I was thrilled to be able to contribute to the wonderful Ciao Bambino! website, a great resource for family-friendly travel, this week.
Take a look here to see my five suggestions for making your family’s trip to Umbria fun for the kids and grown-ups alike!
Sometimes blogging channels your inner philosopher and you wax poetic about the existential joy that seems to blossom effortlessly when you live in a place where every meal is an out-of-body experience, and sometimes blogging rhymes with slogging and you use the space for some nuts and bolts advice about What’s Going On. And let me tell you, after a week stuck in the house in rainy weather and two kids home sick with a stomach virus, I’m feeling pretty nutty…and yearning for some outdoor fun…so let’s talk rafting.
Wet and wild, or wild and wet. Depends.
We went rafting twice last summer with a group of friends, and I have to say the last time I had that much fun wearing skin-tight PVC attire I was definitely 20 years younger (and 20 pounds lighter). The best rafting in Umbria is on the Corna and Nera rivers in the south of the region; in fact, both the competing outfitters we used were along those waterways. Our group had kids as young as five and adults into their sixties, and everyone had a ball.
The first company we used was Rafting Umbria in a little town called Serravalle di Norcia along the Corna River. The downside of Rafting Umbria was the pretty spartan base camp; the changing rooms were tents (which were roughly the same temperature as the surface of the sun inside), there are no lockers to keep your personal belongings, so they are just kind of piled up on benches and on the floor, the showers are big plastic water containers on the roof of a camper with a hose attached. There is a picnic table where we had our packed lunch, but the ground is worn down to dirt and on the whole it’s just not that picturesque.
On the upside, however, the descent was fun, Fun, FUN! The river was calm enough to feel comfortable having little kids on the rafts, but you got enough rapids action to get a little wet and have a little fun. The group stopped a couple of times along the route at good swimming hole places (one with a fun cliff to jump off of) and at a freshwater spring along the bank of the river where you could drink. The guides were professional and affable and they take pictures along the route (and a short video) and burn a cd which you can purchase at the end of the day (€15). The length of river you descend is quite pretty, and at the end of the descent the staff had prepared some watermelon and water to pass the time while their shuttle vans took us back in shifts to the base camp. (Rates: 35 adult/25 kids under 14)
Some beautiful scenery along the descent
Our second experience was with Rafting Marmore out of Arrone near the Marmore waterfalls in the Terni Province. Here the base camp was great…they use the buildings in a public park, so real bathrooms with showers, changing rooms with benches and hooks, an equipment shed where they keep the wetsuits and rafts, and an absolutely lovely grassy park along the river to picnic lunch at and play around in before and after the descent.
The descent itself, however, just isn’t that exciting. This would be the perfect run for families with really young kids (or, perhaps, adults with physical limitations) or who have never been rafting before. The river is almost too calm, with little or no rapids, and there isn’t anything interesting enough along the route to justify stopping for. After the promise of a clean and organized base camp operation, we were disappointed by the rafting itself. The guides were professional, but a bit stand-off-ish, and the overall fun factor was unquestionably lower than our experience with Rafting Umbria. That said, you can easily work in a visit to both Arrone (a charming gem of a hilltop village) and the Marmore Waterfalls either before or after your run, which is a big plus. (Rates: 35 adults/30 kids under 16)
Getting back to the base
Both of these companies provide wetsuits (which are washed and disinfected after every use), life vests, safety helments, and all the tecnical equipment you need, plus a shuttle service back to base camp at the end of the descent.
Fun for adults and kids
For the more adventurous (and older) rafter, Rafting Marmore offers a challenging level four route which passes under the Marmore Waterfalls. It looks like loads of fun on their website…unfortunately, the minimum age requirement is 16 (maximum 55) so it will be quite a few years before we can try it out. But for travellers looking for a more vigorous, exciting, and certainly picturesque run, you can take a look here.
A more challenging descent for the 16+ age group
If you really want to see how the Italians in rural Italy live, your best bet is to head to the nearest sagra.