I always have one long, excruciating moment of bitter regret when I hike.
It’s that moment after I drag myself out of bed on a cold, damp Sunday morning before the sun is up and, shivering, pull on my woollen socks and worn boots while trying not to wake anyone, pilfer through the fridge in search of something with which to make a sandwich (which I have invariably forgotten to do the night before), and head out the front door. It’s that moment after I get in the car, put the key in the ignition, and—in those last seconds before I start the engine—time slows and in my mind I watch myself getting back out of the car, retracing my steps into the dark house, peeling off my boots and socks, and slipping back under the covers while the bed is still warm. In that eternal flash of a moment, I think to myself, “Girl, what are you doing up at this hour?!?”
But my hand always overrides my head, I turn the key, and off I go.
There is beautiful hiking in Umbria; I have the good fortune to have a group of hiking buddies who have a vast knowledge of both the landscape and the history of this region, so spending a day in the hills with them is good for the legs and for the brain. A few months ago, we spent the morning on Mount Subasio following trail n. 52, skirting the newly-restored Roman aqueduct which transported water over a millenium ago between the tiny fortified hamlet of Collepino and the town of Spello, rich in Roman history and ruins, below.
Well-marked and not particularly rigorous (though the last half-kilometer push to Collepino takes the wind out of you), this lovely path through the sea of olive groves and the typical Mediterranean woods covering the slopes of Mount Subasio begins at the end—the 5 kilometer itinerary kicks off outside Spello’s medieval Porta Montanara.
From here, follow Via Poeta to the intersection, then turn right in Via Bulgarella following the directions to Collepino/Armenzano. After about 160 meters, you’ll pass a fountain on the left (Fonte della Bulgarella, from which the road takes its name. You may want to fill your water bottles here.); continue along this asphalted road for another 100 meters, then cross over and follow the path which descends to the right (trail n. 52).
The trail from this point on is easy to follow…you immediately see the Roman acqueduct as it runs along the trail to the left, and the stunning views over the Umbrian valley and the distant Appenines through the olive groves to the right. The path crosses two medieval bridges spanning the Chiona stream and has a series of park benches to stretch your legs and lay out a picnic which overlook the layered foothills of Mount Subasio and the Medieval “skyline” of Spello in the distance.
A little over four kilometers in, the path reaches the Fonte Molinaccio (the spring from which the Roman acqueduct took its water, which still runs with sweet, potable water). From here, you can either turn back to Spello or, for the more sprightly, continue climbing the asphalted road about 100 meters, taking the steep path on the left which climbs for another half-kilometer until it reaches the castle of Collepino (home to exactly one caffe and one restaurant…call ahead if you are interested in dining there).
There is easy parking near the starting point, the path is almost level until the last bit under Collepino, and it takes under two hours (one way), so this is an itinerary suitable for families or walkers who would like to enjoy some of the prettiest countryside in Umbria without too much physical strain. Spello is also home to a number of excellent restaurants and wine bars, which are just spoils for anyone who has made the early-morning hiking sacrifice. With, or without, regret.
These photos were taken by friend and walking buddy Lucia “Caracol” Olivi, who has walked–among other things–the Santiago trail.
On Tuesday, I began the tale of an outing with a new friend to a new place making new discoveries. It was a day so chock full all of the above that I couldn’t fit it into one blog post, so I’m going to pick up where we left off…
After climbing back down the trail from the Eremo di Santa Maria Giacobbe to Pale, we crossed the village and started up the opposite slope of Monte Serrone towards the historic Abbazia di Sassovivo. The climb was tough and the weather was taking a turn for the worse, but by this point we had put our trust in Paolo—he hadn’t let us down yet.
We were right to press on, as Sassovivo proved to be worth the climb (though it can also be reached by car, for those who are not inclined to hike…). Its air of otherwordly calm belies a grand history. This isolated complex, surrounded by acres of ancient holm oak wood, was once one of the most important and powerful Benedictine abbeys in central Italy, with a jurisdiction extending from Rome to the Marches. Founded by Benedictine hermits in 1070—on the site of a Longobard fortress, which in turn was erected on the site of an ancient Umbrian shrine– less than a century later the Abbey controlled a wide swath of central Italy, including almost 100 monasteries, around 40 churches, and seven hospitals.
Closed in part during the 1700s, the abbey’s holdings became property of the state in 1860 and was slowly abandoned until after the Second World War. It was restored between the 1970s and 1990s, and is now both an active monastic community and, fortunately for us, open to the public.
The monastery’s crown jewel is undoubtably its Romanesque cloister, encircled by arcades supported by delicate double columns, some fetchingly spiral-carved, and pretty mosaic detailing. Visitors can also see the monastery itself, with its Medieval frescoes and original dormitories, the outdoor loggia with fresco fragments from the 15th century, and the trails through the surrounding woods. We did all of that, and then were treated to the news that Paolo’s wife, Anna Lisa, was coming to pick us up. I think I may have fallen a little in love with Paolo right then.
I had a sandwich burning a hole in my backpack, but every time we mentioned a lunch stop, Paolo insisted we press on. By this time, it was early afternoon and we were all getting a little tetchy from sore feet and hunger; our trusty guide announced that we were all invited back to their olive mill to sample some bruschetta made with their own oil. How could we refuse?
And thus began the perfect end to an amazing day. Just as “una spaghettata” in Italian rarely means a meal of mere pasta, Paolo’s invitation for “una bruschetta” turned out to be a wonderful spread of fava paté, grilled sausages, and—yes—bruschetta. All dressed with their excellent olive oil, which was being pressed two meters from our table. We talked and laughed and relived our adventures and made plans for a next outing.
And I took a moment to feel grateful for this amazing region and its people…most of whom are not axe-murderers.
Something amazing happens when you start to write about a region like Umbria. A region, that is, populated by warm, welcoming people who have a long history and deep roots in their land. This amazing thing is that these people contact you and are like, “Hey, I’ve got something really special in my neighborhood I want to share with you!” Not because they have something to sell, or something to promote, or something to gain in any way. Just because they genuinely love their region, and want others to love it, as well.
Take, for example, the sweetest couple ever: Paolo and his wife Anna Lisa. Out of the blue, Paolo got in contact and invited us to hike an area near his home on the outskirts of Foligno. Just because, you know, there were a couple of pretty sites there he thought we should know about. And we decided that we would take the risk that Paolo was a crazy axe-murderer and meet up with him on a Sunday last fall.
Paolo was not an axe-murderer, but one of the friendliest, kindest people you’d ever want to meet. He enthusiastically led us along an itinerary in a little-known area of Umbria, introducing us to couple of places that I’d honestly never heard of with the shy pride of a kid unveiling his latest art project.
Paolo. Not an axe murderer.
We began at Belfiore, a hamlet outside of Foligno in the Altolina valley, leaving our car parked in a gravel lot and beginning our walk among the ubiquitous olive groves that cover these mountain slopes. Paolo was playing his cards close to his chest about what awaited us during our outing, and the first stretch of the trail was a pretty, but typical, olive grove hike. The kind you get inured to after twenty years of living here. Bucolic, schmucolic.
Then we arrived at our first lovely surprise of the day: the Menotre Falls. The climb began to skirt the Menotre River, and we came across a series of small, charming waterfalls, pretty wooden bridges, and wooded overlooks that had us gushing and snapping pictures. Paolo told us that the Cascate del Menotre (also known locally as the Cascatelle di Pale) are an oasis for families on hot, summer afternoons, and I could see why.
We continued uphill through the remains of a villa garden with traces of stone grottoes and carvings, passing the tiny village of Pale (and its poignant abandoned paper mill and canal system, with manual valves and weirs). Here the climb got tougher, and Paolo pointed out our destination perched high above us on the rocky cliff of Mount Pale: the Santa Maria Giacobbe Hermitage.
We puffed up the trail, stopping to place our heels in the indentation left by the Saint’s foot in the stone steps (according to legend) and the our fingers in the handhold worn in the rock wall by centuries of pilgrims climbing the same route. Our labors were rewarded by a visit to the hermitage, including its chapel covered in frescoes dating from the 14th to 17th centuries, the cistern holding waters said to have healing powers, and a moving collection of ex votos spanning more than a century.
We had caught our breath and were ready to head back down the hill, but Paolo had one more surprise for us on the cliffside. We climbed a few hundred more meters above the hermitage to a heart-stopping, palm-sweating perch in the rock, and he pointed out a number of small paleolithic markings (easily missed if you don’t know were to look) under the shelf, protected from the elements for thousands of years. I found myself almost more moved by these rough red lines than by the rich frescoes in the hermitage below. From the beginning of time, humans have felt the urge to leave some sign of their passage on this earth…from the earliest cave paintings through the history of art.
Our day didn’t finish here, but to discover what else Paolo had up his sleeve, stop back on Thursday! There are more surprises in store…
A wonderful view from the ex-railway hike to the Valnerina below. (Copyright Marzia Keller)
There’s nothing I love more than a good hike, and there’s nothing I love morer than a good hike with a compelling backstory. Nature—especially the undulating green landscape of Umbria—soothes my soul, but what makes a walk memorable for me are the tiny stone hilltop hamlets and isolated abbeys and fortresses that most trails (many of which trace the routes of Roman and medieval passages) weave their way through. I chat with the elderly locals or, when I come upon a ghost village, explore the abandoned houses and miniature piazzas. I peek into leaf-strewn chapels in silent, empty abbeys or am surprised by intricate frescoes and stonework virtually forgotten by all but their caretakers. I discover Umbria—her land, her history, her people–in tiny crumbs, and savor each one.
Which is why I jumped at the chance to join a group hiking the former Spoleto-Norcia railway in the breathtaking Nera River Valley recently. I had been wanting to walk at least a portion of this 51 kilometer line since it had been retrofitted as a trail for hiking or biking a few years back, and when I heard that our group would be led by a pair of local guides I was thrilled. I threw a flashlight and a couple of sandwiches into my backpack and was ready to hit the trail.
And here it all begins…
The Spoleto-Norcia Railway
The rail line that ran between Spoleto through the Valnerina to the remote village of Norcia from 1926 to 1968 passes through some of the loveliest countryside in Umbria. From the tiny restored station in Spoleto (now used for railway-related exhibits), the trail skirts the now-empty stations in the villages of Caprareccia, Sant’Anatolia di Narco, Piedipaterno and Borgo Cerreto, passing over dizzying stone bridges and under narrow, ink-black tunnels along the route.
Caprareccia to Sant’Anatolia di Narco: Tunnels and Trestles
Our group began at the highest point of the trail in Caprareccia, skipping the first dozen kilometers of trail n. 20 from Spoleto to Caprareccia (which has some accessibility problems, to be resolved in 2012). We left half our cars in the small lot off the road (the other half of our vehicles we’d parked at our final destination earlier, as there is no public transport to get you back to the starting point), and stretched our legs towards the right to take a quick look at the overpass and the valley below Spoleto. Here is where we got our first lovely surprise of the day: one of our guides recounted how he “drove” the last train to make the Spoleto-Norcia run in 1968. His grandfather was the train’s engineer, and as a special treat he let his grandson take the commands (at the age of six) during the final journey.
The first tunnel is a doozy…but sooner or later there is a light at the end of it. (Copyright Marzia Keller)
We retraced our steps back through the parking area to the left, past the poignant abandoned station to the first baptism by fire along the trail: a 2 kilometer long tunnel (flashlights are a must to walk this route, as are decent footwear…the large stones under the tunnels are a killer for gymshoes), pitch black and with a few friendly bats just to complete the creepitude. Our guides kept us distracted from the never-ending darkness (about half an hour of walking) with historical anecdotes, including this: each morning two rail cars– each powered by a lone man working bicycle-style pedals–would leave, one from Spoleto and one from Norcia. When they met up halfway, they would give the all-clear and the train would begin its morning run.
When we finally came back into the light, we were treated to the breathtaking fall colors of the Valnerina, and continued our gently descending walk (this portion of the trail is about 12 kilometers), passing tiny empty houses once used by the families who worked on the line and a number of wonderfully scenic overpasses and spooky tunnels (two of which formed a 360° loop, completely blocking out any light. I discovered what the phrase “darkness pressing against my eyeballs” means.).
Tunnels and trestles through rolling hills…it’s like hiking model train set. (Copyright Marzia Keller)
Perhaps one of the most charming details along this portion of the hike is easily missed: a miniscule grassy platform along the trail in the middle of a thick wood. Villagers from the nearby hamlets of Grotti and Roccagelli would wake at dawn and, laden with baskets of eggs or produce and leading animals, follow a tiny path through the woods to board the train heading towards the markets in Spoleto or Norcia. This railway, quaint and picturesque to our eyes, was revolutionary for these isolated towns, where travel between them had been for centuries—if not millenia—solely by foot or donkey.
Castel San Felice to Borgo Cerreto: The Nera River
The second half of our walk (we stopped for a picnic lunch at the delightful San Felice abbey, where the frieze on the facade commemorates the slaying of the valley’s dragon by San Felice and San Mauro, about half a kilometer from Sant’Anatolia) offered a completely different landscape…instead of admiring the Nera River Valley from the top down, we skirted the river itself.
The bubbling Nera River (Copyright Marzia Keller)
Along the crystalline Nera, the trail runs under steep mountainsides on which tiny creche-looking stone villages perch precariously– this wild and rugged scenery is some of the most dramatic in Umbria. 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 stories of dragons and witches abound, and where—just to make the area a bit more hostile—each tiny town was locked in perennial warfare with the next one over.
The dramatic slopes above the Nera River, lair of dragons. (Copyright Marzia Keller)
But don’t let such flights of fancy divert you from enjoying the bucolic (and, blessedly, flat) scenery along the river banks. Pretty woods with blankets of cyclamen underfoot and the soft rushing sound of the water make it the more likely home of fairies and sprites than makers of dark magic. From the Abbey of San Felice, the railway trail runs right next to the highway 209; to avoid an hour of walking along noisy traffic, a better choice is to abandon the path for this stretch and instead take trail n. 12 (directly behind the abbey), which climbs the slopes above the river until reaching pretty Vallo di Nera, where it descends again to the river bank at Piedipaterno. From here the trail runs along the Nera on the bank opposite the road, so the traffic noise is much less distracting.
Though the walk itself is much less dramatic (there are no overpasses here, and just a smattering of short tunnels), the views of the rocky slopes above and the river bubbling in and out of sight are simply lovely. Our pace slowed as we began to feel the effects of almost 25 kilometers of walking, and we took advantage of the picnic spots and tiny bridges to stop and watch the river rush by, point out trout, and conjecture as to how refreshing a dip in that clear water must be on sweltering July afternoons. On this gorgeous October afternoon, my legs were tired but my spirit was renewed from a full day of quiet, green, and history.
Soothing for the soul (and maybe for the feet in hot weather!) (Copyright Marzia Keller)
A special heartfelt thanks to Armando Lanoce and Enzo Scoppetta from CAI Spoleto for sharing their beautiful Valnerina with us!
To hike the Ex-Ferrovia Spoleto-Norcia trail, use the CAI Monti di Spoleto e della Media Valnerina hiking map. Caprareccia-Borgo Cerreto can be done in one day (prearrange transit back to your starting point), or can easily be broken into two hikes at Sant’Anatolia di Narco.
We continue the monthly Italy Blogging Roundtable, a project organized by travel writing powerhouse Jessica Spiegel, and including professional travel writer Melanie Renzulli, art historian and general brainiac Alexandra Korey, Tuscan uber-blogger Gloria, and me. (If you missed the previous months, take a look here.) Please, pull up a chair to our Roundtable, have a some sunflower seeds, and join in on the conversation.
In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the silence. Robert Lynd
I am large. When I laugh, diners at neighboring tables look up. When I gesticulate, I take out all wine glasses and candles within a three foot range. When I cook, we are eating the leftovers for days. When I am happy or sad or angry, I’m all in; there are no shades of grey. I am often called by my Italian friends “un fuoco di paglia”–a fire fed with straw, quick to flare into bright, hot flames but just a quick to cool down, damaging nothing and leaving behind only traces of cool ash.
Perhaps because of this often oversized personality, I find I am drawn more and more to silence. I spend so much time cranking up the music, and revving the engine, and cracking my kneecaps on table legs, and swimming in—drowning in—rivers and rivers of words that sometimes what I crave is to turn down the volume for a few hours and be still. Be. Still.
Luckily, Umbria is filled with silent places so I rarely have to go far to find a still moment. Recently I discovered a new quiet place to head to when life (myself included) just gets too raucous: the Colfiorito marshland.
By far the smallest of Umbria’s seven regional parks, this postage stamp of a natural reserve is set in the rolling Colfiorito plateau above bustling Foligno in the valley below. The undulating Apennine plain was once covered in seven small lakes, but over the millenia most were drained by nature or man, leaving only one depression which continues to hold water all year round.
This has become the Colfiorito marshland, a tiny basin of standing water teeming with migratory birds and wildlife which take cover in marsh’s thick reeds and acquatic vegetation. Depending upon the season, the spot becomes a faunistic pit stop for a number of wetland fowl, including majestic grey and purple herons, bitterns, little bitterns, mallards, and shovelers. If you’re able to sit still long enough, you may also be treated to a visit by the area’s mammal life—fox, boar, or deer–as well.
My thirst for stillness over the past few years has led to an interest in birdwatching, which–along with a passion for opera and a craving for whole grains–is a sure sign that I have become either a fogie or a hipster, neither of which I find particularly heartening. But given that this turn of events has led a number of interesting new hobbies, I’m not going to lose much sleep over the larger meaning and just put on my Wayfarers, load up my iPod with some arias, throw some organic trail mix into my vintage courier bag, and go.
I’d been thinking a lot about the Colfiorito marshland recently since my previous favorite-place-to-be-quiet-birdwatch-and-generally-hang-out, the Alviano nature reserve in the south of the region near Lake Corbara, was damaged this past fall due to severe flooding that hit much of central Italy. Volunteers have been working to clean it up in time for the spring migration, but for the time being my thirst for stillness must be sated elsewhere.
And so I head up to the hills, winding along the serpentine Val di Chienti country highway to where the road skirts the wetland, past stands along the sides of the road hawking the local potatoes and lentils, lonely farmhouses, and a hell of a lot of cyclists. I pull off and head out on foot; the park has built a number of wooden walkways, pavilions, and bird blinds for passionate birders, though it’s nice just to take a quiet turn along the path which borders the marsh. I wander, taking frequent bench breaks to oversee the take-offs and landings, watch the sun set, and listen to the silence.
And be still.
Read the posts, leave comments, share them with your friends – and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic.
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.
This is a pleasurable spring excursion, in an area full of fountains and springs, which is quite an unusual incidence for a limestone mountain like Subasio. If you want to fully enjoy this excursion you should wear comfortable clothing and suitable shoes for a mountain hike and you should take a backpack and water bottle, rain coat, bread roll, camera, first-aid kit, and the map of Mount Subasio’s paths “Carta dei Sentieri del Monte Subasio” in scale 1:20,000 of the C.A.I. section of Foligno.
The itinerary: from Piazza Matteotti (445m) take Via Santuario delle Carceri uphill which within a short distance leads to Porta Cappuccini (469m). As soon as you pass through the arch, turn left onto a tree-lined dirt track which runs parallel to the outside walls of the Rocchicciola (red and white signpost 50/51). Once you arrive at Cassero, take the rocky track on the right which goes uphill; after passing a small fountain, leave the rocky track at the crossroads—the rocky track continues straight uphill towards the Hermitage (signpost 50)—and take the small flat path on the left (signpost 51), which enters into the wood and becomes a pathway. The way to follow is obvious–wellmarked and sloped–and runs through the thick wood and ends on the asphalted road Assisi-Armenzano which you then cross. Take the dirt track opposite which leads within a short distance to some perfectly restored country houses. Go right and you will find yourself once again on the asphalted road which you follow towards the left for a short distance as far as Costa di Trex’s few houses, locally called “la Costa” (573m – 1.40 km from the start).
The Church at Costa di Trex
This site is particular not only because of its pleasant position and characteristic bell tower which can be seen by all the houses in the parish, but also because of its unusual toponymy “Costa di Trex” which is a cyncope of the old name “Costa di Tre Chiese”.
Follow the asphalt road towards Armenzano for about 700m, then leave the road at this point and take the chained-off road on the right used by the park rangers (signpost 61), go uphill and within a short distance it leads to the Fonte (fountain) Castellana (600, 0.15 km from Costa di Trex).
The basin which collects the fresh spring water, the surrounding glade, and some magnificent cypresses from Arizona make this a very pleasant resting place. Continue uphill and ignore the signpost 61 which indicates to go left, keep going uphill along the service road; at a crossraods continue straight on uphill as far as a plateau and there you will find the Fonte Maddalena (800m – 0.50 km from the Fonte Castellana); the excursion’s highest point is definitely worthy of a stop. At the following crossroads go right downhill until you reach the end of the service road closed off by a chain. There you cross a rocky path which you follow downhill towards the right (signpost 50) reaching within a short distance the Rocchicciola. The tree lined dirt track taken at the beginning takes you again to Porta Cappuccini, and then again to Piazza Matteotti (0.45 km from Fonte Maddalena).
Mount Subasio’s water is really very good!
There are so many great walks and hikes in Umbria that it’s impossible to explore them all (unless, of course, you are Bill Thayer).
It is, however, very possible to select the crème de la crème, and in doing so see some of the most stunning countryside in Italy. I was able to share five of what I consider the best hikes in this region recently on the Bootsnall Indie Travel Guide‘s blog.
So dust off those boots, get yourself a good map and some sunscreen, and head to the hills. But read my guest post first!
There’s nothing I like more than a good hike. Okay, maybe a hearty meal. And a solid night’s sleep. And a pair of warm socks. And a compelling book.
But after all that, I really like a good hike. So it was a pleasure to be able to share one of my favorite hikes in Umbria on Keith Jenkin’s wonderful Velvet Escape travel blog.
The trail itself is breathtaking, but my favorite part of the hike is the mysterious legend behind its final destination. Take a look here to read about this quirky hike.
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.
We would like to propose an easy walking tour which reveals an area of great geological and scenic interest: Marchetto Canyon. Comfortable clothing and footwear appropriate for an excursion in the countryside is advised.
By car: from Piazza Matteotti leave the city through Porta Perlice and take route SS444 in the direction of Gualdo Tadino – below to the left is the deep gorge of the stream Tescio; after about 6 kilometers, directly in front of the little private church of Pian della Pieve, leave route SS444 and turn right onto a dirt road which, after passing over a little bridge, brings you under the arcade of the large Ponte Francescano where you can park your car (6,2 km from Piazza Matteotti).
Walking itinerary: from the rest stop beyond the arcade of the large Franciscan bridge and before reaching the little bridge, turn left onto a well-marked path (there is a no thoroughfare sign), which goes up along the right slope (on the map) of Marchetto Canyon.
The walls of the Marchetto Canyon
After a brief level grassy stretch, the path becomes discontinuous and begins to rise, then levels out again (here you can glimpse the deeply-embedded ravine below with its deep chasms) until it reaches the destinctive Marchetto bridge (40 minutes from the start) which projects over the wild chasm with an exceptional view of the vertical rock-face and the sinuous progress of the course of water below (be careful!). The bridge, certainly medieval, in ancient times was known as the Bridge of the Wolves and represents an important arterial path between the city and the vast countryside to the East.
The Marchetto Bridge
Leaving the bridge to your right, proceed following the red and white trail signs 51 to Ponte Cavaliero (18th century), near the confluence of Cavaliero Canyon into Marchetto Canyon.
The Marchetto Canyon from above
Once again leaving the bridge on your right, proceed slightly uphill skirting the gorge until you reach a fork in the path. Ignore the sign for trail 51 and take the little level grassy road to the right which soon leads to a waterfall Fersena, which can be heard for some distance; over the waterfall is the Norcia-Assisi-Perugia aqueduct by which you can reach the head of the waterfall (once again, be careful!).
Returning to the fork, take up the marked path again. With a couple of upward turns in the path you come out of the woods; skirt the cultivated field until you reach Casa Poderaccio (40 minutes from Marchetto Bridge). Beyond the house, leave trail 51 and take a dirt road to the left that, in slight but constant descent (beautiful panoramic view of the wooded northern slope of Mount Subasio and the surrounding hills) will bring you pleasantly back to the starting point (40 minutes from Casa Poderaccio).
At the end of the excursion, returning toward Assisi on route SS444, we suggest a brief stop at Restaurant da Giovannino at Ponte Grande where, in homey and hospitable surroundings, you can taste the characteristic local dishes cooked in the authentic traditional manner.
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!
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’escursione proposta – con caratteristiche riportate nel profilo altimetrico – si sviluppa lungo tranquille sterrate e stradelli campestri accessibili a tutti, offre inconsueti scorci sul boscoso versante E del Subasio. L’intero itinerario è caratterizzato dalla presenza di poderose querce, la cui funzione è dovuta principalmente alla natura argillosa delle colline che si affacciano verso il Fiume Topino. Sono state piantate e curate dall’uomo sin dai tempi degli Umbri: sono cultura, non solo natura. Quando cadono le foglie, tra i rami spogli sarà facile notare la presenza del “ramo d’oro”: il vischio con i suoi frutti dorati, simbolo di luce e di vita che si rigenera. Trattandosi di una pianta parassita senza radici in terra si diceva che, discesa dal cielo, fosse emanazione divina. I Celti chiamavano il vischio “quello che guarisce tutto”.
Questa pianta misteriosa rappresentava l’elemento centrale di un complesso cerimoniale che si teneva durante i riti legati al solstizio d’inverno. I Druidi – sacerdoti e vati degli antichi Celti – lo raccoglievano con un falcetto d’oro ed evitavano che toccasse terra; l’acqua nella quale veniva poi immerso il vischio, era ritenuta un efficace antidoto contro malefici e sortilegi. Ancora oggi è di buon auspicio regalare per capodanno un rametto d’oro da appendere dietro la porta di casa. Per gli scettici: male non fa! Consigliato abbigliamento comodo e calzature adeguate a una gita in montagna.
Munirsi di zainetto contenente qualcosa da mangiare e da bere, giacchetto antipioggia, bussola e altimetro, Carta dei Sentieri del Monte Subasio in scala 1:20000 del C.A.I. sezione di Foligno, binocolo per gustare i panorami e macchina fotografica per chi vuol ricordare.
In automobile: da Piazza Matteotti (445 m) si sottopassa Porta Perlici imboccando la SS 444 (del Subasio) in direzione Gualdo Tadino. Percorsi circa 500 m si lascia la SS 444 e si prende a ds la SP 249 (indicazioniCosta Trex – Armenzano). La stretta strada asfaltata, in leggera e costante salita, conduce alle poche case di Costa Trex (573 m – 5 km), quindi ad Armenzano (759 m – 10 km). Qui si lascia la SP 249 e si prosegue sulla sinistra. Dopo aver lambito le mura del castello, si prosegue ancora a sin in discesa.
Oltrepassato il piccolo cimitero ombreggiato da cipressi si giunge a una sella, la Croce di Armenzano (627 m – 11.5 km da Piazza Matteotti ) – punto di incrocio fra numerose strade e sentieri – riconoscibile per la presenza di una edicola campestre in mattoncini e di una caratteristica torre colombara. La sella rappresenta lo spartiacque tra il Fosso Cavaliero (N-W)tributario del Torrente Tescio, e il Fosso dell’Anna (S-E) affluente del Fiume Topino.
Itinerario: dalla Croce di Armenzano (627 m) si inizia a camminare (E) lungo la sterrata e percorsi pochi m si giunge a un bivio dove si prende a ds in leggera salita.
Fiancheggiata la torre colombara si prosegue lungo la tranquilla sterrata. Verso ds la vista si apre sull’ampia testata del Fosso dell’Anna e sul versante orientale del Subasio, inciso profondamente da numerosi fossi.
Si giunge a Falcioni Alto (684 m – 20 min dalla partenza), segnalato da alcuni manufatti – abitazioni e ricoveri per animali – in stato di completo abbandono.
Qui prendere sulla sin e dopo pochi m piegare a ds. Attraversata una recinzione metallica si prosegue (N-E) su pista erbosa tra campi incolti che porta a una sella tra due modesti rilievi. Sul piccolo colle sulla sin (700 m) – delimitato a valle da un muro di pietrame a secco – sono stati individuati i resti di una villa rustica di epoca romana, di cui non resta traccia visibile in superficie all’infuori di numerosi cocci sparsi e di alcuni blocchi squadrati. Davvero deludente l’attuale presenza di caminetti in cemento, che forse anticipano future discutibili “fruizioni” turistiche. Tornati al bivio di Falcioni Alto (15 min per andare e tornare) si prosegue a sin (S-E) con alcuni saliscendi. La sterrata si snoda lungo il diaframma che separa la testata del Fosso dell’Anna (a ds) da quella del Fosso il Rio (a sin) entrambi tributari del Fiume Topino, mentre tutt’intorno è il tipico paesaggio umbro che si manifesta in tutta la sua armonia: minuscoli borghi, isolati casolari, boschi, coltivi, querce camporili: da gustare in tutta calma. Mantenendo la direzione principale si giunge all’incrocio di Casurci (701 m – 25 min da Falcioni Alto), minuscolo borgo agricolo. Qui si trascura la direzione principale e si piega verso ds in salita, aggirando il colle della Solfea. Sulla sin la vista si allarga sull’Appennino Umbro-Marchigiano con il tozzo massiccio del Monte Pennino (E) e i Monti di Gualdo Tadino (N). Superato un valico (720 m) la strada inizia a scendere mentre sulla ds riappare il Monte Subasio. Al bivio successivo trascurare la direzione principale e piegare sulla ds: una sconnessa sterrata in discesa tra vigneti e roverelle conduce alle poche case di Vallemare (660 m – 15 min da Casurci).
Il toponimo, davvero singolare tra i contrafforti del Monte Subasio, ha dato adito a diverse interpretazioni e leggende, la più verosimile la fornisce Arnaldo Fortini: “nel 969 tutta una popolazione fu trapiantata dalla terra di Puglia al tempo di Pandolfo Testadiferro – duca di Spoleto – il quale, al comando dell’esercito imperiale di Ottone I vinse e sottomise Saraceni e Bizantini in quella regione”.
Forse questo richiamo al mare tra questa valle, fa ricordare quella gente. Inoltre la presenza di cognomi con prefisso “de” oppure “di” – inconsueti rispetto ai cognomi “genitivi” della zona – potrebbe rappresentare un’altra esile conferma. Si prosegue in discesa andando subito a sbucare sulla stretta strada asfaltata proveniente da Valtopina.
Qui prendere a ds giungendo all’abitato di Colle Silvo (544 m – 10 min da Vallemare), già visibile in lontananza.
L’ameno panorama circostante invita il viandante a una meritata sosta.
Tornati indietro per alcune decine di m, in corrispondenza di una curva a ds imboccare sulla sin (N) uno stradello in discesa che inizia a girare intorno alla boscosa testata del Fosso dell’Anna, vigilata dall’alto dal castello diArmenzano.
Oltrepassata la piccola incisione del Fosso di Colle Silvo, a un incrocio proseguire diritto in discesa (N) quindi si traversa il Fosso Cacciaragani (490 m) che costituisce il ramo sin del Fosso dell’Anna.
Si prosegue sul versante opposto con ripide svolte in salita, costeggiando una recinzione. Poco dopo il sentiero rimpiana: sulla sin vasti campi con alberi da legno e radi filari di viti maritate. Si passa attraverso un vallo
costituito da due roverelle affacciate fra di loro, quella di sin è imponente e appare completamente avvolta fino alla chioma da un tenace rampicante, che si diparte da un tronco anch’esso di notevole dimensioni.
L’edicola della Croce di Armenzano (627 m -40 min da Colle Silvo) è lì a due passi.
Una Vallemare quassù proprio è proprio una sorpresa!