Umbria is awash with tiny, medieval, hilltop towns, so we are getting used to the idea that visiting anywhere interesting often involves a fair amount of up. Our 4-mile circular mainly level walk around Spoleto today was a bit different. Above Spoleto’s old town is a medieval Rocca and spanning the deep gorge to one side of the Rocca is the town’s most famous sight, the Ponte delle Torri or Bridge of Towers.
The bridge is an ancient Roman aqueduct rebuilt in the 1300s that used to be possible to walk across, but access has been restricted and it is currently closed awaiting a structural health check following the 2016 earthquake.
Circular routes are marvellous for getting you back to where you started…
Once we’d reached the top of the bridge it was mainly level walking with great views of the Rocca and the aqueduct.
Extract from the Life of Brian
What have the Romans ever done for us…? Xerxes: ” The aqueduct. Reg: Oh yeah, yeah they gave us that. Yeah. That’s true, And the sanitation! Oh yes… sanitation, Reg, you remember what the city used to be like. Reg: All right, I’ll grant you that the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done… Matthias: And the roads… Reg: (sharply) Well yes obviously the roads… the roads go without saying. But apart from the aqueduct, the sanitation and the roads.. Masked Activist: Irrigation… Medicine… Education… Health… Reg: Yes… all right, fair enough… Activist Near Front: And the wine… Francis: Yeah. That’s something we’d really miss if the Romans left, Reg. Masked Activist at Back: Public baths! Stan: And it’s safe to walk in the streets at night now. Francis: Yes, they certainly know how to keep order… (general nodding)… let’s face it, they’re the only ones who could in a place like this. (more general murmurs of agreement)
Reg: All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us? Xerxes: Brought peace! Reg: (very angry, he’s not having a good meeting at all) What!? Oh… (scornfully) Peace, yes… shut up!
Sometimes walks can include a sting in the tail, maybe a steep uphill finish, with our walk today the opposite was true, an unusual and welcome easy finish. Our path had descended down about 500ft to the river and to the lower part of the town. However, to save the walk back up, the clever townsfolk of Spoleto have installed multiple escalators to transport you up to the Rocca and to the top of the town – What a brilliant idea.
Our view from the top. It was a tough job being carried up the 7 escalators to get here! How disappointed were we when after all that effort only to find we’d left the ice cream kitty back at Charlie…
Vallo di Nera
Heading to Norcia along the Nera river valley we broke the journey with an overnight stop at the small sleepy hilltop town of Vallo di Nera.
It’s easy to imagine how this well maintained, pretty little village might attract visitors in the summer, but as we walked around it was deserted. If anyone lived there they must have been having lunch or hiding.
Charlie’s parking spot looking down on the river Nera. We chose this place especially to take advantage of the La Taverna Del Bordone (just out of shot), only we’d come up on a Wednesday, the only evening the restaurant closes.
Agricamping Brandimarte was a small farm on the outskirts of Norcia, with electric hook up, a farm shop and a ‘meal to your van‘ service. As we had timed our visit to Norcia to coincide with the annual black truffle fair, our tagliatelle was accompanied with olive oil and truffle shavings – delicious.
The Nero di Norcia, is the biggest agricultural fair in Umbria and gathers together all the “trufflers” and shepherds of the area. In spite of the major rebuilding work going on all over town amidst the destruction from the 2016 earthquake, stalls lined the main street selling all manner of traditional local products such as prosciutto (ham), sheeps milk cheese, lentils of Castelluccio di Norcia, and other products of the area.
This boar’s truffling day are over, a truffle hunter has riffled him now he looks a trifle ruffled to be a truffler’s trophy….. groan!
On 24th August 2016 a earthquake with a magnitude of 6.2 occurred with its epicentre 6.5 kms southeast of Norcia. In October 2016 there was a second quake causing further widespread destruction in the area trapping scores under debris and killing in total 247 people.
Norcia was the closest town to the epicentre, the medieval basilica of St Benedict in Norcia, was among buildings destroyed, with just its facade left standing.
Three and a bit years after the earthquake Norcia is gradually being rebuilt. The building in this image has a giant image of what it once looked like fixed to the scaffold supporting what is now left.
After buying some black truffle sauce at the fair we also brought some bread. These enormous loaves were about 2ft long. We paid €5 for a quarter of one, that we sliced and froze to keep us in butties for days.
Heading up into the Sibillini Mountains the long narrow and virtually deserted road wound its way upwards though several switchbacks with barriered sections where the road had collapsed. All the way up there were great views looking back down on Norcia from above.
From a distance Castelluccio looks the same as it has done for 1,000 years, a beautiful hilltop town in the midst of one of Italy’s most celebrated plains, the Piano Grande. But even from the road below the village you can see the buildings are shattered, roofs have collapsed, it’s more reminiscent of a war zone than the Umbrian countryside.
I expect the few remaining inhabitants of the town could do with the tourist dollars, but we decided it would be wrong to stop and gawp morbidly at the rubble that is now Castelluccio.
“La Fioritura“, the spectacular summertime showing of wild flowers in the meadows of the Piano Grande will no doubt once again bring in the visitors. The flowers were absent as we drove through a landscape that reminded us a bit of the altiplano in Bolivia, but had an Italy-shaped forest to catch the eye!
As we said before Armco is a neglected bit of the travellers landscape, so we pleased to include a section in this photo. Judging by the drop on the other side the person responsible for this barrier’s re-shaping is pleased too!
When you discover a wild camping spot as good as this it is very difficult to pass it by. We spent a very peaceful night there under the stars, and left early the next day to descend down the valley to Pretare.
Forgive the pun but we weren’t prepared for the drive through Pretare. It was very sobering to go along the cleared road that wound its way through what was once a fairly ordinary small mountainside village where 175 people lived.
Witnessing the destruction the earthquake caused close up was quite distressing. It’s difficult to contemplate what it must have been like to have lived through the horror of the quake. And to think of the lives that have been lost and the community that has been destroyed. We only got the merest glimpse of the aftermath of their terrible experience and can only imagine how hard it must be for these people to try to rebuild their lives.