The Path of the Gods (Via degli Dei) is a 130-km long walking path that runs along the summits of the Appennine mountains, all named after pagan gods.
The path has gained in popularity over the past few years, and this has in turn improved signage, which used to be pretty bad. Today, the entire path is perfectly marked by the white-and-red signs, placed by CAI, the Italian hiking association. Some of the signs were recently changed, and not only do they direct hikers, they also inform them on how long the average hiker takes to reach the destination marked on the sign.
Logistically speaking, you could summarise the path’s strong suits in 4 points:
- It take just a few days (4 for well trained people, 6 for those who like to take things slow);
- Accommodation along the path is abundant and affordable for everyone;
- The path begins and ends in two of the most fascinating cities in Italy, which you can reach from virtually anywhere in the country.
It is not easy to tell you how I organized my hike on the Path of the Gods, since I improvised almost everything. My first piece of advice would definitely be to get a guidebook, maybe a little earlier than 30 minutes before you depart — which was what I did! In my experience, and according to chats with other hikers, Simone Frignani’s “Guida alla Via degli Dei – da Bologna a Firenze e ritorno” (in Italian) is probably among the best you can find at the moment. The author has been hiking around Italy for years, mapping paths, and he is meticulous enough to offer alternatives to the main path, which is perfectly signposted anyway. The guide includes detailed maps and information on differences in altitude, as well as altimetry. Additionally, it includes historical and artistic information, as well as info on archeological sites and parish churches that can be found on the way — don’t expect architectural jewels, though, as several of these churches are now abandoned and not well taken care of. The guide also includes information on sources of water, and price and location of some accommodation.
Here’s the second tip: make sure you meticulously calculate each chunk of the path, and the amount of kms you’ll walk each time depending on the hours of daylight, which will obviously vary depending on which season you’re going to go hiking. Miscalculating the time you actually need to hike a certain distance is a common mistake: walking on the Appennini is very different from walking along the Camino de Santiago, at least if you leave from Sarria, as I did a few years ago. Let’s put it this way: the last 130kms of the Camino might work as training for the 130km of the Path of the Gods — definitely not the other way round.
As in every trip, you can always improvise, but on the mountains, you shouldn’t improvise regarding anything that is related to safety. These are the basic factors to keep in mind to enjoy the Path, feeling completely free to move. These, and obviously, choosing the square you’ll start from: the Path of the Gods can be walked in both directions, but it is very uncommon for people to start in Florence and walk to Bologna. I don’t know why, but I do know that the excitement one feels in Fiesole, seeing Brunelleschi’s dome in the distance, is quite unbeatable — so I would also recommend leaving from Bologna, even if you live in Florence!
Of course, tips about any hiking paths can differ, depending on the season in which you decide to walk that path.
The Path of the Gods (Via degli Dei) came into my life in Autumn, which meant:
- Paths were very muddy and hard to walk at times, with a high chance of rain and a sharp drop in temperatures at sunset;
- I had no issues of dehydration, since I was hardly sweating, which meant I didn’t need as much water as I would have in warmer weather;
- It was easy to find accommodation even with just a few hours’ notice, as paths were not crowded at all (for instance, I walked 27km on the first day and literally met nobody until I got to my B&B)
A piece of advice which is not specific to this path: use hiking shoes. Since I left on a whim, I was determined to reuse my sneakers from the Santiago path, and this made my hike a lot harder in those sections that were steep and slippery.
- The unforgettable trio: band aids for blisters, needle and thread — it is very likely you will get blisters on this path, as you’ll be walking on tarmac a lot;
- Two changes of clothes, preferably high-necked and in breathable technical fabric;
- Two pairs of long, breathable, waterproof trousers;
- Two fleece tops, which you will mostly use when you take a break, in order not to feel cold;
- A rain jacket, which will also work as a windbreaker;
- Underwear and anything you’ll need for personal hygiene, just keep your load light;
- A waterproof backpack cover.
I don’t want to use too much space to discuss this — you can find lots of articles online about how to best prepare your bag, and you will see that you will get better at it every time you leave.
Very important for the Path of The Gods: make sure you have enough water and food, especially at the beginning of the path. I walked with two bottles, carrying a total of 2Ls of water — this was always enough to reach my next stop for me, but make sure this is good for you, depending on your habits and needs. Water is an issue on the Path of the Gods, as water sources on the way are scarce, and a lot of them are dry. So, even if it might imply carrying more weight when you leave, make sure you have enough water with you.
The first 40kms are completely devoid of any water sources, as well as of places where you can buy water, such as supermarkets or cafes. There is nothing, really. When leaving from Bologna, I naively didn’t consider this — I didn’t realise this isn’t the Camino de Santiago, which is dotted with infrastructure and places to shop, so I just left after breakfast, without even a sandwich. On my first day, I walked 27kms without running into ANYBODY, and almost anything. Luckily, since I suffer from low blood pressure, I always have dry fruit with me — this is how I ended up rationing 100g of almonds, 50 for lunch, 50 for dinner.
The wonderful thing about the Path of the Gods is that, despite its resurgent popularity over the last few years, it is not yet overrun by tourists.
Limited infrastructure still pushes you to relying on yourself — the amazing thing is, you will not feel great despite this, you will feel great because of this. Walking surrounded by chestnut trees on the mountains will allow you to breathe in their soul, giving you the chance to walk along the country’s backbone, on its skeleton.
This was the second part of Francesca’s story of her hike along the Path of the Gods (Via degli Dei). Here is the first part.