The Via Francigena is one of the most popular pilgrimage routes in the world, spanning centuries of history and stretching along 3200 kilometres in the UK, France, Switzerland and Italy. In 1994, the route was awarded 'Cultural Route of the Council of Europe' status in recognition of its role in promoting common European values. The European Association of the Via Francigena ways (EAVF) acts as a promoter and policy-maker of the route and organises its activities in line with 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Today, especially in the post-pandemic context, where walking tourism is as ever an important tool of sustainable tourism development, it produces positive impact in the following dimensions:
Environmental impact. Pilgrimage tourism refers to walking and cycling activity, which means consuming no fuel and leaving a smaller carbon footprint compared to other types of travel. As part of its promotional activities the EAVF pays special attention to valorisation of responsible tourism, safeguarding biodiversity and local environment.
Economic impact. The Via Francigena route connects major urban centres with rural areas. The economic benefits generated by increasing flows of pilgrims are spread throughout the entire itinerary, creating income opportunities and improving the quality of life of local communities along the route. The EAVF and partners coordinate to maximise the economic impact and shift attention away from overcrowded tourist destinations to lesser known but culturally rich regions.
Socio-cultural impact. As part of the Council of Europe's framework of Cultural Routes, the Via Francigena promotes intercultural understanding and tolerance, strengthens social cohesion and dialogue by transmitting the values of human rights, cultural diversity and mutual exchange across borders. It brings together walking enthusiasts from all over the world, encourages them to discover new cultures, connect with local people, share experiences and stories.