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Browsing category: Perfect Picnic Places in Umbria, Rebecca's Ruminations

Perfect Picnic Places in Umbria: Il Monastero di San Benedetto (Assisi)

Here’s watcha wanna do, watcha wanna do is this:

Go to Farmer Shop on Via San Francesco n. 4a in Assisi, where you can stock up on prosciutto and a variety of different salami, all made from an heirloom breed of pigs raised on a farm right outside of town, and some amazing local cheeses (try the aged sheep wrapped in fig leaves).  Pick up some of their freshly baked bread, as well.  And finally, the kicker, a bottle—or two—of their organic, unfiltered, unpasteurised, bottle re-fermented beers from the San Biagio estate (ask them to get you the chilled ones they keep in back.)

From there, pass over to the other side of the Piazza del Comune to Il Mercantino greengrocers on Via S.Gabriele Dell’ Addolorata n. 4 for some fruit to snack on (anything marked “nostrali” is grown locally, so try some seasonal Umbrian produce).

Finally, stop in at Pasticceria Sensi on Corso Mazzini n. 14 and choose some of their freshly-made pastries (and pick up some water).

Now, take a look at your Assisi map and find Via San Benedetto, which begins about a kilometer from  Porta Nuova off the main road 147, passes quickly through a residential area outside of the historic center of town, and begins to switchback up the slope of Mount Subasio.  There are periodic signs for Il Monastero di San Benedetto along the road, and you want to follow those.  About 6 km up, you get to the newly renovated but closed monastery on the right.

The monastery was abandoned by the order for a period during the middle ages, and used as a hideout for Assisi's banned political dissidents

Now, of course I would never condone hopping the fence into the monastery, as that would be illegally trespassing.  Which I would never condone.  But, let’s say, hypothetically, that one were to hypothetically step on the low stone wall to the left of the locked gate and hypothetically swing their legs over the wrought iron fence (being hypothetically careful to not hypothetically break their precious bottle of beer in the process).

This patio is a siren song for a new breed of "outlaws"

Inside, one would hypothetically discover one of the most peaceful spots around…the centuries-old stately stone monastery surrounding by woodland and a sunny paved patio looking out over the valley below which seems made for a relaxing picnic.

It would be a "crime" to miss out on this view of Assisi from above

Buon appetito (hypothetically)!


Walking and Hiking in Umbria: A Walk Around Assisi’s Eight Gates

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 following journey lets one observe the medieval walls of the town, with interesting and unusual views.  It is advisable to wear comfortable clothing and shoes suitable for a country hike and bring a camera:  it will definitely be used.  There are no problems of direction and it is sufficient to follow the description and have a map of the town.  The entire journey—at an even pace and without any hurry—takes about 4 hours.  However, the journey can be shortened at several points.

The eight town gates along the journey were all built in the second half on the 13th centry, because the municipality’s Council “Consiglio del Comune e della Magistratura” decreed to build them in 1260.  And now, have a nice walk around the walls.

Porta Cappuccini

ROUTE:  From Piazza Matteotti, locally called Piazza Nova, go uphill along Via Santuario delle Carceri.  As soon as you go through the gate Porta Cappuccini turn left onto a dirt track that goes uphill—lined with two rows of cypress tress—that line the external perimeter of the Rocca Minore (14th century) or Rocchicciola.  Once you reach the castle’s keep, leave the dirt track and take the evident path downhill, which has a beautiful panorama of the fortress Rocca Maggiore.

The dirt road runs along the walls and, after passing some awful huts, leads to the Porta Perlici gate.  Soon after going through the arch, turn right along Via Porta Perlici.

Porta Perlici

After walking for about 200m, right at the beginning of a parking area on the right, take a downhill dirt road on the right that initially runs along a metallic green fence. Soon after the path forks, do not take the path that descends to the asphalt road underneath but take the road on the left that rises towards the town walls.  At the next fork, go straight on.

Below runs the gully of the Tescio Torrent with the Tardioli Mill and a tower in ruins.  If it’s on a sunny afternoon, the Rocca Maggiore’s profile cuts across the slopes of the Col Caprile.

A ramp with a steep ascent takes you back behind the walls.  By looking ahead past a thick strip of broom and asparagus you can see the Rocca Maggiore’s polygonal tower.  Destroyed  in civil battles and wars with Perugia—that gave birth to the Local Town Council of Assisi1198-1202—it was rebuilt in the 14th century.  The cemetery is below.  By taking a few short steps to the left you reach a square area in front of the fortress.

Continue along an obvious path downhill that leads into an olive grove near a private farmhouse.  Veering right leads you down onto the dirt track below, hence to the left of the farmhouse.  It is polite to ask permission to walk through the property. Once you take the dirt road that runs along the  walls and after passing a gate (that must be shut after passing through) you descend amidst olive trees in the direction of the Basilica of St. Francis.  You skirt the new car park; a short flight of descending steps leads to Porta San Giacomo, which has a solitary cypress tree growing on it.

Porta San Giacomo

If you cannot walk thorugh the private property an alternative route is possible.  From the direct road near the house veer right and descend towards the cememtery; veer left and walk along a lovely cypress tree lined drive and then you reach Porta San Giacomo.

Without going through under the arch veer right onto an asphalt road that goes downhill towards the Tescio valley.  After a few hundred meters, right in front of a dirt road that goes uphill on the right in correspondence to a break in the guardrail, take the grassy field left that within a short distance leads to a characteristic bridge on the Tescio.

Take care when crossing the road as there are no side protection rails!

After this point to Ponte San Vetturino there are two possibilities:

  1. the most obvious and least intersting route (for beginners): Cross the bridge and soon after you reach an asphalt road that you walk along veering left until you reach Ponte San Vetturino.  Views of the bastions of the Convent of Saint Francis.
  2. an unusual route but the most interesting (for experts):  Just before crossing the bridge, take the dirt road to the left that descends to the torrent’s bank.  At this point, keep to the left bank of the Tescio river.  Without a definite route—at times near the bank, at times further away—but without any problems along the route you can follow the current until reaching Ponte San Vetturino.

After walking about 20 meters towards the town parallel to a crossroad with a shrine, take the asphoalt road on the left.  At the next crossroads, go straight on along an uphill dirt track—locally called the Piaggia—that runs along the wall of the external part of the convent of Saint Francis.  Towards the right olive groves, farmhouses, and the unmistakeable mass of the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

After going through the Portella di San Francesco, veer right downhill along Via Frate Elia, then walk veering left uphill on Via Apollinare, skirting the walls of the Benendictine abbey of San Pietro.

After a few hundred meters take a large flight of steps on the right that skirts the walls of the Monastero of San Giuseppe.  After walking through Porta Sementone you come to the busy n. 147 road that you take veering left uphill: keep on the footpath!

After having walked about 300 meters, leave the 147 to take a narrow asphalt road uphill on the left.  Go through Porta Moiano continuing uphill, then veer right onto a descending flight of steps.  Continue along a dirt track passing the historic public fountains long in disrepair.

Porta Nuova

The bell tower of the church of Santa Maria maggiore, the Rocca Maggiore, and the Torre de Piazza dominate from behind.  The dirt road—Via delle Fonti di Moiano, locally called Strada dei Cavallacci—keeps for quite a way on the top of the walls, and becomes asphalt and continues running along the walls.  Once having reached Porta Nova, without going under the arch cross the road and continue uphill along Via della Selva.  At the end of the street there are two small columns: and here our route around the town walls ends.

At this point a rest is necessary—rest along the parapet—to admire the great panorama overlooking the Umbrian valley and Assisi: to the forefront the abbey and the church of Santa Chiara.

Cross the road, enter the town park.  Cross the road again and you return to Piazza Matteotti.Quest’articolo è riprodotto qua con il permesso dell’autore, Giuseppe Bambini, ed è stato pubblicato originariamente nella rivista ormai fuori stampa AssisiMia, di Francesco Mancinelli, editore.

L’itinerario proposto consente di osservare le mura medievali della città, con scorci interessanti e inusuali. Consigliato abbigliamento comodo e scarpe adeguate a una gita in campagna, portate la macchina fotografica: verrà sicuramente usata. Non ci sono problemi di orientamento, è sufficiente seguire la descrizione e avere in mano la nostra rivista Assisi Mia: la pagina centrale con la pianta della città sarà utile per verificare in ogni momento l’itinerario descritto. Per l’intero giro – con passo comodo e senza fretta – occorrono circa 4 ore, l’itinerario può comunque essere accorciato in vari punti. Le otto porte cittadine toccate lungo il percorso, risalgono tutte alla seconda metà del XIII sec, essendo stata deliberata la loro costruzione dal Consiglio del Comune e dalla Magistratura nel 1260. Ed ora, buona passeggiata intorno alle mura.

ITINERARIO : Da Piazza Matteotti, localmente detta Piazza Nova, si percorre in salita Via Santuario delle Carceri. Appena sottopassata Porta Cappuccini si piega a sin su sterrata in salita – ombreggiata da due file di cipressi – che fiancheggia il perimetro esterno della Rocca Minore (XIV sec), o Rocchicciola. Giunti al cassero si lascia la sterrata e si imbocca un evidente sentiero in discesa, con bel panorama sulla Rocca Maggiore. Lo stradello costeggia le mura e, superate alcune brutte baracche, conduce a Porta Perlici. Appena sottopassato l’arco piegare a ds lungo Via Porta Perlici. Percorsi circa 200 m, proprio all’inizio di un parcheggio sulla ds, si imbocca a ds uno stradello in discesa che inizialmente costeggia una recinzione metallica verde. Poco dopo il sentiero si biforca, trascurare quello che scende alla sottostante strada asfaltata e seguire quello di sin che sale verso le mura. Alla successiva biforcazione proseguire diritto. In basso la gola del Torrente Tescio con il Molino Tardioli e una torre di avvistamento ormai diruta. Se la passeggiata si svolge durante un pomeriggio soleggiato, il profilo della Rocca Maggiore si staglia contro le pendici di Col Caprile. Una rampa in ripida salita riporta a ridosso delle mura. Con percorso aereo e panoramico si supera una fitta fascia di ginestre (e asparagi), giungendo alla base della torre poligonale della Rocca Maggiore. Distrutta nelle lotte civili e nella guerra antiperugina – che portarono alla nascita del comune di Assisi (1198-1202 – fu ricostruita nel XIV sec. In basso il cimitero cittadino. Tramite breve scalinata a sin si può salire al piazzale antistante la rocca. Si continua su evidente sentiero in discesa che entra in un oliveto in prossimità di un casale privato. Piegando a ds si scende alla sterrata sottostante, quindi a sin al casolare: è consigliabile chiedere il permesso di passare. Ripreso il viottolo che costeggia le mura e superato un cancelletto (che va richiuso dopo il passaggio), si scende fra gli olivi in direzione del campanile della Basilica di S. Francesco. Si rasenta il nuovo parcheggio; una breve scalinata in discesa conduce a Porta San Giacomo, sulla cui cima vigile un solitario cipresso. Se l’accesso alla casa privata non è consentito, è necessaria una piccola variante: dalla sterrata in vicinanza della casa prendere verso ds scendendo al cimitero cittadino; percorrendo verso sin un bel vialetto ombreggiato da cipressi si giunge a Porta S. Giacomo. Senza sottopassare l’arco piegare a ds su strada asfaltata che scende verso la valle del Tescio. Percorsi alcuni centinaia di m, proprio di fronte a uno stradello che sale sulla ds e in corrispondenza di una interruzione del guard-rail, imboccare sulla sin una pista erbosa che conduce in breve a un caratteristico ponticello sul Tescio. Attenzione nell’attraversamento perché privo di protezioni laterali! Da questo punto fino a Ponte San Vetturino vi sono due possibilità: 1- itinerario più scontato e meno interessante (consigliato ai meno esperti) Si traversa il ponticello giungendo poco dopo sulla strada asfaltata che si percorre verso sin fino a Ponte S. Vetturino; particolari vedute sui bastioni del Convento di S. Francesco 2- itinerario inconsueto ma più interessante (consigliato ai più esperti) Appena prima di traversare il ponticello si imbocca a sin lo stradello che scende al greto del torrente. A questo punto si mantiene la sponda orografica sin del Tescio. Senza percorso obbligato – a volte in vicinanza del greto, a volte un po’ distante – ma senza particolari problemi di percorrenza, si segue la corrente fino a Ponte S. Vetturino. Percorsi poche decine di metri verso la città, in corrispondenza di un bivio con edicola, imboccare a sin una strada asfaltata. Al bivio immediatamente successivo si prosegue diritto lungo una sterrata in salita – localmente detta la Piaggia – che costeggia le mura del perimetro esterno del Convento di S. Francesco Verso ds oliveti, casolari e l’inconfondibile mole della Basilica di S. Maria degli Angeli. Sottopassata la Portella di San Francesco si sbuca su strada asfaltata, che si percorre verso sin in salita (siamo di nuovo in città). Appena sottopassata Porta San Francesco (con le ante in legno), piegare verso ds in discesa lungo Via Frate Elia, quindi si percorre verso sin in salita Via S. Apollinare, fiancheggiando le mura dell’abbazia benedettina di San Pietro. Dopo alcune centinaia di m si imbocca a ds una larga scalinata in discesa che fiancheggia le imponenti mura del Monastero di S. Giuseppe. Sottopassata Porta Sementone si sbuca sulla SS 147 che si percorre verso sin in salita: tenersi sul marciapiede! Percorsi circa 300 m si lascia la SS 147 per imboccare a sin una stretta strada asfaltata in salita. Si sottopassa Porta Moiano continuando in salita, quindi si piega a ds su scalinata in discesa. Si prosegue su sterrata lasciando sulla ds i vecchi lavatoi pubblici, da tempo in colpevole stato di abbandono e decadenza. All’indietro domina il campanile della Chiesa di S. Maria Maggiore, la Rocca Maggiore e la Torre Civica (Torre de Piazza). La sterrata – Via delle Fonti di Moiano, localmente detta Strada dei Cavallacci – si mantiene per un bel tratto sulla parte sommitale delle mura, come si può facilmente notare affacciandosi verso il basso, quindi diventa asfaltata e prosegue costeggiando le mura. Giunti a Porta Nova, senza sottopassare l’arco si traversa la strada continuando diritto in salita lungo Via della Selva. Al termine della via si trovano due colonnette; qui termina il nostro percorso intorno alle mura cittadine. A questo punto è d’obbligo una sosta – appoggiandosi al parapetto – per ammirare il grandioso panorama sulla Valle Umbra e su Assisi: in primo piano l’abside e il campanile della Chiesa di S. Chiara. Si traversa la strada, si entra nel piccolo parco cittadino che si supera verso sin. Traversata la strada asfaltata si torna di nuovo a Piazza Matteotti.


Perfect Picnic Places in Umbria: Costa di Trex (Assisi)

Table for two at Costa di Trex

Here’s whatcha wanna do, whatcha wanna do is this:

Go to Santa Maria degli Angeli and find the post office (about two blocks from the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli on Via Los Angeles heading in the direction of Bastia Umbra).  Right next to the post office there is a parking lot, primarily for tour buses.  And in that parking lot there are a couple of kiosks.  Head to the one that says “Porchetta”.  Get yourself a nice towering sandwich filled with thick slices of whole roasted pig spiced with fennel and pepper—an Umbrian specialty.  Make sure you order it not too “grasso” and not too “magro”…a nice mix of lean meat and rich crackling.

Go to the fruit and vegetable kiosk next door, and choose some fruit.  Anything marked “nostrali” is grown locally, so try some Umbrian cherries, apricots, figs…depending on the season.

Finally, head across the street to Lollini pasticceria and pick out some amazing pastries for dessert.  You can also get drinks here.

Now, head up the hill towards Assisi and follow the ring road as it curves around the historic center of town (never going into town) and meets up with the provincial road marked SP 444 (this road eventually goes to a town called Gualdo Tadino, so follow those signs).  When you get to the top of Assisi, the road leads you under a city gate called Porta Perlici so narrow that only one car can fit through at a time.  Once you pass under this city gate you will suddenly find yourself in the mountains…continue about half a kilometer, then follow the road marked Costa di Trex which climbs sharply towards the right.

La Chiesa di Santo Stefano at Costa di Trex

Follow this climbing mountain road for about 5 kilometers…there are some amazing views, so don’t miss them.  After about 5 km you will come to the Santo Stefano church on the left.  Leave your car along the shoulder of the road and set up your picnic on one of the two tables in the field above the church.

"Trex" stands for "tre chiese" or three churches which once stood on this slope of Mount Subasio. Santo Stefano is the remaining one.

Buon appetito!


Walking and Hiking in Umbria: A General Guide

The good news about walking and hiking in Umbria is that even if you get lost, you are bound to have such breathtakingly beautiful scenery to distract you that it won’t matter that much.

Who cares about the map when you are looking at this?

The bad news about walking and hiking in Umbria is that it is damned easy to get lost.

Some Guidelines for Walking and Hiking in Umbria

Umbria is a fabulous area to explore by foot, yet at the same time can sometimes be not that hiker-friendly.  The region has been late to the game in organizing well marked-trails and accessible information regarding itineraries and routes, which is a shame since the undulating landscape, tiny stone hilltop hamlets, and abandoned country churches and fortresses lend themselves to some remarkable hikes.

Here is some general logistical information for walkers interested in discovering this captivating region.  For specific hikes, please refer back to the Walking and Hiking in Umbria blog category, where I will be reproducing some itineraries and adding some of my own.

Guides for Walking and Hiking in Umbria

The offerings in English for printed guides discussing itineraries in Umbria are disappointing.  Probably the best to date is Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria by Lasdun and Davis, which has 26 walks in Tuscany and…um…a whopping 3 in Umbria.  That said, the three they do list for Umbria are all pretty walks with clear information and recommendations for local restaurants.

Walking and Eating in Tuscany and, oh, right, Umbria

A second choice is Sunflower Book’s Umbria and the Marche (Landscapes) by Georg Henke.  With its 8 driving itineraries, 37  walks, and two regions, this guide is kind of all over the place.  It does, however, focus on the Valnerina and Monti Sibillini–two of the most breathtaking areas in Umbria if not all of Italy– and contains  large-scale (1:50,000) topo walking maps and transport timetables for all the walks.  Sunflower offers a free on-line update service.

Sunflower Books took a stab at it...but why can no one manage to publish a mono-regional guide?!?

There is also a more local–though exhaustive–printed guide which follows a medieval trail through the olive groves between Spoleto and Assisi with English text, maps, and photos:  The Olive Grove Path (Il Sentiero degli Ulivi) by Enzo Cori and Fabrizio Cicio.

Alternatively, I can’t speak highly enough of Bill Thayer’s Website.  Bill has walked about 2,000 km all over Umbria during his numerous travels here, and has documented his walks with diary entries and photos.  In my opinion, there is no better resource for walking in Umbria than his juggernaut of a website.

In Italian, there are two very good walking guides:

A Piedi in Umbria by Stefano Ardito has over 100 itineraries and covers the region well.  Unfortunately, the guide is very text-heavy with few maps and no photos, so your Italian has to be pretty good to get any use out of it.

Lots of info, but hard to follow if your Italian isn't up to snuff.

L’Umbria per Strade e Sentieri by Giuseppe Bambini, on the other hand, is chock full of  maps, photos, and easily decipherable bullet lists for each walk–even if your Italian is shaky it’s a great resource.  The routes described are largely loops, so you can drive to your starting point, follow the walk, and end up back at your car.  If this sounds too good to be true, it is.  The guide was printed by a small local press, Editrice Minerva Assisi, and is almost impossible to find outside of the Zubboli bookshop in the main piazza in Assisi.

Charts, maps, graphics and simple language...even if your Italian isn't fluent this can be helpful

Maps for Walking and Hiking in Umbria

Trail markings in Umbria are maintained by a sketchily organized conglomerate of volunteer groups, like the Italian Alpine Club, and local government agencies so tend to be spotty, at best.   A good map is essential.

The two series of trail maps I like best are the Kompass maps (1:50,000 scale) and the C.A.I  or Club Alpino Italiano maps (1:25,000 scale), which show trails, unpaved and paved roads.  Both of these are readily available at bookstores or larger souvenir shops which carry guidebooks in Italy.

Walking and Hiking Trails in Umbria

Trail markings in Italy look like this:

Or, this:

Or, this:

Or, if you’re really lucky, this:

So, generally, two red stripes with a white stripe in the middle and the trail number.  Painted on anything.

Trails in Italy look like this:

Or, this:

Or, this:

Or, if you’re really lucky, this:

As I said, chances are you are going to get lost at least once during your hike, so try to be philosophical about it.  Remember, a truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery while on a detour. (Or at least not bicker with whomever was in charge of the map.)

Three quick cautionary words before you head off.  Hunting is a popular and widely practiced sport in Umbria, so be aware when hiking in hunting season (September through January) and outside of the regional and national parks, where hunting is prohibited.  Umbria is also home to quite a few sheep, and their guard dogs can be aggressive while on the clock–give them a wide berth.  Finally, be careful walking through high grass or climbing loose rocks…there are vipers in the area which generally flee at the sound of approaching humans but are not too pleased to be accidentally tread upon.

Buona passeggiata!


Extreme sports in Umbria: Wild asparagus

Listen, to have any street cred at all, a hobby has to generate that frisson of excitement that only comes with the knowledge that you may end up either dead or seriously maimed. (Though, if you are a bumbling idiot like I am, pretty much any banal activity can end up, if not mortal, at the very least resulting in a trip to the emergency room. See, for example, soap making.) Luckily one of the most popular pastimes in the Umbrian countryside, despite its innocuous sound, involves enough flirting with danger to justify that certain John Wayne swagger.

Take a walk on the wild side. Wild asparagus, that is.

Around mid-march, when the winter rains have pretty much petered out and the first warm spring sun shows promise, you begin to see cars parked along the country roads as the Umbrians turn out en masse to hunt wild asparagus. “Hunt” may seem a little melodramatic to describe what amounts to tromping through the woods picking shoots, but once you’ve been you realize that these wily little woodland cousins to domestic asparagus are not that easy to spot.

See one here?

How ‘bout here, smartypants?

I told you. Over the years, I’ve become pretty good at rousting them out and after an hour in the woods am able to return home with my head held high and a trophy bundle. If you have the time and patience (and stake out your territory early in the day…during peak asparagus season the woods get pretty picked over by the end of the morning and you often see folks climbing back into their cars at lunchtime loading ten or more bundles of the prized wild vegetable in their trunks) you can end up picking enough in one day to put up for the rest of the year.

Note the gloves. Keep reading.

These thin stalks pack a lot of punch with their sharp flavour, so are better used as a condiment than a side dish. Try them with egg pasta like tagliatelle, in a frittata, or as a risotto. They can also be quickly blanched and frozen so you can enjoy them even when they’re no longer in season (which finishes around the end of May).

Asparagus hunter defying death and scraped knees.

But what about the mortal danger part? you may be wondering. As you’re foraging along in the woods through bushes and high grass, and stooping down to stick your hands under fallen leaves and the prickly aspargus plants to snap off your prize, you may run into this guy:

Yikes. Gives me the heebies even in .jpeg

Vipers, or adders, whose venom can be fatal (or, if it’s your lucky day, can just lead to kidney damage), are native to the area around Assisi, and when the sun starts to warm the hillsides they begin to come out of hibernation. Generally, it’s a good idea to wear boots and gloves when you are out hunting your asparagus, and you can also use walking sticks to flush out any unwanted reptile friends before sticking your hands in scrub. I haven’t yet had a brush with anything more startling than a lizard (There are hilarious Park Service signs on Mount Subasio with tips to help you identify a viper, including a description of the shape of its pupils. Like I’m going to hang out long enough to get a good gander at any snake’s pupils, viper or not.) and I hope I never do, as I would probably hang up my asparagus hunting hat forever.

Sure, I want to have some street cred, but I’d like to live long enough to eat it, too.


Wet and Wild (but mostly just Wet): Rafting in Umbria

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.

Rafting Umbria

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.

Heading out!

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

Rafting Marmore

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.

Base camp

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