Sport and Nature in Umbria’s Valnerina

Written on 15 maggio 2012 by Gian Luigi Bettin

Our dear friend and colleague Gigi Bettin from Via di Francesco is stopping by today to recount his three days of blog trip recently with the Travel Bloggers Unite Sport and Nature itinerary

Rafting through the narrow gorges of the Nera Valley, jumping with a zipline into a thrilling flight immersed in the lush vegetation of green heart of Umbria, riding donkeys on the plateau of Castelluccio di Norcia at 1400 meters on sea level, exchanging travel stories with new friends around the table eating delicacies of Cascia.The question arises: is this enough to be happy? If happiness is made from a series of moments, I would say that YES these three days of blog trip have been a series of moments of pure happiness. But let’s rewind for a start…

At Serravalle di Norcia, Cristina, the energetic director of Rafting Umbria, provides us with the safety equipment: helmet, wetsuit, boots, windstop-jacket and life-jacket to begin dressing. This is something similar to the investiture of a knight: at first you are just a tourist, but after wearing the suit you feel like a “knight of the river”, and instead of the sword you are holding the paddle. Before starting, our guide, maybe to contain the anarchy of the group, explains the main commands that will be given during the descent. The Corno River flows gently into a narrow valley, on one side along the rocky wall of the mountains, while on the other side the views open over the fields and villages perched on hilltops.

The adventure has begun. After passing the gorges of Biselli, which grow vertically as a 10 story building, the landscape is completely formed by the rocky slopes of the mountains, on which are the remains of a Roman bridge and of the former railway Spoleto-Norcia. Suddenly the raft is pulled over to the shore, and an unexpected question comes from our guide: “Who wants to swim?”

“Swimming?” I wonder “There is no sun, no sand, can you swim in a river?”. Before I pose my doubt, a chorus of “Yeaahhhh” break the silence and Shane, followed by Laurel, Michele, Lea, Nathalie and Cheryl have already walked the path that leads to the natural diving board and in a heartbeat I heard the thud of the their dip. Strange to say, but the water has a revitalizing effect and we restart paddling on the rapids as experienced rafters. In fact, rafting in Valnerina is the right mix of relax and physical exercise, fun and adrenaline. The descent ends with a funny jump on the raft, but we shamelessly get stuck amidst the laughter of those who look at us. Going down the river has made us a tight-knit group, like a high schoolers on a field trip.

The bus takes us back to the rafting center, and from there we head towards the Activo Park, (link only in Italian). After a short train ride in the park, we reach the restaurant, where typical food from Valnerina is expecting us. With our belly still full, we start the adventure trail, with its exciting tests of agility and courage in a beautiful natural setting. We wear harnesses and we listen to the detailed explanation of our rangers. Well, we do not want to be like Spider-Man, just pretending, but at least everyone have been able to have fun using poles, ropes, nets and precarious footholds of the adventure trail. No one hides his satisfaction.

The next attraction, certainly the most adrenalin-pumping of all, is the Canopy Tour. It is a flight of 110 meters of cable, starting from the highest part of the park down to the valley, in a succession of high speed launches in the forests of the area. Towards the end of the path, we see the thirty year old “boy” Shane running enthusiastically towards the starting point to do the trail all over again. Everybody has a smile on the face, enthusiasm and fun are at their high point.

With such a good mood, we leave the Activo Park towards Norcia, in the area of the Sibillini National Park, where thanks to the Bianconi brothers, we can listen to Gregorian chants performed by Benedictine monks, who live here. We run (the monks do not wait for us to start) to the Church of San Benedetto, where in the crypt the deep voices of the monks create a Medieval atmosphere.

At dinner we are a bit tired by all the outdoor activities, but Palazzo Seneca where we are invited for dinner has a magical energy. The atmosphere is luxurious, yet warm and welcoming, thanks to a very respectful restoration, which has made this place unique, there’s also a library for the traveler with a secret passage. Time flies lightly and we do not realize it’s almost one o’clock at night, so it is time to go to bed at the Hotel Hermitage. In the morning, Mr. Filippi, the owner, has set up a small truffle hunt with his little dog Rudy.

At 9:30 a.m. everyone is on the bus, direction: Castelluccio’s Plateau at 1400 meters of altitude. Today’s program is much lighter: donkey riding with Roberto, animal lover and owner of La Mulattiera, a trekking agency. The day before we became knights of the river, today riding on the back of the mules we are more like “squires” of Don Quixote.

First of all, we start by choosing a mule, which is a matter of pure empathy. Nathalie and Laurel fall in love with Nina, Cheryl with Daphne, Lea, of course for an Austrian blogger, chooses Mozart, while Annalisa jumps on the back of Margherita, who seems to be really hungry as we learnt by her constant changes of direction in search of grass. With the chilly wind blowing on our face, we ride our funny friends and it seem to me we all come out of an “Italian Spaghetti Western”.

After a lovely invite from Roberto to taste local cheese, we move towards the Hotel Cursula in Cascia. Here is the menu that the Giustini brothers (cooking in Valnerina is a family business) have prepared for us:

Fillet of Fario smoked trout over fresh greens
Strascinati (pasta with bacon, sausage, eggs, lemon peel, and pecorino cheese)
Gnocchi filled with white cheese, wild mushrooms and Cascia saffron
Traditional lamb with roast potatoes
Apple in puff pastry with vanilla ice cream and mulled wine

No words, we can only thank the Giustini family and its patron, Mr. Gianfranco, who with painstaking research have been able to rediscover the ancient flavors of the culinary history of the Nera Valley. Everything is so good and the Giustinis are so nice, that we forget about the time.

Because of the pleasures of life (food and friendship) we come late to Marmore Falls. Well, I knew that its flow is turned on and off to satisfy the needs of the electric power company, and I knew that tourists try to be there the moment the gates are opened to see the powerful rush of water, but you know I could not stop that amazing lunch, and our group missed the waterfall’s opening rush by 20 minutes. By luck, the experienced and patient guides waited for us to show the many paths around the falls, each one leading to stunning views of the waterfall. As Laurel from Monkey and Mountains wrote: It was beautiful off and I can only imagine how beautiful it would be turned on.

We choose path n° 1, the one preferred by families (I was a bit lazy that day) and as we walked through the lush vegetation, suddenly we heard the haunting sound of a flute. Hidden behind a column there was Gnefro, the mischievous elf, who told us the origin of the falls, when the nymph Nera had fallen in love with a shepherd, Velino, but Juno–as a punishment for that love story–transformed her into a river: the Nera. Velino, anguished, threw himself down from the Marmore cliff in order to be united with his beloved: that mortal jump would continue for eternity.

With no doubt, this trip regressed us to childhood, otherwise how could you explain the shouts of curiosity and surprise in listening the stories of the elf Gnefro? By the way, am I wrong, or curiosity and surprise are at roots of any travel?

Then rain comes again, but who cares? The tour was so rich in emotions and relationships that the weather became a mere detail. In the evening, we reach the Hotel Valentino in Terni, where we spend the last great night together, exchanging photos and watching our funny video. Then as in any real trip, we start giving each other emails, addresses, phone numbers, pledging to meet up again. No, it was not only a blog trip, but a journey where everyone has exchanged emotions and knowledge with their travelmates. Michele and I presented our land, while Cheryl, Natalie, Laurel, Annalisa, Lea and Shane gave back to us their beautiful travel-stories and tips for new trips.

A special thank you to our assistant Michele Tomassoni, who was central to the success of our trip!

Gian Luigi Bettin

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