Farm

A few hundred meters after the horse farm, the Via di Francesco joins an unnamed paved road that continues the steep descent from the ridgetop. 

Join a Paved RoadJoin an Unnamed Paved Road

Now, more views were opening up and the Tuscan countryside is absolutely marvelous through here. 

Gorgeous Tuscan CountrysideGorgeous Tuscan Countryside

After joining the paved road, it continues, winding down the mountain, essentially all the way into town. Stay left at a branch in the road at about 13.6 kilometers. 

Paved Road Continues, Winding Down the MountainPaved Road Continues, Winding Down the Mountain

After 1.6 kilometers on the pavement, and about 14 kilometers total, come to this T-intersection with the Via San Lorenzo and turn right. You can see Pieve Santo Stefano in the background. It is close now!

Right Turn at T-Intersection by an InstituteRight Turn onto Via San Lorenzo at T-Intersection

It is another 600 meters walking on the Via San Lorenzo. Here is Rich, getting even closer to town. 

Riches Approaches Pieve Santo StefanoRiches Approaches Pieve Santo Stefano

The Via San Lorenzo takes you over the SS3bis that you have been hearing, on an overpass.

After crossing the highway, the street becomes the Via della Casina and winds it way down steeply, on your final steps into town, shown below. 

Final Steps Downhill into Pieve Santo StefanoFinal Steps Downhill into Pieve Santo Stefano

And abruptly, the Via della Casina ends in a T-intersection, and you turn right onto the main street for the final 200 meters of the day, to the Hotel Santo Stefano, shown below. 

Destination ~ Hotel Santo StefanoDestination ~ Hotel Santo Stefano

This hotel is the most centrally located and the one where we chose to stay. There are no inexpensive accommodations in Santo Stefano, but this hotel, and most likely the other possible accommodations will give you a few Euros discount if you identify yourselves as pilgrims. Plus you are given an early, and incredibly hearty breakfast, with yogurt, meat and cheese, in addition to the usual coffee, juice and croissants. 

It is an added bonus that the attached restaurant, the Il Portico, is a good one, but be aware that they close for siesta at 2:30. Nick, who arrived much sooner than we did, made it in time. We joined him at 2:00 for some appetizers and of course, a refreshing beer!

There are three other possible accommodations here, the Il Castellare B&B, which may be more economical if you don't mind the extra 900 meter walk to the west of town.

Next is La Torre di Pieve, the most expensive option, also in the center of town, a bit farther south. And finally, the Hotel Euro, about 1.5 kilometers to the south of town, off-cammino for the mountain route, but close to the cammino for the valley route (see day two).  

Please check my map above for the precise locations of these accommodations. 

Pieve Santo Stefano is not a very attractive town, and the reason is that two events wiped out the historic features of it: The flood of 1855 and its total destruction during the WWII bombings.

There is, however, several attractions, the Small Museum of Diaries, the Piccolo Museo del Diario, right along the Camino in the center of town, with its collection of more than 10,000 local diaries, and the hermitage, Eremo di Cerbaiolo, which you can visit on day two. Unfortunately, this hermitage was also bombed during WWII, so the current structure is modern, however the setting is still idyllic and worth a visit!

Reflections on the Way of St. Francis, La Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano

All-in-all this was a most wonderful, sunny and relatively easy day. It was not difficult to keep our spirits high. 

There are quite a few restaurants and pizzerias in town, but on the Sunday of our arrival, only one was open! The pizzeria was also a bakery, and I located it on the map, the Antico Forno Barbagli, just a few meters south of the Hotel Santo Stefano. The food was quite good!

By total chance, as we stood at the counter, we noticed a foreign-looking couple, also getting a pizza. I asked the woman if by chance she was Catherine, that I had met on a Via Facebook group. And indeed she was! 

We would run into Catherine and her husband several times in the future. They were staying at the Hotel Euro on the south side of town, and were planning to walk the valley route. We would not see them again for several days, but it was lovely to meet them. Another ray of sunshine in our already full day!


May your own Way of St. Francis from La Verna to Pieve Santo Stefano be filled with heartfelt moments, that only opening your heart to the sunshine will provide! Regardless of the weather! Ultreia!

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Need suggestions on what to pack for your next pilgrimage? Click Here or on the photo below!

Carbon Trekking Poles

Carbon fiber construction ( not aluminum) in a trekking pole makes them ultra lightweight. We like the Z-Pole style from Black Diamond so we can hide  our poles in our pack from potential thievesbefore getting to our albergue! There are many to choose from!  ( See more of our gear recommendations! )

Gregory BackPack - My Favorite Brand

An ultralight backpack should serve you well for years, like my Gregory has - six Caminos in all! My 28L Women's pack gets a 5-star on Amazon (Ones for Guys too)!

Microfiber Towel Set

Do not forget your quick-dry microfiber towel!

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