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Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

A trip to Italy, crossing Umbria

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. Sometimes talking and reading about a long walk can inspire a family adventure. For example tracing the route of St Francis of Assisi via a new trekking book inspires guest poster Pete May to ponder the joys of long, slow walks  & tasty Italian treats.

Long-distance walking has long been a love of Around BritainNo Plane and the Italian equivalent of our slow walking can be found in the Rev Sandy Brown’s new guidebook The Way of St Francis — a pilgrimage through the green heart of Italy, taking in Umbria, Tuscany and Lazio.

During winter evenings I like to read travel stories – a recent discovery was Tim Moore’s cycling adventures on a wooden bike with the most rudimentary brakes (!) around super-mountainous Italy on the route of the Giro D'Italia 1914, Gironimo. Now here’s another way to discover Italy - by reading The Way of St Francis. The book covers the full 550km pilgrimage, known as the Via di Francesco, visiting key sites from the life of St Francis of Assisi. It starts in Florence, famous for art, leather bags and the Duomo (as seen in the film A Room With A View), goes through St Francis’ home town of Assisi and finally ends in Rome with a tour of the seven pilgrimage churches.

It has 28 stages and takes a month to walk – working on a budget of just over 50 euros a day.

Spiritual nourishment
Seattle-based author and ordained minister Sandy Brown described the pilgrimage as, “being about a state of mind” at the guide’s launch at Foyle’s new(ish) bookshop at 107 Charing Cross Road,  London.

“It’s about turning your back on your old life and focusing on the beyond, the past and the future,” Rev Sandy Brown, The Way of St Francis

Brown showed pictures of stunning gorges, forests, sunflower fields, olive groves, a Roman waterfall and villages clinging to mountainsides. Sandy said he felt much closer to the spirit of St Francis through seeing the chapel where he received his stigmata and the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi where he was buried.

Lentil stew, mushrooms, wine and hazelnut chocolates - Umbrian-style treats
perfect for eating after a long walk, wherever you are walking. www.lenticchiacastelluccio.it
is an Umbrian agricultural cooperative with beautiful pictures of flower-drenched Italian fields.
Feasting too
Another great attraction of the walk is the superb food and drink Umbria has to offer over slow evening meals, such as Umbrian wine, chocolate, bread, pasta, lentils and cured meats.

The Way of St Francis is a very practical guidebook, with full directions, maps, altitude profiles and information about all the shrines, churches, towns and places to stay on the route. It’s more than a physical trek though. Brown remembers coming to the upper gate of Assisi: ”When I looked down at the Basilica of San Francesco my eyes filled with tears. It was a powerful moment of joy of accomplishment and an overwhelming spiritual connection with the simple beauty and meaning of this place.”


  • The Way of St Francis by Rev Sandy Brown is published by Cicerone, price £16.95.
  • Pete May is part of the Around Britain No Plane family. His latest UK travel book is The Joy of Essex, or see his Joy of Essex blog.
Over to you
What slow walks and slow food make you dream up travel adventures? And where - or what - do you recommend?


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