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Forgotten (glorious) Umbria

Umbria is glorious, a global, cultural brand. That said, try finding walking or trekking guides through its peerless landscapes! The official online ones are almost impossible to use – no maps, pdfs that won’t download. Thankfully thoughtful Americans leave their versions to whet your appetite.

So we set out to walk a section of the Spoleto-Nocera (abandoned) railway. Under cloudless skies we arrived at the Nera valley, stopped at S. Anatolia di Narco aim to trek to Cerreto di Spoleto. A convenient car-park with signs suggested we were in luck. But the signs were dedicated to the geology of the valley! So I asked for a map of the pathway in the bar. There were racks of magazines, but no trail guide. Next, on finding the ex-railway, I asked in the old station, now an info point and restaurant if he had a guide. A little perplexed, the kind barista gave me a photocopied map and with this off we set.

Castel S. Felici. The Abbazia to the left.

The next mile on this sparkling July morning was hardly pleasurable. The railway runs beside the busy road to Visso. So, we branched off to see the abbey of Santi Felice and Mauro at Castel San Felice, and in an instant found ourselves in an Umbria you dream of. The tight-clustered hamlet towers over the 12th-century abbey, beyond which is a Medieval bridge over the Nera river.

Once over the humped-back bridge the footpath signs indicate this was the trail of the eremiti, the route St. Francis took between Rome and Assisi. This was infinitely preferable to the old railway. It shot up through the thick woods and threaded onwards along the contours, past places where porcupines had fought, and with from time to time stunning views of the deep valley and alto piano. On we walked, past a 15th-century chapel with Umbrian renaissance paintings and entered the hilltop town of Vallo di Nera. It was completely restored after a powerful earthquake at Spoleto in the mid 80s. With its tall defences, twisting narrow streets and Romanesque churches, it is a gem.

A pilgrim chapel outside Vallo di Nera

I was sat by one of the churches when a Dutch couple approached me.

“Do you speak English?” the woman asked. I nodded.

“Do you have any guidebook, map to the trails…….?” I had to smile……

We returned to Castel San Felice, taking no notice of the dishearteningly inaccurate distances on the signposts, and, sweating and weary, ventured gingerly into the Abbazia da Santa Felice and Mauro – once again a hostel for pilgrims like us ( We were welcomed as if we were Franciscans and fed a lunch beyond our wildest dreams, much of it laced with lashings of Umbrian truffle. With the taste of the light wines still fresh we followed the river bank trail back to our starting-point, thanking our lucky stars.

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