Our trip in Umbria developed in Valnerina, where the protagonist is the Nera river that flows impetuously through the dense woods that climb the hills. To see human intervention in this landscape masterfully designed by nature, we need to shift our gaze upwards, to the rock peaks on which the fortified villages built in the Middle Ages in the most strategic points seem to be set.
Slow travel in Valnerina
Like Vallo di Nera, one of the Borghi più belli d’Italia, with its elliptical shape and stone houses leaning against each other and protected by high walls. You are gladly lost in the silence of arches, underpasses and steep alleys that lead to the highest point of the town, in the square where stands the Church of San Giovanni, the patron saint.
Going down along the walls, you skirt the castle, which still retains the keep, a good part of the walls with the Coal Cellar and the mighty tower equipped with corbels and machicolations from which the besieged rained stones and boiling oil.
But the jewel is the Franciscan church of Santa Maria Assunta which, with its bell tower and Gothic portal, overlooks a small square in the lower part of the town. The lady who lives next to the church makes us enter through the cloister and the wonder is great as the external simplicity does not suggest the richness of the precious frescoes returned to their splendor after the restoration after the 2016 earthquake.
Here stand out works of the Giotto school of Cola di Pietro da Camerino, who frescoed the apse and created the Procession of the Whites on the right wall, one of the very rare representations of the brotherhood of penitents who crossed Italy in 1399. Which evidently from here passed, as did the artists of great caliber who made this small church so precious that it was called a treasure trove of medieval sacred art.
We have only touch Foligno, a city of pure waters and springs, like that of Sassovivo which gives its name to the Abbey, but certainly this town with many firsts deserves more. Here, in fact, the first copies of Dante’s Divine Comedy were printed, here in the Piazza Grande San Francesco stripped of his possessions and here was born the architect Giuseppe Piermarini who designed the Scala in Milan. The ancient Fulginia, then, despite the bombings of the Second World War and the earthquakes that did not spare it, keeps intact a very respectable historic center full of churches and palaces.
Our first destination in Valnerina and one of the Borghi più belli d’Italia visited in Umbria was Sellano, a small town that has preserved its nature as a mountain municipality immersed in an environment of great beauty. In its territory where small villages and fortresses are scattered, the Castello di Postignano Relais emerges, the perfect place to recharge the batteries and an extraordinary starting point towards the artistic and natural beauties of Umbria, as well as the first to host our #Sognidoro.
In Valnerina there are many villages that keep intact the charm of the past, such as Cerreto di Spoleto risen at the confluence of the Nera and Vigi rivers, which despite being literally cut in two by the Valnerina state road, has maintained its appearance of a beautiful medieval village since Roman times, crossroads of routes in the direction of Spoleto, Cascia, Norcia, Visso and Camerino.
Among the Borghi più belli d’Italia, of which Umbria holds the supremacy, with as many as 28 towns on the list, Monteleone di Spoleto is also part of it, which stands on a hill overlooking the valley of the Corno river cultivated with spelled, considered the best in Italy.
The town, dominated by the Clock Tower and the medieval castle, is also famous because in 1902, inside the necropolis that came to light with 44 tombs near Colle del Capitano, an Etruscan chariot from the 6th century BC was found, now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of New York and, in copy, at the Museo della Biga in Monteleone.
Through the Spoletina gateway, with its pointed arch, you enter the main street overlooked by elegant buildings, while in the highest part of the village there are the churches of San Nicola and San Francesco, beyond which the gaze sweeps on the Leonessa plateau, which is already Lazio.
In the countryside of Monteleone di Spoleto we spent in a different “dimension”, as we will tell, our second night in Umbria guests in the “bubbles” of The Bubble Retreat.
In the heart of the Valnerina, between Spoleto, Campello and the Fonti del Clitunno, nestled among the silver hills of olive trees, lies the settlement of Poreta. The wide plain is still dominated today by the castle which was severely damaged by an earthquake in the 1700s. The village around the manor was gradually abandoned and several centers arose in the valley that has hosted the beautiful Villa della Genga since 1673, which was the favorite hunting house of Cardinal Annibale della Genga who was elected Pope with the name of Leone XII.
Since 2006 the family of the Marquises Montani della Fargna, heir of the Pucci della Genga, has transformed a part of the villa in which they live, into comfortable houses for tourist accommodation, which enjoy the whole estate which extends for over 300 hectares cultivated with olive tree, arable land and woodland with its truffle grounds.
Since 2009 these apartments have been joined by the suites of the Borgo della Marmotta, where we were guests together with our Otto: a small medieval dream with its square, the stables, the sheepfold, the oil mill, the granary and the large outdoor farmyards, which have come back to life becoming an unmissable address for those seeking the peace and relaxation of an Umbria that is still “secret”.
Known throughout the world for its history, its beauty and its Festival, however, it is Spoleto which we declare ourselves madly in love with and to which we dedicate a separate post.
Speaking of wonder, another village in the Valnerina that seems straight out of an illustrated book is Scheggino, dominated by a triangular-based castle, but also the natural landscapes know how to reserve unexpected emotions.
It happens at the Fonti del Clitunno where the waters flow from fractures in the rock and are collected in a pond with incredible colored waters! The springs, called the veins of Campello, feed the lake scenographically arranged by Count Paolo Campello in 1852. And his best words remain to describe this place “which one would say of sapphires and lapis lazuli”.
The source of the small river formerly consecrated to Jupiter Clitunno has fascinated and inspired poets of all times and with its crystal clear waters on which weeping willows and cypresses are reflected it is a place not to be missed!
Along the entire valley, the Nera river flows, forming rapids that make it ideal for practicing rafting at all levels, as well as canyoning and hydrospeed, along the hundreds of rivulets that descend from the Sibillini Mountains towards the Valnerina, through a suggestive specific landscape detrmined by gorges, canyons and ravines.
Before returning home, you cannot miss the stop at the Marmore Falls in the Nera River Park. I had been there as a child and they had impressed me with their majesty, but tackling some of the routes with Michele and Otto was really exciting.
We recommend the guided tour that leads to the Lovers Waterfall just below the most impressive jump because it allows you to deepen the technical and historical aspects of the place. The falls were created by the Romans in 271 BC. to reclaim the Rieti plain and are formed by a spectacular fall of the waters formed by the Velino stream which falls with three acrobatic jumps of 165 meters in total on the Nera river which flows further down.
A superb spectacle that has little naturalness but was “invented” by the Roman consul Curio Dentato who had a canal dug, the Cava Curiana, so that the waters of the Velino could overcome the ridge of the mountain and reach the Nera instead of forming unhealthy swamps on the plateau above. But the problem of the outflow was not solved because the Velino continued to form a barrier of calcareous concretions retained by mosses and lichens so that the sponga stone, the local travertine characterized by a spongy consistency, retains the water.
So new quarries were built: Reatina, Clementina and Paolina. Today the control of water is due to hydroelectric plants that regulate its flow. The release of the water from the waterfall is carried out daily by man and announcing the opening is the disturbing whistle of a siren that during the Second World War signaled the bombing of Terni which was reduced to rubble.
So far the story. But the legends that the guide told us about the origin of the name of the Lovers’ Balcony (accessible only with a guided tour and separate ticket) are also fascinating, a tunnel built under the first viewpoint to drain the accumulations of water, under the which one passes to access a refreshing but violent shower that does not allow the view beyond the falling water.
The legend tells of the conflicted love between the shepherd Velino and the Nerina Nymph. The girl was transformed by Juno into the current Nera River, while Velino threw himself into the waters to rejoin his beloved for life. The terrace is also linked to the patron saint of Terni, San Valentino, who was called by Velino to verify the fidelity of the nymph: the saint beat his crosier on the rock and created a powerful jet of water in the shape of a bridal veil, symbol of loyalty.
The spectacle of the waterfalls can also be enjoyed from above, with the same ticket for which we took advantage of the 40% discount thanks to the voucher that the Abbazia di San Pietro in Valle offers its guests: the view from the top in more gives an extraordinary rainbow effect included in the price. And even if it is not the highest waterfall in Europe or Italy, the emotion is unique among lights, colors and roars.
The advice we would like to give, all of Umbria and Valnerina in particular, should be visited without haste, getting lost in its small villages and without forgetting its pearls such as Spoleto which, as we have already pointed out, has really enchanted us.
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