Via Francigena Variant – Lucca to Altopascio through Sant’Andrea di Compito

I always cringe a little when people say they don’t want to walk the Francigena between Lucca and Altopascio, so they start their Tuscan walk at someplace like San Miniato, which of course is a fine town. It’s just that to miss Lucca is to miss one of the highlights of the Via Francigena. Along with Siena, Lucca preserves its medieval center in a picturesque and authentic way, so it’s a great starting place and really shouldn’t be missed. If it’s just a matter of getting from Lucca to Altopascio, it’s not such a big deal and definitely is not a big enough issue to skip Lucca altogether.

There are three main options from Lucca to Altopascio:

Option 1: The official, primary route: The walk from Lucca to Altopascio on the primary route is mostly on sidewalk, with a few road edges alongside busy streets of around 2-300m thrown in. Also included are several interesting small towns, such as the centers of Capannori and Porcari, which have their own interesting sites. Most interesting, though, is Badia Pozzeveri and its ancient Abbey of San Pietro with its important archeological dig. Next to the ancient abbey relic is a functioning pilgrim hostel, giving a good option for an overnight. The official route also has a lot going for it — it’s the original route along the Via Romana and as such, it’s the shortest way, clocking in at only 18km.

Option 2: The Francigena Variant through Sant’Andrea di Compito: I love this mountainous variant. In fact, the variant has variants, and the way I walk is the shortest and easiest route, diverging from the “official variant” in that it bypasses the famous “villas of Vorno.” Until just before Altopascio this variant manages to miss the industrial areas, misses any busy roads (except for about 300m) and hits two important places, the historic Lucca Aqueduct and its Parole d’Oro mountainous water source for the walled, Tuscan city below. The route clocks in at 26km and includes some serious up- and downhill walking, but the views are also fabulous and the walk is serene and quiet. See the end of this article for walking details. Also, credit to Giovanni Ramaccioni who showed me this way.

Here’s what it looks like:

Option 3: The train: As I point out in my guidebook, the train is an easy and cheap option – 6 minutes and €3.60. However, the primary walking route is not so bad that a person needs to skip it, and I recommend it or the variant since safe and relaxed walking is always better than a train ride.

Here are my pics of the variant, with directions just afterward.

Walking directions for the Lucca to Altopascio variant (includes a shortcut)

Walk from Centro Lucca to the train station and use its underpass to cross the tracks. Turn left and then at the water fountain turn right to find the lower domed “temple” of the aqueducts. Follow alongside the aqueduct for the next 3km.

Turn left at the end of the aqueduct, at southern temple-cistern, and follow the path to a smaller cistern ahead. Head down a few steps at the smaller cistern and take a path behind it bearing toward the forest-covered hills beyond. You soon curve left toward a second small cistern. Turn right at the path to head toward the water source from the second cistern. Turn right on the gravel road ahead, and then make an immediate left on the uphill road marked “no trespassing, private property.” The owners have given permission for pedestrians to use this route and are most concerned to keep out motorcycles.

Time to climb! Remain on this gravel road without deviation as it continues uphill. The road ascends moderately with occasional views of Lucca to the left. Come to a fork with, on your right, an iron gate keeping guard offer the olive groves beyond. Here take the left, flatter path. Now you are on a pleasant, shaded dirt track, heading to the town of San Giusto di Compito. Pass a refuge hut on the right and then on the left come to an apparent summit with outstanding views over the plain of Lucca.

Begin downhill on the narrow, rocky path. There is a momentarily somewhat treacherous 10m on rocks, roots, and dirt before you cross a small stream and continue on this mountain traverse. Note the CAI markings along the way, which are an abbreviated way of saying you are on the variant VF. Continue down the narrow path and come to a gravel road at a terraced olive orchard. Continue downhill, following the #136CAI markings. The road continues steeply downhill with occasional switchbacks. Pass a stone house on your right with the sounds of a busy and noisy stream just beyond. Before the next house turn right to catch a bridge over the stream, and then turn left on the gravel road leading downhill into the town of San Giusto di Compito.

Pass the town’s church, and rehabbed medieval bell tower and turn right. At the end of the road, after a few dozen meters, turn right onto via San Andrea which will carry you over a low saddle between the hills to the town bearing the same name. The road soon makes a sharp left at the bridge, where instead you follow signs that take you straight uphill on a gravel path. Pass a natural spring outdoor water fountain on your right, a good place to stop for a lunch or a snack and bracingly cold draught of mountain water. Continue up the gravel road until it turns to asphalt and turn left. Now you find yourself on the outskirts of the town of Sant’Andrea di Compito at its ancient clock tower.

Just after the fountain turn left. In 75m follow signs to fork right onto a paved road climbing up the hillside. The road turns to gravel between walls as it climbs uphill. At the top of the hill come to our fork among olive trees. Go right for a level traverse on the gravel road around the mountainside on your right. Enjoy views to left of San Leonardo in Treponzio as the descent begins. The road continues downhill, and when it turns to asphalt, ends. Turn right, and continue downhill on the asphalt road. The road continues downhill, turns left, and it comes to an end. Turn right and continue carefully on the edge of the two-lane highway, the Vía di Tiglio, for the only highway walk of the variant stage. Take the first asphalt road to the left about 400m later. Follow this flat road (Via della Francese) as it first meanders between low hills before finding one last hill to climb and then emptying out to the plain of Lucca . Come to the tiny, roadside village of San Ginese (bar closed on Sunday)

Cross the road and continue downhill. Soon arrive at the flatlands. Turn right to begin zigzagging across farmland on the Plain of Lucca at first on the Via Della Columbaia. Take the first left and continue as the road comes to the first drainage canal. The road turns right, and after crossing a small bridge, turn left on the road that continues above marshy fields. Turn left to cross over twin canals on a narrow bridge next to a solitary restaurant painted in orange. After crossing a third bridge turn left on a gravel road alongside another canal. Enter the outskirts of Porcari at the village of Padule where you pick up brick sidewalk. After the sidewalk ends, turn right at the next street, Vía Baccaione. Finally, this road comes to an end and you turn left alongside a new canal, still amidst the farmlands. Pass a restaurant (open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner). Just afterwards take a bridge to cross to the opposite side of the canal. Directly right and a few kilometers distant, see the Abbadia Pozzeveri church tower on the life left and in the distance, the clock tower in Altopascio. Pass a factory on your right, and then cross over the Firenze-Mare Freeway on a bridge. When the road ends turn right, in the direction of Altopascio. Continue among factories, fields, and grain elevators. Although the road turns left, branch straight on the new road that follows a small ditch toward a cluster of three-story homes. Continue past the homes where the gravel road turns right and then left. A train tracks on your left are the main line between Florence and Viareggio. You are now a stone’s throw across the railroad tracks from Badia Pozzeveri. Continue on as the road turns left to cross the tracks. At the stop sign with its oratorio, turn right onto Via Catalani (a left would take you in 300m to Badia Pozzeveri’s ancient abbey), and above the rooftops you can see the clocktower of the church in Altopascio. Pick up the pink cobblestone sidewalk opposite, now on the main route, which will carry you through residential neighborhoods all the way to the main arterial leading into town. Turn right at the end of the road and continue under the freeway bridge to the city hall and historic church in the center of Altopascio.

Published by Sandy Brown

Pilgrim trek writer and guide from Seattle USA living in Lucca, Italy. See more at

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