The Cammino di San Francesco di Paola is the perfect route for those wishing to embrace a slower pace. At 111.7 km long, it is divided into 6 stages which follow in the footsteps of this iconic Calabrian saint. Along the route you will discover the places and natural settings that formed the backdrop of his life including several charming villages and monasteries built by the Saint himself.
The central location of the Sanctuary of Paola (Santuario di Paola) along the route makes it possible to walk just half of the cammino by starting from either end (either San Marco Argentano or Paterno Calabro) and finishing at the Sanctuary.
Francis of Paola was born through the intercession of Saint Francis of Assisi and was named after him for this reason. He was born with a serious eye deformity and so his parents turned to the Seraph and vowed that if the child were cured, they would make him wear the Franciscan habit for a year.
The parents were granted mercy and so when the young Francis turned 13 they asked him to fulfil the vow. Francis willingly agreed to spend a year as an oblate at the Franciscan convent of the Reformation in San Marco Argentano, in Val di Crati, .
Once Francis had completed his year at the convent, the friars wanted to accept the young man to the novitiate, but he decided to return home to Paola instead. And it is the First Way, known as La Via del Giovane, that retraces Francis’ restless footsteps.
During his time in San Marco Argentano, Francis felt a strong vocation but rejected the idea that he could serve in a Franciscan community. He returned home with the desire to dedicate his whole life to the Lord, even though he did not yet know how.
The Path starts at the Church of the Reformation in San Marco Argentano, the present day name for the ancient city of Argentanum. The town is located in the valley of the Fullone river, besides the road that stretches across the isthmus connecting the Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas.
San Marco Argentano has served as a trading gateway since the dawn of Christianity thanks to its location between the two seas and has since become a melting pot of different cultures and traditions. The town has a perfect blend of history and culture to transport visitors back in time.
The Convent Complex of the Friars Minor is one of the oldest examples of Franciscan architecture in Calabria and is believed to have been founded by Pietro Cathin, a disciple and companion of Saint Francis of Assisi, in around 1284. It was within these walls that, in 1429, the 12-year-old Francis of Paola wore the habit of the Minor Conventual for a whole year. The cave in which he prayed has since been dedicated to him and houses the votive chapel of "La Benedetta" which was built in 1762.
From the Church of the Reformation, the first 3km of the Route are along the asphalt roads meandering between the streets of the village. The route then joins Provincial Road 94 for a short distance.
You will then make a detour towards the village of Cervicati, leaving the Provincial Road behind shortly afterwards to continue uphill on a dirt track surrounded by chestnut trees. You will soon arrive in the vicinity of the Aria del Vento hill (787 metres above sea level) where you will be left speechless by the exceptional panoramic views overlooking the Crati Valley, the Pollino Massif and the Orsomarso Mountains.
As you continue along the road, which follows the mountain ridge above the village of Mongrassano, you will delve ever further into a dense chestnut wood. Once you arrive in Agine, at the Malpassaggio pass, you will start the descent towards the village of Cerzeto. The route continues between the chestnut groves of the eastern slopes of Cozzo Sant’ Elia (929 metres above sea level) before reaching Osticano where you will be able to admire the Monumental Chestnut Tree known locally as Patriarca di Kroj Shtikàn. According to experts, this gigantic tree, whose trunk measures more than 11 metres in circumference, is over 1000 years old.
After taking a series of hairpin bends, you will soon feel the familiar sensation of tarmac underfoot. After a short while, you will arrive in the town of Cerzeto, a true fusion of ethnicities, languages and the Italian-Albanian culture.
The second stage of the Cammino starts in the village of Cerzeto.
You will climb up to Osticano and Cozzo Sant’Elia by retracing the last few kilometres of the previous stage. Once at the Malpassaggio pass, the route proceeds along the ridge and you will find yourself surrounded by picturesque mixed woodland including chestnut trees and turkey oaks. You will then arrive at the western slopes of Serra dei Muli (1015 metres above sea level) which is characterised by very tall fir trees. This is also the site of the first picnic area which is equipped with a fountain and grills, offering the perfect place for a well-earned rest.
Continuing along the route, the path delves into a wood brimming with majestic beech trees, some of which are several centuries old.
Further on, you will come across another picnic area which is home to the characteristic fountain of Acqua del Cinghiale (Boar’s Water) where the spring water flows between the tusks of a boar’s head carved in stone.
You will soon reach the municipal lodge of Cerzeto known as Passo della Guardia, which is equipped with another picnic area, various children's games and bathrooms.
Continuing along the route, you will come across the enchanting Faggio di San Francesco (Saint Francis’ Beech Tree) and its charming surroundings which are home to a small chapel containing a statue of the Saint. The trunk of the tree has a circumference of around 6 metres at its base and the three large branches that depart from the trunk form a deep groove that is still full of water today. At the foot of the tree, worshippers gather in mystical and mesmerising prayer as Saint Francis of Paola did when he stopped there during his frequent trips from his convent to the Convent of San Marco Argentano. According to legend, Saint Francis quenched his thirst with water held in the branches of the beech tree.
From the Guardia Pass you can reach Cinque Vie where four additional paths lead to Guardia Piemontese, Fuscaldo, Fagnano Castello and the picturesque lake known as Laghicello di San Benedetto Ullano. At this crossroads you can admire the timeless beauty of another centuries-old beech tree, with its low and twisted trunk.
The Route continues towards Laghicello lake passing between the eastern slopes of Serra Pantanolata which, at 1404 m tall, is the second highest peak of the Coastal Chain. Here you will be able to marvel at the vast Wood of Cinquemiglia, one of the largest beech forests in Calabria, whose majestic and slender trees are a sight to behold.The path continues downhill and you will shortly arrive at the Rigufio di Bosco Cinquemiglia: your shelter for the night.
The last and longest stage starts from the Forest Barracks in the Bosco di Cinquemiglia woods. The first 2km of the route are along Provincial Road 31 (Fuscaldo-Montalto Uffugo), which you will leave near Laghicello
to take a dirt path. After a few dozen metres you will arrive at the small but charming natural stretch of water known as Il Laghicello (1135 m a.s.l.). Surrounding the lake is a picture perfect beech wood which is home to the rare Alpine Newt. The inexpectatus subspecies of the Alpine Newt can be found in only five locations on the Coastal Chain and nowhere else in the world. However, its numbers are in continuous decline due to the natural evolution of its habitat. In addition, its few remaining habitats are threatened by the possible introduction of fish or other alien aquatic fauna. For these reasons, the subspecies is now listed as being endangered.
Continuing along the dirt track you will cross Serra di Ceccio (1227 m a.s.l.) and then, by walking directly on the ridge, you will reach the peak of Cozzo Cervello (1389 m a.s.l.) which is the third highest peak of the Coastal Chain and the perfect place from which to enjoy breath-taking views over the Tyrrhenian coast and the Crati valley.
At this point the descent begins as you head into a scenic beech wood, which leads to the crossroads of Croce di Paola e Montalto (1158 m a.s.l.). According to tradition, this is the pass that Francis crossed to reach Montalto Uffugo. A life-size bronze statue was erected here as a sign of devotion to the Saint.
As you make the descent, you will notice the beech trees slowly but surely being replaced by firs and maritime pines and then by stones and Mediterranean scrubland, heather, holly and sorghum. If you sweep your gaze along the horizon, you will be able to admire the Tyrrhenian coast, the town of Paola and the roofs of the Sanctuary, which are recognisable even from a distance. In the last section, the path descends towards the banks of the San Francesco stream before crossing farmland and finally reaching the Sanctuary of Paola.
Paola is one of the most important cities along the Riviera dei Cedri and is renowned for its beautiful nature, the clear waters that lap its coastline and its mild climate that makes it an ideal destination all year round. The area also includes part of the mountainous area situated right beside the coast.
The historic centre has the advantage of being just a couple of kilometres from the promenade which, thanks to its long, wide beach and tourist facilities, is very popular during the summer months
The ancient, Renaissance-style basilica of the Sanctuary of Saint Francis of Paola dates back to the 16th century and consists of a large, rather bare main hall and a single side aisle on the right which leads to the lavish Baroque chapel that houses some of Saint Francis’ relics. In the Sanctuary's cloister, which is closed off to the outside by glass windows, you will find the Saint’s flourishing rose garden whose interior walls are decorated with frescoes depicting the main episodes in the life of the Saint.
Just opposite the garden you will find the hermitage of Saint Francis, a set of narrow underground spaces that formed the first oratory which contained cells for Francis and his first three followers. But the other side of the Isca Stream is the site of an even older attraction: the Cave of Penance or the Cave the Desert (La Grotta della Penitenza or La Grotta del deserto), which consists of a tiny cavern dug into the tufa stone. It was here that the young Francis began his life as a hermit, spending his days in prayer, penance and carrying out manual labour. At that point, he was just over 14 years of age and lived there for five years.
After his return from a trip to Assisi, Francis had the firm intention of becoming a hermit with a cave as his only home. His life purpose was to follow a path of spiritual asceticism involving prayer, fasting and penance. With the passing of time, the area where the Sanctuary of Paola now stands gradually became an important destination for pilgrims in search of physical and spiritual healing through Francis’ intercession. Francis' ascetic discipline also attracted many young people who wanted to live like him, thus leading to the foundation of the Order of the Minims.
People were rapidly becoming aware of the Saintliness of Francis and his hermits. In fact, many urban centres were keen to have convents run by religious Minims established in their cities.
The Hermit's Way was created to allow pilgrims to follow in the footsteps of Francis who, still conforming to the hermetic way of life, travelled from Paola to Paterno as Founder. Francis was about 56 years old when he arrived in the small community of Serre Cosentine. He had reached the pinnacle of his spiritual maturity and, with great determination, personally devoted himself to building the Church.
The Way was purposefully designed to be walked in either direction as Francis himself used it to travel back and forth between the two convents.
The route starts from the Sanctuary of Saint Francis of Paola in Paterno Calabro (built in 1472) which, along with the Sanctuary built in Paola before the recognition of the Order of the Minims, is one of very few sanctuaries built by Francis himself.
The route is characterised by its white roads. Along the way you will encounter the picture perfect villages of Serre Cosentine including Dipignano, Carolei, Mendicino and Cerisano (589 m), the end point of this stage.
Dipignano is located on a slope to the right of the Iassa torrent, in the upper Crati Valley on a ridge of the Paolana Apennine chain. The town owes much of its fame to its local craftsmanship and copper masters who are renowned for their excellency.
The entire territory is known for its varied and rugged morphology, with its continuous succession of rugged cliffs and hollows, rocky overhangs and deep gullies. Its gentle slopes and panoramic terraces, however, add an interesting touch to the landscape. Regardless of the season, these features offer visitors a spectacle of unparalleled beauty and charm.
Mendicino is located at the foot of the majestic Mount Cocuzzo, which is referred to in Homer's adventurous tales of Ulysses. Cocuzzo has the highest peak of the Paolano Apennines and is the ideal place from which to take in stunning views of some of Calabria's most characteristic landscapes.
This charming village is traversed by terraced alleyways, open spaces, and ancient palazzos brimming with historic stories and traditions that still live on today thanks to the commitment of the local administrations. Sericulture remains the village’s most well-known tradition and is the reason why Mendicino is often referred to as the village of Silk.
Starting in the narrow streets of the village of Cerisano you will immediately begin to ascend a small mountain road that offers splendid panoramic views of the mountains of the Coastal Chain, Cosenza and the Crati Valley. You will then arrive in the environs of the small plateau of Acquabianca and Masseria Silo, which features vast expanses of grassland occasionally interrupted by limestone rocks, farms and arable land.
During the next long descent, you will find yourself surrounded by woods of beech, fir and chestnut trees before reaching the Fiumicelle bridge, dating back to Roman times, which crosses the Emoli stream.
The final port of call of this stage is the village of San Fili (566 m), where a statue of Saint Francis is waiting to welcome you with open arms.
From San Fili you will start a steep climb up to the extensive vast woods of Bosco Luta. At this point, you will cross the Coastal Chain before descending its western side.
Enchanting, unrestricted views of the Tyrrhenian coast surround you right up until you reach the Sanctuary of Paola (170 m), the end point of this stage and of the entire route.
The Testimonium is the name of the document confirming completion of the pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Saint Francis of Paola. It is the equivalent of the Compostela, which is obtained upon completion of the Cammino di Santiago. Historically, this parchment was very important because once pilgrims had returned back home it served as proof of their completion of the pilgrimage, and therefore, that they had fulfilled their vow.
Once your arrive at the Sanctuary of Paola (after having completed the "Way of the Younger" or the "Way of the Hermit") or at the Sanctuary of Paterno (after completing the full way) you must present your credential displaying the stamps of the various stages. The Testimonium, stamped by the Order of the Minims of Saint Francis, will then be awarded.