The ancient Via Francigena is a pilgrim route starting as far away as Canterbury in England and in a sense is the "mother road" for Christian pilgrims in Europe. For centuries, pilgrims from across Europe would trek across the Alps using the famous Saint Bernard Passes on their way to the pilgrim churches of Rome. During the Middle Ages, the Via Francigena went further south to the port of Bari, home to the remains of Saint Nicholas and departure point for the Holy Land and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. While not as popular or well maintained today as the route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the Via Francigena can still be traversed through Italy to Rome on foot for those who want to walk in the footsteps of so many faithful souls before them.
However, a more practical approach may be to combine modern transportation with hiking the better-maintained portions of the original route. Recently the Italian Government has announced plans to promote and refurbish the Via Francigena to bring it up to the level of the pilgrim routes of Santiago de Compostella, Fatima and Lourdes.
Pilgrims traveling on foot will need a detailed map of their route since the Via Francigena is not well marked in many locations. Accommodations reserved for pilgrims along the route are also in short supply as well, most pilgrims end up staying in hotels or private hostels but there are opportunities to sleep in monasteries and convents so long as there is room available.
A Pilgrim Letter or Pilgrim identity card issued by a priest or will usually grant a stay in an Italian monastery or other church facility for at least one night.