Important commentary on Covid-19

For all travellers joining an Odyssey small group tour we ask for respect for all member of the group and yourself and the communities we are visiting and that:

  1. If requested by Odyssey Traveller you will undertake to take a Covid-19 test and share the result with Odyssey no more than 72 hours before a tour commences.
  2. You respect the communities you are visiting and the Covid-19 directions issued including social distancing.
  3. You will advise your program leader/Odyssey of any underlying change in your health whilst on tour and up to 14 days after the tour.
  4. Odyssey and its suppliers will observe as a minimum the WTTC guidelines and those of the region you are visiting their Covid-19 requirements, the higher standard of the two instructions will be applied for a small group tour.
  5. We remain aware, vigilant and empathetic to the need to change arrangements in response to the challenges of managing Covid-19 before and during a small group tour for the benefit of all in the internal and external Odyssey Traveller community.

Travellers should also familiarise themselves with our Peace of mind travel policy for Covid-19 as well as the terms and conditions applicable at the time of booking.

Via Francigena Walking Tour: Great St. Bernard Pass to Rome

Join Odyssey Traveller on a small group package tour for mature and senior travellers, as we walk sections of the ancient pilgrimage route Via Francigena, or The Way Through France, a journey that takes us from Geneva, Switzerland, through the Great St Bernard Pass and several Italian towns, until we reach Rome, the Eternal City. These Walking tours are suitable for couples and solo travellers with a reasonable level of fitness.

About the Via Francigena

The Via Francigena became a European Cultural Route in 1994. The European Cultural Routes were created by the Council of Europe, the oldest international organisation in the continent, in order to demonstrate Europe’s shared cultural heritage and collective memory through these journeys that traverse borders and histories. It launched the Cultural Routes programme in 1987 with the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage route that runs across northern Spain from the Pyrenees to the shrine of St. James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostela.

Traditionally, Via Francigena connects Canterbury to Rome and goes through half the continent of Europe and four countries: England in the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, and Italy. Sigeric, the 10th century Archbishop of Canterbury, took this route to receive his pallium (liturgical vestment) from the Pope in 990, and wrote down his itinerary upon his return. It is this account of his journey that modern travellers follow to take the same route. It is one of Europe’s most challenging pilgrimage walks, but a rewarding adventure for those who are eager to see more of what the continent can offer. For Odyssey Travellers these are small group tours for mature and senior travellers with an age relevant  good level of fitness attained. This walking tour is suitable for couples and solo travellers.

Our Tour: Great St. Bernard Pass to Rome

For this tour, instead of beginning in Canterbury, we begin with a drive through the Great St Bernard Pass, the third highest road pass in Switzerland which connects it with the Aosta Valley in Italy. This will be a beautiful hour-long drive with views of the snow-covered Alps. Our walks will then commence in Italy, primarily through the beautiful region of Tuscany and neighbouring Umbria. This will involve riding a coach to an easier starting point from a base city, and walking anywhere from 5 to 14 kilometres.

We will walk along a beautiful mountain lake (Great St Bernard Lake) and through breathtaking mountain scenery with a view of the Apennines and the Apuan Alps, through verdant fields dotted with vineyards and agricultural lands. We will pass through Crete Senesi ("Senese clays"), dotted with medieval villages, woods, and the grey clay knolls caused by erosion that give this region its name. We will visit medieval towns perched on hilltops which once were the home of the Etruscans, Romans, and Tuscan rulers, before entering St. Peter’s Basilica in the Eternal City.

We will spend nights in:

  • Geneva
  • Lausanne
  • Aosta
  • Pavia
  • Piacenza
  • Lucca
  • San Gimignano
  • Siena
  • Orvieto
  • Rome

Tour Highlights

St Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva

We will visit Geneva's Old Town (Vieille Ville) to have a feel of ancient Geneva. The historic district is dominated by St Peter's Cathedral (St Pierre Cathedral), where Protestant Reformation leader John Calvin once preached in the 16th century. We will visit the cathedral and will also have a chance to go up its two towers (96 steps up the northern tower and 60 steps up the southern tower) for a panoramic view of the city.

Lake Geneva cruise

We transfer to Lausanne, Switzerland's fourth largest city, and noted for its wine and for being the home of the International Olympic Committee. Here we will go on a cruise of Lake Geneva, the largest lake in Switzerland.

St. Bernard Monastery

We will take a short walk along the beautiful mountain lake, Lac du St Bernard (Great St Bernard Lake) and visit the St Bernard Monastery (Great St Bernard Hospice), which dates from the 9th century. Located high in the Alps (2,400 metres), it is well known as the home of the large Saint Bernard dog breed, which the monks acquired in the 17th century as their companions and as watch dogs who can rescue people lost in the snow.

Pietrasanta and Pisa

We will walk with views of the Apuan mountains to the fine buildings and sculptures of Pietrasanta. The town sits between the Mediterranean and the Apuan Alps, and has attracted artists such as Michelangelo to work with marble, making the town feel like an open-air museum.

In the afternoon, we transfer to Pisa for a walking tour. We will also gain entrance to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Florence

Florence is the capital and most populous city in Tuscany, and attracts millions more people each year. It has been ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, owing in part to its artistic and architectural heritage. Florence was a centre of medieval trade in Europe, and is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance.

On this sightseeing tour, we will visit the city's main sights, including:

  • Uffizi Gallery - "offices", once the offices of the Florentine magistrates, now housing a large collection of art commissioned or owned by the Medici family, which ruled Florence for the most part of 1434 to 1737
  • Ponte Vecchio - a medieval bridge that is the only bridge across the Arno River left intact after World War II
  • The iconic Duomo, or the dome of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

Orvieto

Orvieto dates from Etruscan times, became a Roman city (Urbs Vetus), and fell under Lombard and Tuscan rule. We will explore this history and more on a walking tour. Our tour includes entrance to the Orvieto Underground, a subterranean maze of tunnels that began with the Etruscans' building of cisterns in order to collect rainwater; subsequent inhabitants then continued to dig and add spaces until Orvieto had a network of 1,200 underground structures. We will also see Orvieto's Cathedral, a Gothic masterpiece.

Viterbo

Viterbo is a central Italian city located at the foot of the Cimini Mountains. It once rivaled Rome as the papal residence in the mid-13th century. Viterbo's walled medieval centre is beautifully preserved, showcasing 13th- and 14th-century houses and palaces.

We will visit  the acclaimed Villa Lante, a harmonious garden paradise, lauded as the zenith of Mannerist garden design in Italy. It was designed in the 16th century by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, for Gianfrancesco Gambara (1533–1587) shortly after the latter’s appointment as cardinal by Pope Pius IV.

We will also visit the Palazzo dei Papi di Viterbo, a former bishops' palace that was enlarged to serve as a papal residence. The Pope's residence was moved here in 1257 due to hostility and urban violence in Rome. Viterbo would remain the papal seat until 1281.

Rome

The famous dome of St Peter’s Basilica was designed, in succession, by Michelangelo, Giacomo Della Porta, and Carlo Maderno, and is a distinctive landmark in Rome. Upon entering the lavish interiors of the basilica, we will be greeted by Michaelangelo’s moving Pieta and the statue of St. Peter sitting on his throne. The right foot of St. Peter’s statue has been worn down from the touches of the hundreds of thousands of visitors and devotees. If able, we may also choose to climb up to the top of the dome to see a stunning view of St Peter’s Square and, on a clear day, the rest of the city.

We will also visit the Vatican Museums, which feature art collections built over centuries by the Popes. The Vatican Museums’ most notable feature is the wondrous Sistine Chapel.

For more details, click the ‘Top 5’ or ‘Itinerary’ buttons above! If you’re keen to experience this tour, please call or send an email. Or, to book, simply fill in the form on the right hand side of this page.

For more hiking and walking tours, click here.

Articles published by Odyssey Traveller for Walking and Hiking tours for seniors

Articles about Italy published by Odyssey Traveller

For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.

External articles to assist you on your visit to Italy

Articles

Frequently Asked Questions About Italy

Italy has relatively mild weather year-round, though the north tends to be hotter and the south cooler. In summer, expect crowds and hot, sunny days. Winter is less busy, but can be cold and many sights (particularly in coastal areas) are closed for the season. Spring and autumn offer pleasant and mild weather without the crowds of the summer high season.

The Vatican City State (Stato della Città del Vaticano) is a walled enclave within the city of Rome. It is the smallest internationally recognised independent state in the world by both area and population. It is an ecclesiastical or sacerdotal-monarchical state ruled by the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. The highest state functionaries are all Catholic clergy of various national origins. Since the return of the Popes from Avignon in 1377, they have generally resided at the Apostolic Palace within what is now Vatican City although at times residing instead in the Quirinal Palace in Rome or elsewhere.

Please note that the Vatican City is distinct from the Holy See, which dates back to early Christianity and is the main episcopal see of about 1.2 billion Latin and Eastern Catholic adherents around the globe. The independent city state, on the other hand, came into existence in 1929 when the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy was signed by Prime Minister and Head of Government Benito Mussolini on behalf of King Victor Emmanuel III and by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri for Pope Pius XI. According to the terms of the treaty, the Holy See has “full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction” over the city state.

The Euro is the official currency of Italy. Notes are in denominations of: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500. Please note that the €200 and €500 notes are reasonably rare and may be quite difficult to change. Coins are in the denominations of: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 cents, 1 Euro and 2 Euros.


PDF of Tour PDF of Reading List

Overview: We make our own way to our hotel in Geneva. The group will meet with the Odyssey Program Leader and sit down for our welcome dinner at the hotel.

(D)

Accommodation: Ramada Encore Genève

Overview: Today we will be travelling from Geneva to Lausanne, but first we will have a half-day tour of our base city. Geneva, Switzerland’s second largest city, is home to the headquarters of international organisations including the World Health Organisation, and a rich and vibrant counterculture made up of artists and creatives.

We explore its main sights with our local guide and on our touring coach. We will visit Geneva’s Old Town (Vieille Ville) to have a feel of ancient Geneva. The historic district is dominated by St Peter’s Cathedral (St Pierre Cathedral), where Protestant Reformation leader John Calvin once preached in the 16th century. We will visit the cathedral and will also have a chance to go up its two towers (96 steps up the northern tower and 60 steps up the southern tower) for a panoramic view of the city.

We transfer to Lausanne, Switzerland’s fourth largest city and noted for its wine and for being the home of the International Olympic Committee. Here we will go on a cruise of Lake Geneva, the largest lake in Switzerland.

We will have dinner at our accommodation in Lausanne.

(B, D)

Accommodation: Swiss Wine Hotel or similar

Overview: Today we will be beginning our journey on the Via Francigena.

But first, we will transfer to Montreux to have a guided tour of Chateau Chillon, a medieval island castle located on Lake Geneva. The castle was first documented in 1150, a fortification of the Counts of Savoy. Chateau Chillon had an excellent location between the Vaud Riviera (towards Germany and France) and the Rhone Valley, a quick access to Italy. The Counts of Savoy ruled over states that later formed the Kingdom of Italy.

After our tour of the castle, we will travel to Col du Grand Bernard (Great St Bernard Pass) on the Via Francigena. The Great St Bernard Pass is the third highest road pass in Switzerland connecting Martigny in Switzerland to Aosta in Italy. This will be a beautiful drive with views of the snow-covered Alps.

We will take a short walk along the beautiful mountain lake, Lac du St Bernard (Great St Bernard Lake) and visit the St Bernard Monastery (Great St Bernard Hospice), which dates from the 9th century. Located high in the Alps (2,400 metres), it is well known as the home of the large Saint Bernard dog breed, which the monks acquired in the 17th century as their companions and as watch dogs who can rescue people lost in the snow.

We then continue to Aosta, Italy, where we will stay for the night.

(B, D)

Accommodation: Hotel Express Aosta East or similar

Overview: Today we will be walking a section of the Via Francigena with our local guide, walking from Chatillon through the Aosta Valley to Verres (14 kms., approx. 3 hours). This walk will take us through medieval ruins and a part of the ancient Strada Delle Gallie, an old Roman road that used to connect Paris to Rome.

We will take the touring coach to Ivrea, with a stop to appreciate this 20th-century industrial city developed for Olivetti, manufacturer of typewriters, mechanical calculators and office computers. It was inscribed in 2018 on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

From Ivrea we continue on to Pavia. We will have dinner in our hotel.

(B, D)

Accommodation: Hotel Excelsior or similar

Overview: From our hotel in Pavia we transfer to Belgioso, where we begin our walk to Miradolo Terme (10 km, approx 2 1/2 hours), passing through fields dotted with vineyards before arriving at the city centre.

From Miradolo Terme, we ride by coach to Piacenza (“pleasant abode”). Piacenza was originally founded as a Roman military colony (Piacentia, 218 BC) and became the site of the Council of Piacenza. It has notable cathedrals and palaces.

We will have dinner at a local restaurant and stay for the night.

(B, D)

Accommodation: Stadio Hotel or similar

Overview: From Piacenza, we move to Fornovo di Taro, where we will begin our walk to Ozzano Taro (6 kms., approx. 3 hours) through beautiful mountain scenery with a view of the Apennines.

We transfer to Lucca. The charming town of Lucca located at the foot of the Apuan Alps. Colonized by Rome in the early second century BC, Lucca retains its Roman influences in the numerous marble columns of the city’s main square, Piazza San Michele, and in the church of San Michele in Foro from which the piazza takes its name. The church, founded in the 8th century, has an imposing marble statue depicting the archangel Michael defeating a dragon with a spear.

We will have dinner at a local restaurant and stay for the night.

(B, D)

Accommodation: Alla corte di Angelie or similar

Overview: We travel from Lucca to Massa, to begin our walk to Pietrasanta (12 kms., approx. 3 hours), a town on the northern Tuscany coast. This walk will take us from Massa’s marble monuments, through a hike with views of the Apuan mountains, and to the fine buildings and sculptures of Pietrasanta. The town sits between the Mediterranean and the Apuan Alps, and has attracted artists such as Michelangelo to work with marble, making the town feel like an open-air museum.

In the afternoon, we transfer to Pisa for a walking tour. We will also gain entrance to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

We return to Lucca for the night.

(B, D)

Accommodation: Alla corte di Angelie or similar

Overview: Today we will have a break from walking the Via Francigena to enjoy a full-day excursion to Florence.

Florence is the capital and most populous city in Tuscany, and attracts millions more people each year. It has been ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, owing in part to its artistic and architectural heritage. Florence was a centre of medieval trade in Europe, and is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance.

On this sightseeing tour, we will visit the city’s main sights, including:

Uffizi Gallery – “offices”, once the offices of the Florentine magistrates, now housing a large collection of art commissioned or owned by the Medici family, which ruled Florence for the most part of 1434 to 1737
Ponte Vecchio – a medieval bridge that is the only bridge across the Arno River left intact after World War II
The iconic Duomo, or the dome of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

We return to Lucca for the night.

(B, D)

Accommodation: Alla corte di Angelie or similar

Overview: From Lucca we transfer to Fuccechio. From there we walk to San Miniato (8 kms., approx. 2 hours), a medieval town halfway between Pisa and Florence, perched on top of three hills overlooking the verdant fields of the Arno Valley.

We transfer to San Gimignano, where we will stay for the night.

(B, D)

Accommodation: Fattoria San Donato or similar

Overview: San Gimignano has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990, and we will have the opportunity this morning to explore the rich architecture and history of this medieval hill town. San Gimignano served as an important relay point for pilgrims travelling on the Via Francigena. We will be able to view the towers that dominate San Gimignano’s landscape. These towers, were built by the families that controlled the town as a symbol of their wealth and power. Of the original 72 tower-houses, 14 survived the test of time.

We then begin our walk to Colle di Val d’Elsa (“Hill of Elsa Valley”, 11 km), leaving San Gimignano behind to pass through three valleys dotted with agricultural land and vineyards. Colle di Val d’Elsa is renowned for its crystal glass production, and its historic centre dating from the Middle Ages, perched on top of a hill offering views of Tuscany.

We transfer to Siena, where we will stay for the night.

In Siena, we will be treated to the city’s magnificent Gothic architecture, preserved through the centuries. Established as the military colony Saena Julia in the first century BC, Siena is a well-loved tourist attraction and home of the famous Palio de Siena, a horse race held twice a year. At the heart of the city is the fan-shaped Piazza del Campo, at the central intersection of the city’s three hillside communities. Siena has the Siena Cathedral (Duomo), with its intricate façade and equally impressive interior decorated with striped marble, and the Santa Maria della Scala, a former hospital now turned museum with an emphasis on its legacy for caring for pilgrims travelling the Via Francigena.

(B, D)

Accommodation: Garden Hotel or similar

Overview: Today we will transfer to Rigomagno, our starting point for our walk to Lucignano (5 km., approx. 2 hours). Lucignano is a beautiful medieval walled town situated on a hill between Siena and Arezzo, and was the subject of battles between these two cities in the Middle Ages.

We return to Siena after our walk.

(B, D)

Accommodation: Garden Hotel or similar

Overview: From Siena, we travel south by coach to Ponte d’Arbia. This drive will take us through Crete Senesi (“Senese clays”), dotted with medieval villages, woods, and the grey clay knolls caused by erosion that give this region its name.

Ponte d’Arbia is named after a five-arched bridge spanning the Arbia, a tributary of the Ombrone River, and is a small part of the municipality Monteroni d’Arbia.

From Ponte d’Arbia, we begin our walk to Sant’Antonio (5 km.), and finish the day in Orvieto, a town located on a 195-metre rock above the junction of two rivers.

(B, D)

Accommodation: Oasi dei Discepoli or similar

Overview: Orvieto dates from Etruscan times, became a Roman city (Urbs Vetus), and fell under Lombard and Tuscan rule. We will explore this history and more on a walking tour. Our tour includes:

Entrance to the Orvieto Underground – a subterranean maze of tunnels that began with the Etruscans’ building of cisterns in order to collect rainwater; subsequent inhabitants then continued to dig and add spaces until Orvieto had a network of 1,200 underground structures
Orvieto’s Cathedral – a Gothic masterpiece

The afternoon is free to spend at leisure.

(B)

Accommodation: Oasi dei Discepoli or similar

Overview: From Orvieto we will be travelling to Rome, the end of the route of the Via Francigena.

Along the way, we will stop at Viterbo, a central Italian city located at the foot of the Cimini Mountains. It once rivaled Rome as the papal residence in the mid-13th century. Viterbo’s walled medieval centre is beautifully preserved, showcasing 13th- and 14th-century houses and palaces.

We will visit

Villa Lante – a harmonious garden paradise, lauded as the zenith of Mannerist garden design in Italy; it was designed in the 16th century by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, for Gianfrancesco Gambara (1533–1587) shortly after the latter’s appointment as cardinal by Pope Pius IV
Palazzo dei Papi di Viterbo – a former bishops’ palace that was enlarged to serve as a papal residence; the Pope’s residence was moved here in 1257 due to hostility and urban violence in Rome; Viterbo remained the papal seat until 1281

After our tour of Viterbo, we move to Rome, where we will have dinner and stay the night.

(B, D)

Accommodation: Hotel Quirinale or similar

Overview: Today is a free day to spend at leisure. Spend this time to relax in your hotel room, or to explore Rome on your own.

Accommodation: Hotel Quirinale or similar

Overview: Today we will spend a full day exploring the Eternal City with our local guide.

We will visit:

Vatican museums including the Sistine Chapel
St Peter’s Basilica
Trevi Fountain
Spanish Steps
Colosseum (no internal visit)

In the evening, we will have a farewell dinner as a group.

(B, D)

Accommodation: Hotel Quirinale or similar

Overview: The end of breakfast marks the end of the tour and our services.

(B)

1
Drive through the Great St Bernard Pass, the third highest road pass in Switzerland.
2
Visit the St Bernard Monastery (Great St Bernard Hospice), located high in the Alps (2,400 metres) and home of the large Saint Bernard dog breed.
3
Enjoy a full-day sightseeing tour in Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance.
4
Visit Viterbo, which once rivaled Rome as the papal residence in the mid-13th century.
5
See the wondrous Sistine Chapel and other breathtaking artwork in the Vatican Museums.
Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy
Art in Florence, Italy
St Peters Cathedral, Rome
aerial view of ponte vecchio in Florence
Florence's cathedral and skyline at sunset
Florence, Cathedral
Vineyards in Tuscany
San Gimignanao, Tuscany
Medieval architecture Italy, Florence
Hhistory of Italy, Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
Landscape in Crete Senesi, Tuscany, Italy
Exterior view of Duomo di Orvieto, a 14th-century Gothic cathedral in Orvieto, Italy
Beautiful view of the old town of Orvieto, Umbria, Italy
Aerial view of the Swiss Alps with the Great St Bernard Pass
St Peters Basilica , Vatican
Colosseum
Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy
Villa Lante, Bagnaia, Lazio Italy
Tiber River Statue Villa Lante Italy