A five-kilometer-long tunnel now links the Valle Umbra Nord (North Umbrian Valley) pastoral landscapes – sweeps of vineyards, silvery olive groves draping hills – to the once-isolated Valnerina where the Nera River snakes through wooded mountain gorges. Walled medieval fortresses perch on rocky outcrops hanging over the one road winding alongside the Nera, once lookout points for the controlling of any invaders of the Papal States (Umbria, Marches, Abruzzo, Latium). Those feudal fortresses are now the enchanting castle villages of the Valnerina which entice those visitors seeking medieval hill town charm set in dramatic landscapes: Vallo di Nera, Sant’Anatolia di Narco, Monteleone di Spoleto, Borgo Cerretto, Ferentillo – and our favorite, Scheggino. And not just for the beauty.
Stroll the path under towering poplars, beeches and oaks along the Nera River just below Scheggino perched on a limestone outcrop and you might think that you’re in a national park in North America. You might see children feeding the ducks or fishing – or kayakers paddling down the river.
In the woods along the Nera – near the arched entrance medieval hill town gem – look left and you’ll see diners at outdoor picnic tables just behind a simple little bungalow.
Head inside for a feast of Valnerina area goodness cooked by Signora Agnese here at the Ristorante Giardino delle Naiadi. Once a cook at a famous Valnerina restaurant, she was “stolen away” by her own son Alessio to cook in the restaurant he started.
Don’t miss her guazzetto, a fish chowder, rivaling the best we’ve ever had in our many trips to Sicily. But this is a fresh-water chowder of the Nera River crawfish, pike and trout. And Signora Agnese’s homemade tagliatelle with Nera River crawfish, her homemade gnocchi with lamb ragu’ and hearty legume/spelt soup are other enticements. Trouble deciding? Waiter Tonino is ready to offer advice on the daily specialties.
And for the desserts? All homemade: la rocciata (the Umbrian strudel), canestrelli (“little baskets”, small tarts filled with homemade jams or rich creams), ricotta cheesecake or a gelato, served with a smile by Elena and Anna, the teen-aged daughters of owner Alessio and his wife, Silvia. Silvia will be at the coffee bar, making your espresso at the end of your meal – or pouring you a shot of grappa. Un digestivo. You might want one after your feast.