Today is National Walking Day, an ecological and healthy way to discover unique glimpses to impress in the eyes and in the heart. This is why especially today it makes sense to walk in the thick of the Lombard woods, one hour from Milan. The via Francisca del Lucomagno, an ancient pilgrim’s path to Rome, has been restored in the Italian stretch from Switzerland to Pavia and now allows you to cross on foot (or by bicycle) the Lombardy in a week: from Lavena Ponte Tresa to the covered bridge of Pavia there are 8 stages of approximately 17 kilometers, in an area rich in historical, artistic and naturalistic testimonies. Entirely marked out with over 1000 trail markers, along its course there are at least 40 accommodation facilities that offer hospitality to new pilgrims at very affordable prices.
Here are the eight Italian stages of the Via Francisca
- From Lavena Ponte Tresa to Campo dei Fiori. It starts from the Lavena Ponte Tresa customs house, on the border with Switzerland, along the lake of Lugano and then enters the Argentera Park, a very green area, rich in water, waterfalls and mills, some of which have been frescoed at early 1900s. Continue through Marchirolo to Ghirla, where you cross a natural oasis with a small lake. The path passes to the Badia di San Gemolo in Valganna, a Benedictine monastery that dates back to the year 1000. A few more kilometers and you enter the Campo dei Fiori Regional Park. The stage ends at the edge of the Campo dei Fiori Regional Park, the mountain of Varese.
- From the Campo dei Fiori to Varese. Along the path n. 15 of the regional park you pass through Brizio and Valicci, two ancient villages, and then arrive at the Sacro Monte di Varese (Unesco monument), a complex of 14 chapels along the Via Sacra that climbs to the sanctuary of Santa Maria. The place is very suggestive and very panoramic. The whole area of the Park was an important tourist area at the beginning of the twentieth century, as evidenced by the Grand Hotel Campo dei Fiori (unfortunately abandoned) and the numerous Liberty villas.
- From Varese to Castiglione Olona. From Varese you cross the city to Capolago, from which you can enjoy a magnificent view of Lake Varese and continue to Gazzada, Morazzone up to the Park of the Rile, Tenore and Olona streams where geology enthusiasts can see a natural monument that takes the name of Gonfolite, a bank of cemented gravel that was created millions of years ago when the area was a sea coast. We walk slightly downhill on a disused railway track to Castiglione Olona in an area rich in evidence of industrial archeology.
- From Castiglione Olona to Castellanza. From Castiglione Il Cammino follows the course of the Olona river along its green banks. After a few kilometers, immersed in the woods, you will reach the Monastery of Torba, another Unesco heritage in the Province of Varese, managed by Fai, dating back to the eighth century and the Lombard period. Past Castelseprio, another monastery deserves a stop, that of Cairate, on a site that dates back to Roman times: after a long restoration, it was reopened for visits.
- From Castellanza to Castelletto di Cuggiono. After Castellanza, you enter the Alto Milanese Park, a predominantly agricultural area dotted with farmhouses and rural buildings. Then you cross the Parco delle roggie near Buscate up to Cuggiono where you will arrive in time to see Villa Annoni (seat of the Town Hall) and its remarkable park.
- From Cuggiono to Abbiategrasso. You walk along the Naviglio Grande, which in this section is navigable, and cross pretty towns that have sprung up on its banks, such as Boffalora di Sopra, Ponte Vecchio di Magenta, Robecco sul Naviglio (to see Villa Archinto) and Cassinetta di Lugagnano, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, with its “villas of delight”, a dozen patrician residences that are reflected in the water.
- From Abbiategrasso to Bereguardo. You leave Naviglio Grande, towards Morimondo, a small town surrounded by nature where there is an imposing 12th century Cistercian Abbey (you can visit on Saturdays and Sundays, by reservation) which also offers workshops for adults in miniature, fresco and herbal medicine (abbaziamorimondo .it). Continue in the countryside up to Bereguardo, where a visit to the Visconteo castle, seat of the Municipality and of the Civic Library, is interesting.
- From Bereguardo to Pavia. The last stage winds along the course of the Ticino, which here creates several loops. When the road reaches the bank of the river we are entering Pavia, a city that has always been a hub for pilgrims from all over Europe. Here the Francisca joins the path of the Via Francigena: today’s pilgrims go to the tomb of Sant’Agostino in the basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, then to the Certosa, the Duomo, the botanical garden, the covered bridge, to ending up in one of the many trattorias on its river.
The path is described in the guide La via Francisca del Lucomagno (Terre di Mezzo publisher)
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