The stewards of the Via Francigen made an excellent choice a few months ago to turn the Colle di Val d’Elsa option into the main route and to improve it by connecting it to the stunningly beautiful Sentiero Elsa pathway and park.
Because of 2-3 stairways and 4 river crossings on boulders, the path is not at all suitable for bicycles (or horses) so if you’re on a seat or saddle, plan on the original route along the road, and to enjoy the best part of the experience, go to the southern end, where the auto road crosses the river, and access the park there. In just a few hundred meters you’ll come to the main waterfall and swimming hole.
Note also that the new option adds 1.2km to the stage’s total distance and that there are boulder crossings on the river that may make people with a backpack feel a little unsteady. Walking poles don’t help here, and in fact are a hindrance to being able to grasp the ropes.
The official route as seen on the VF App follows an oddly serpentine route through the lower part of Colle di Val d’Elsa. The recommended route instead begins at the beginning of the Sentiero Elsa so you can enjoy the whole experience.
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Continue until a switchback ramp takes you downhill to the city’s lower, newer neighborhoods. Watch for the pedestrian signal to cross through the lower gate of the new city and continue onward, turn left in one block at Via dei Fossi. Jog left in two blocks and pass through Piazza Arnolfo di Cambio (cafes, restaurants). The official tracks now direct you onto a pathway at the end of the piazza that will take you past the Olympic swimming pool and Rifugio d’Elsa, but instead turn right on the auto road and then left at the traffic circle in two blocks. This puts you on the SP5 Via Martiri della Libertà which you follow across the bridge. Turn left immediately after the bridge and head downhill on the somewhat slippery dirt path that begins the Sentiero Elsa, a very delightful, forested pathway that leads alongside the turquoise river waters for the next 3.5km. Note: the path includes several boulder crossings of the river (with ropes to help steady you) as well as several steep stairways. Pass several swimming holes until the biggest and most beautiful at the foot of Cascata del Diborrato. After the falls, take the stairway up to Viale dei Mille, and turn left to cross the bridge on this auto road. After crossing the bridge, veer left toward Ponelle, passing the San Marziale pilgrim accommodation.