The Most Beautiful Villages of Umbria: Arrone

In the long and proud tradition of two steps forward/one step back, one step forward/two steps back, and general non-linear progression, I am skipping from the Cs (I have Citerna in the works…great things to say about Citerna, folks) back to the As. Arrone is the first town on the list of The Most Beautiful Villages in Umbria and logically where I should have begun my quest to visit them all, but instead I got sidetracked by the Bs and then Citerna kind of fell in my lap, but here I am back at the beginning.  As it turns out, I was so enamored with the Nera River Valley–home to Arrone–that I have a feeling I will soon be skipping to the last village on the list (Vallo di Nera) just for an excuse to go back again.

These rocky slopes have captivated travellers for centuries.

Know’st thou the mountain, and its cloudy bridge?
The mule can scarcely find the misty ridge;
In caverns dwells the dragon’s olden brood,
The frowning crag obstructs the raging flood.
Know’st thou it well?

(– J. W. Goethe, Mignon)

I dare you not to be charmed by Arrone.  And I know you.  You are going to take the dare.

The hilltop hamlet of Arrone, with the fortress portion known as La Terra and the more recent lower portion known as Santa Maria.

And you’re going to have a sinking feeling as you come out of the long tunnel behind Spoleto which leads you from the gentle rolling hills of northern and central Umbria to the wild and rugged scenery in the Nera River Park.  You are going to suffer some serious self-doubt as you snake through the dramatic Valnerina along highway SS209 which skirts the crystalline Nera river and runs under steep mountainsides where tiny creche-looking stone villages perch precariously.  It is an area both stunningly beautiful and foreboding, where the weather can go from sunny skies to black clouds in a matter of minutes, where the isolated hamlets and claustrophobia-inducing sheer rock walls remind you that centuries ago the inhabitants of these inpenetrable peaks held out against conversion to Christianity for long after the rest of the region, where dragons and witches lurked in caves, and where—just to make the area a bit more hostile—each tiny town was locked in perennial warfare with the next one over.

You'll know you're here when you're here.

You may have a flash of hope and begin to feel cocky as you near Arrone, whose medieval central fortress on the peak of her rocky outcrop is ringed with buildings from the 1960s and1970s, a period which is to Italian architecture what the 1980s was to American fashion.  But then you will park your car, grab a quick espresso at the Bar di Piazza alongside every retired guy in town, spend a moment watching the locals drive by and wave to each other, try to make out the faded lettering on the political posters plastered on the door of the Italian Free Hunting Union across the street (I’ll help you out.  They say:  Free Hunting is Our Reason to Live.  They don’t mess around in Arrone.), and you will feel yourself beginning to weaken.  You’ll step across the piazza and poke your nose into the church of Santa Maria, whose unadorned facade belies the lovely frescoes inside–some from Caravaggio’s school– and know that you are in big trouble.

No rush for morning coffee in Arrone.

And then you’ll start to climb the steep, winding road that leads from the lower—and more recent—portion of the historic center of town to the walled castle portion above, stopping often to catch both your breath and the view of the surrounding mountains.  You will step through the arched gate of the castle, and know that your goose is cooked.  You’ll be charmed.

The views only get more dramatic the higher you climb.

There is not one commercial establishment in the castle portion of Arrone.  No stores, restaurants, bars, or Starbucks.  There are simply tiny, winding pedestrian alleyways that end in quirky courtyards, dramatic views over the Valnerina from every parapet, a main street Via del Vicinato which ends under the civic clock tower, a tiny Gothic Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista (if you’re lucky, the door will be open and you can take a look at the lovely votive frescoes inside, commissioned by Arrone’s noble families over the centuries), octogonal stone bell tower (try to be there at noon when the bells are rung and the lone resident dog barks in time.  He lives for the noon bells.  You can tell.), and residents.

Arrone's main street which leads to the civic tower.

Yes, residents.  I was amazed to find homes lived in, gardens tended, stoops swept, and heartening signs of renovation.  At a time when tiny mountain villages are as endangered as the Panda, this incredibly inconvenient hamlet above a tiny town in an isolated river valley in the far corner of Umbria is surviving.  Plucky folk.

Here's to Giovanni and Natalina, living a life in Arrone

It doesn’t take long to explore Arrone, but don’t leave this beautiful area just yet.  Directly beneath the town, there is a pretty little park along this placid stretch of the Nera River, which is a perfect place to relax or set off on a rafting excursion.  If you love to drive (I love to drive), you can continue past Arrone to Polino (Arrone’s historic arch-enemy.  They were feisty back in the day.), where the view over the mountains is even more breathtaking, and up to the peak of Colle Bertone for a pretty walk or picnic.  Beware of asking for restaurant recommendations from gathered groups of locals in the Bar di Piazza, lest long debates, convoluted directions, cellphone verifications that cousins’ trattorias are actually open for lunch, and conflicting last words delay you so long that you miss lunch.  Take my word for it.


  1. David Mayo |

    I love this posting. Appropriate poetry, beautiful scenery, interesting history. Thank you very much for sharing.

    Io amo questo intervento. Opportuno poesia, bei paesaggi, la storia interessante. La ringrazio molto per la condivisione.

  2. Andrea Colman |

    As always a charming, humorous, and wonderfully enlightening post. I feel like I’m traveling with you when you give us such lovely images as well. I’d love to see more portraits of locals too if at all possible.

    The poem is a perfect complement to the image above it.

  3. Eleonora |

    Oh Rebecca, this was so lovely!

    Came upon your Slow Travel “Rebecca’s View” piece on the average guidebook myths & misconceptions regarding Italian culture, and found myself nodding fiercely in agreement, and often laughing out loud (yes, actually spelled out in words, I hate the indiscriminate use of “LOL”).

    I must make it a point to come stay at Brigolante one of these days with my little boy for some healthy and tasty bit of Umbria.

    Ciao and again complimenti!
    Eleonora xx

    • rebecca |

      Eleonora…I’m so pleased that you stopped by; I love your AglioOlioPeperoncino Blog! Yes, Umbria is a great place to come and get kids out of the city for awhile. We are friends with Linda and Steve from The Beehive in Rome, and they often come out so their girls can run around outside for awhile. Thanks again for your comment, and a presto!

  4. Monica Nelson |

    A wonderful interlude away from our chaotic world! How I would like to disappear into a town such as this and live a very simple, quiet life with art, countryside, history,architecture all around for me to cherish each day upon rising…….

    Ahhhhh, just my fantasy

    Love your posting Rebecca!

    Pace e bene!


  5. gigi bettin |

    Uao !!! Che capacità di far vivere i luoghi attraverso il racconto! Andremo ad Arrone nel finesettimana per fare a piedi da Arrone a Piediluco ( Via Marmore). Grazie per i suggerimenti :-)

    Wow! Living the places through your words! Thanks! We will go to Arrone on this weekend to do a walk from Arrone to Piediluco (Via Marmore’s falls). Thanks for the suggestions :-)


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