Wonder Ways: 5 hiking routes out of Rome

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in October 2016.

Story highlights

The "Italian Wonder Ways" radiate outward from Rome, taking in surrounding provinces

Highlights include spectacular mountain scenery, lakes, castles and palaces

CNN  — 

Rome is a magnet for visitors, but sometimes they struggle to escape its pull. That could change with the launch of a new collection of pilgrimage routes that begin or end in the Italian capital.

The “Italian Wonder Ways” radiate outward from Rome, taking modern day-pilgrims through the provinces of Umbria, Lazio, Tuscany and Marche. They’re seen as smaller-scale rivals to northern Spain’s popular Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, but with less emphasis on arduous activity.

These trails showcase some of the finest scenery, food and culture in central Italy. They’re not just aimed at pilgrims either.

Tailored itineraries created by a hospitality industry consortium cater to folks with different interests and levels of fitness. Pilgrims can strike out for a strictly religious or spiritual experience alongside hikers, bikers, families and even travelers on horseback.

Medieval marvels

Destination Rome: All trails converge on the Eternal City.

Alternatively, they can pick up a map and guidebook and travel independently at their own pace.

Highlights along the five routes include magnificent medieval towns and cities such as Siena, Assisi, Gubbio, Itri and Anagni. There’s also the spectacular scenery of the Apennine mountains, volcanic lakes such as Lake Albano and Lake Bolsena, and the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo.

Accommodation ranges from high-end luxury to low budget.

Marco Aguiari, a dentist from Nemi, near Rome, is one of the first to explore the trails, praising the “diverse scenery, food, wine, culture and opportunity to meet fellow pilgrims and local residents” that they offer.

“There’s something for everyone,” he says. “You don’t have to be a dedicated hiker or even religious to appreciate them.”

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Transcontinental pilgrimage

One of the five routes, the Via Francigena, is a medieval walking trail that extends from Canterbury, through France and Switzerland, to Rome, and then onward to Jerusalem.

Meaning “Frankish route”, it was once followed by archbishops traveling to the Eternal City to receive papal blessings and paperwork, as well as ordinary religious pilgrims. Though it fell out of favor compared with the pilgrimage route to the city of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain, parts of the Via Francigena have survived until the present day.

In 2009 the Italian government launched a project to restore the whole Italian section of the route.

Other routes include the Cammino Francescano Della Marca/Via Lauretana, Via Di Francesco, Via Amerina and Cammino di San Benedetto.

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Chariot tracks

Old town: Itri boasts beautiful churches and bell towers.

The Via Francigena del Sud traces its origins all the way to Roman times when it formed part of the most important paved road of Rome, the Via Appia, connecting the capital to the western port of Brindisi.

Along the route, Itri boasts a number of beautiful churches and bell towers.

A short drive from Itri, the characterful Grande Albergo Miramare (Via Appia Lato Napoli; +39 0771 320047) is an elegant hotel housed in a former summer residence of Italian Queen Elena di Savoie, and comes complete with its own private beach.

Just outside Itri, the Via Francigena follows the route of the Appian Way as it passes through the beautiful Parco Naturale dei Monti Aurunci.

At various points the original Roman flagstones of the Appian Way are visible, complete with ruts from chariot wheels.

Click through the photo gallery above to see some more trail highlights.

Daniel Allen is a journalist and photographer based in London and St. Petersburg