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Walking and Hiking in Umbria: Seavalley Up in the Mountains

This article was reproduced by permission of its author, Giuseppe Bambini, and was originally published in the now defunct quarterly magazine AssisiMia, edited by Francesco Mancinelli.

The excursion which we propose here unfolds along peaceful dirt roads and small country roads accessible to all and offers out of the ordinary views of the woody eastern slope of Mount Subasio.  The entire itinerary is charactierized by powerful oaks whose presence is due principally to the clayey nature of the hills which look out over the Topino river.  These have been planted and cared for by man since the times of the Umbrians; they are not nature but culture.  When the leaves fall, among the bare branches it is easy to descry the presence of the “golden branch”: mistletoe with its golden berries, symbols of light and of life which regenerates itself.  Since this is a parasitic plant which does not have its roots in the earth, it used to be said that it had come down from the sky, that it was a divine emanation.  The Celts called mistletoe “that which cures all”.  This mysterious plant was the central element in a complex ceremony which was held during the rites connected with the winter solstice.  The Druids—the priests and prophets of the ancient Celts—gathered the plants with a golden sickle and were careful not to let it touch the ground; the water in which it was subsequently immersed was held to be an efficacious antidote for curses and spells.  Even today, the gift of a branch of mistletoe on New Year’s Eve—to be hung inside above the door—brings good luck.  And as for you skeptics, it certainly does no harm!

We recommend comfortable clothing and shoes suitable for a trip to the mountains.  Bring a knapsack with food and drink, a rain slicker, compass, and altimeter, the Map of the Trails of Mount Subasio (CAI), binoculars, and a camera.

By Car: from Piazza Matteotti (445 m) go out under Porta Perlici and take the SS 444 (of Mount Subasio) road in the direction of Gualdo Tadino.  After about 500 m leave the SS 444 road and go right (following signs for Costa di Trex and Armenzano).  The narrow asphalt road, in slight but constant ascent, leads you to the few houses of Costa di Trex, (573 m – 5 km) then to Armenzano (759 m – 10 km).  Here leave the SP 249 road and continue on to the left; after skirting the walls of the castle, go left again on a road which goes down.  Once you have passed a small cemetary shaded by cypresses, you will come to a saddle, the Armenzano Cross (627 m – 11.5 km from Piazza Matteotti) where numerous roads and paths intersect.  You will recognize the spot because of a small country shrine here made of stone and a characteristic country tower for doves.  The saddle is the watershed between the Cavaliero Channel (N-W), a tributary of the Tescio Torrent and the Anna Channel (S-E), confluent of the Topino River.

The shrine at Armenzano Cross

Itinerary: from the Armenzano Cross (627 m) begin to walk (E) along the dirt road and after a few meters you will reach a fork where you bear to the right on a road which ascends slightly.  After you have passed alongside the country dove tower, continue along the peaceful dirt road.  Towards the right, a view will open up of the broad head of the Anna Channel and of the eatstern slope of Mount Subasio, deeply furrowed with numerous streams.

The slope of Mount Subasio

You will reach Falcioni Alto (684 m – 20 min from your departure) signaled by various man-made structures—houses and stables for animals—in a complete state of abandonment.  Here go left and after a few meters turn right; once you have crossed a metal fence, continue along (N-E) on a grassy path through uncultivated fields which will bring you to a saddle between two modest rises.  On a little hill on the left (700m)—delimited below by a low stone wall—remains of a country villa from Roman times have been found.  No visible trace of the villa remains above ground except for a few square blocks and numerous fragments of pottery.  The presence here now of small cement fireplaces, which perhaps anticipate debatable tourist “fruits” in the future is a real disappointment.

Return to the Falcioni Alto fork (15 min round trip) and continue on to the left (S-E) with various brief descents and ascents.  The dirt road will wind along the eathen partition which separates the head of the Anna Channel (on the right) from the head of the Rio Chanel (on the left), both tributaries to the Topino River, while all around you, revealed in all its harmony, lies the countryside so typical of Umbria, miniscule villages, isolated farmhouses, woods, cultivated fields, and oak trees in the midst of fields, all to be leisurely savored.  Continuing on in the same direction, you will come to the intersection at Casurci (701 m – 25 minutes from Falcioni Alto), a miniscule farming village.

The Umbrian countryside

Here you must change direction and turn right onto an ascending road which winds around the Solfea hill. On your left, the view widens to include the Apennines of  Umbria and the Marches with the stubby mass of Mount Pennino (E) and the mountains of Gualdo Tadino (N).  Once you have crossed a mountain pass (720 m), the road begins to descend and Mount Subasio will reappear on your left.  At the next fork, shift directions again and turn right: a dirt road (interrupted several times) will descend through the vineyards and oaks and bring you to the few houses of Vallemare (Seavalley) (660 m – 15 min from Casurci).

This toponym, truly unique among the Mount Subasio spurs, has given rise to various interpretations and legends, the most convincing of which is supplied by Arnaldo Fortini: in 969 an entire population was transplanted from the land of Puglia, at the time of Pandolfo Testadiferro, duke of Spoleto who, at the head of the imperial army of Otto I, conquered and subdued the Saracens and Byzantines in that region.  Perhaps this reference to the sea in this valley makes us remember that people.  In addition, the presence of last names with the prefix “de” or “di”—unusual given the “genitive” last names in this area—could be another small bit of supporting evidence.

Continue your descent and you will come out almost immediately on the narrow asphalt road from Valtopina.  Here turn right until you come to the small inhabited village of Colle Silvo (544 m – 10 min from Vallemare), which you will have seen for some time in the distance.  The charming panorama here invites the traveler to make a well-deserved stop.

Retracing your steps for some thirty or forty meters, you will come to a curve to the right.  Here turn instead to the left (N) onto a small descending road which will begin to wind around the woody head of the Anna Channel, watched over from above by the castle of Armenzano.

One you have passed the small in-cut channel of Colle Silvo, you will come to an intersection.  Here go straight down (N), then cross the Cacciaragani Channel (490m) which is the left branch of the Anna Channel.

Continue on the opposite side which winds up steeply, flanking a fence.  Shortly after, the path levels out: on your left, vast fields with trees for timber and vines.  You will cross a pass between two oaks which face each other, the one on your left is an imposing tree and seems to be completely enveloped, up to its topmost leaves, by a stubborn creeping plant which has a trunk of its own of notable dimensions.

The shrine of the Armenzano Cross  (627 m – 40 min from Colle) is just steps away.

A Seavalley up here was really the last thing I’d expected!

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