Nothing missing in Vallo di Nera

April 30, 2013 / Places
Vallo di Nera, Umbria
Settimio, elderly shepherd of Vallo di NeraWe met ninety-four year old Settimio, out for his daily morning stroll, as we entered the charming Nera River Valley hill town, Vallo di Nera. His step was sprightly despite the incline: after all, he’d been scrambling the Nera River Valley mountains since he was a child. At age twelve, he was herding sheep with his father, milking in the mornings and evenings after long days on the mountains. The town population hovers around a hundred nowadays, about five hundred when he was a child, “ma molti hanno cambia parrocchia” (literally “but many have changed parish”, i.e., left). During our morning exploring the medieval splendor of tiny Vallo di Nera, we met a few elderly (in fact, very elderly) but encountered only one young person: shepherding and farming in the mountainous areas are nearly extinct.

As we parted ways with  Settimio, I wondered if he had been the seventh child – as in Primo, Secondo, Terzilio, Quartino, Quinto, Sesto, Settimio, Ottavio (rural families opting for numerical names skip “Nono” but pick up again on “Decio” – and yes, there are the feminine versions).

Narrow winding streets for best defenseOur wanders through the labyrinthine vaulted Vallo di Nera backstreets took us from Settimio, the shepherd, to Plinio the farmer, basking in the sun on a bench overlooking the valley,  a piece of firewood for his woodstove next to him. Like most of the Umbrian elderly rural people, he left school at third grade to work the land. “We plowed with oxen, raised sheep, goats, pigs, fowl, rabbits – there was no time to rest.”

Nearby, a smiling elderly signora sitting along the town wall welcomed us. “Mi chiamo Domenica”, she told us, “but everyone calls me ‘Mimma’.”  We chatted about Mimma’s childhood in Vallo di Nera and life here now until her lunchtime. As she rose to go, Signora Mimma folded the piece of cardboard she’d been sitting on – “the stone brings rheumatism” –  sliding it into a rock crevice (she’d find it there in the afternoon).

As we walked down the hill from the locanda, I reflected on Signora Mimma’s reply when I’d asked her thoughts on living ninety years in Vallo di Nera: “Qui, l’aria e’ buona e pulita, tutto e’ calmo, la gente e’ buona.  Non manca niente.” (The air here is good, it’s quite calm, people are nice. There’s nothing missing.”

Signora Mimma is right: nothing is missing in Vallo di Nera.

Signora Mimma, age 90 - Vallo di Nera

Vallo di Nera, medieval charm
Settimio heads out for his walk, not feeling the years
Vallo di Nera in the spectacular Nera River Valley
Ancient arches frame Vallo di Nera splendor
Plinio says -arrivederci- to visitors
Perforated corbels on Vallo di Nera walls evidence the working of the hemp
Plinio basks in the sun in Vallo di Nera

From Vallo di Nera, all views entice

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See for more on her Umbria tours. Do see for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

39 Responses to “Nothing missing in Vallo di Nera”

  1. Ann Waggoner

    Lovely pictures of an idyllic town and people that time and progress has unfortunately left behind.

    • Evanne

      It’s idyllic here when we want it to be, but close enough to everything that we can also find what we want when we want it. The only real noise is from weed-whackers now and then, like practically everywhere else on the planet, and luckily progress has not left our village behind; it only looks that way from the notebook story. We’ve retired here from San Francisco, CA and would not choose to retire anywhere else. We love it here. Come for a visit and see…

      • To Ann we are lucky enough to be the only non Italian couple who have a house in Vallo Di Nera and it has most definitely NOT been left behind it is wonderful and Mimma is right there is nothing missing. The community spirit is amazing, the children that live here all year round are polite and courteous and play football and ride bicycles around the village in the knowledge they are safe and do not spend their lives on computers and mobiles. We have an endless stream of fruit and veg given to us on a daily basis from the villagers during the summer and pro loco village picnics and bbqs. It is a wonderful place to live. Maybe you should visit…..

    • To Ann….this town is fortunate to be ‘left behind’. I want to live there. Ciao, Cara

  2. Lenore Chicka - Florida U.S.A

    Charming, Charming and delightful. Signore Domenica looks very well and pretty I must say. What an exciting looking town, takes you back the way things were then. Countryside is beautiful and serene

  3. David Bridgdes

    The rich and amazing thing about Italy, especially the small towns, is the sense of time. How to enjoy and live and have really, “the time of one’s life” meaningful in the daily routines and joy of life. Bravo e brava!

  4. Angela Sopranzi - st. Augustine, Florida

    I just read your lovely story to my soon to be 100 year mom whosearents emigrated from Crotone. She and I were both delighted to read your article and see the great photos. What happens to the town when these centenarians are no longer with us??

  5. Marget Wallace

    I have an enormous nostalgia for Italy – and find that reading the stories contributed by Ann Robichaud are the best remedy. If I cannot live there any longer, the next best thing is one of her delightful, insightful, warm and personal recounting of her experience there. Kudos to you, Ann.

  6. Anne Ladky

    Wonderful note, Ann. You have a gift for describing the hidden treasures of Umbria–and for introducing us to the people there. A special treat for those of us who (very regrettably) don’t speak the language. Enjoy the spring!

  7. Rita Mantone

    Oh, how I wish I could be in the Vallo di Nera right now! Lovely!!!

  8. Toni DeBella

    Just reading your note made my blood pressure drop. That’s the real lesson from living in a small hill town…pace yourself and enjoy life. I loved your title and La Signora’s statement: “Nothing is missing.” It’s an outlook on life that we should all admire. Very nice job, Anne. toni

  9. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    These are the stories of Italia that I love, people make the land and the land is good….thank you again and again

  10. Angela Melczer

    This made me smile. I feel like I know these people…or have known people like them. May God bless them and you too, Annie, for sharing them with all of us!

  11. Linda Boccia

    If only we could say all the same things: peaceful, safe, clean atmosphere, friendly etc. in the U.S. I am seventy, healthy and very active, and have seen many changes even since I was a child growing up in Seattle. Thank you for your charming portrayal of rural Umbrian life.

  12. Can’t wait to get back to Italy this summer! Your writing take me back there every time! All the best!
    Tina Chadda

  13. Mary Pici-Harvey

    Beautiful! I cannot wait for the day when i can visit.

  14. Diane Lennon

    Anne, I always enjoy your articles on Umbria. When we are not in Avigliano, your articles make me nostalgic for Italy. The people are beautiful and the culture is endearing.

  15. Pat Parsons

    These towns and people are what love about Italy. We love going off the beat and path to discover such delightful towns and people. Thank you Anne. Perhaps a visit to this idyllic town this trip!

  16. Ginny Siggia

    One of the delights of these hill towns is the close-knit community. You see grandmothers (dressed in their Sunday best) fishing with their grandchildren in the Nera River, and people sitting and enjoying the sun (la dolce far niente) and a tranquility that no modern construction could begin to imitate. In Scheggino (pop about 300) there were no postcards to be found, no refrigerator magnets, no T-shirts saying, “Souvenir of Umbria.” We weren’t even under a flight path to anywhere. There was bus service to Spoleto, but few cars in the parking lot. The local bus (2 Euros) picks up passengers from every tiny frazione in the area, and I do mean tiny — pop anywhere from 6 to 50 — and traverses small windy roads, some of which look like someone’s driveway. The bus is small (about 25 seats), with an aisle so narrow that getting my American suitcase in place was the subject of much good-natured speculation by the passengers. However, there is no better way to become acquainted with the local residents. The trip from Spoleto to Scheggino takes about an hour, about 45 minutes longer than my motion-sick body can comfortably endure. I was a marked woman from then on (eh, la donna ‘mal d’auto’!) but always greeted with a smile.

    • Angela Sopranzi

      Note to Ginny Siggia…..would you be willing to share your traveling experience with me. I get the impression you were traveling alone and I am seriously considering doing the same soon. I don’t want to do a tour nor do I want to drive a car there. So, the bus experience sounded right up my alley. My email address is

  17. Gull-britt Lundstrom

    It is always fun and interresting to read your notes Anne!
    Where do you find all thees people? not to mention all the
    beautiful pictures.It looks a bit like Assisi!

  18. Gayle Collins

    Looks so wonderful and relaxing. I am sure my mom and Trude, (84 and 90 years YOUNG) are growing younger with each day of exploring!
    Love the pictures–putting the names and stories and faces together!

  19. Penni Hergert

    Anne ,we can,t forget the wonderful day we had exploring Valle di Nera with you, just 2weeks ago. We so enjoyed talking to the townspeople. You have such a knack to get them to talk to you.It was just the kind of experience we were hoping for on our trip. Great pictures.

  20. Gale Utziinger

    How we were blessed to meet you a few weeks ago and to visit the splendor of Umbria, is beyond comprehension but heaven sent! The stories and photographs you provide deeply touch the soul with vivid depictions of life and the special gifts it provides us with daily.

    Your journal should be published and shared as it provides escape from my world of hustle and bustle for time of reflection and grounding into what is truly meaningful in life – the little things. The little things are filled within your stories; the gentle smile of an older gentleman, a laugh of a child, the hearttouching stories passed down through the hands of time, a serene walk down the path of Assisi’s streets, the smell of fresh orange blossoms, or the quiet peacefulness you feel when looking in awe at the marvel of ancient architecture. Your stories and journal capture not only the heart of Italy, but the soul of mankind. Thank you! I eagerly await your next post!

  21. Rick Spada

    As usual Anne, you’ve got me wanting to pack my bags and come for a visit.

  22. Elaine Marone

    Anne, your potrayal of the people, customs, sense of place and beautiful ethos of Vallo di Nera stirs our hearts’ longing for just that kind of experience. We wonder if such a “nothing missing” contentment will be a continuing kind of lifestyle there as more time passes. Will a younger generation carry it on? Hopefully the character of the residents you describe will endure in those who follow. Thanks for the inspiring example.

  23. Suzanne and Jack

    We have just returned from an extended holiday travelling in many parts of Italy.
    This is our second visit to this wonderful country and to Assisi. How would we ever contemplate Italy without the Umbrian hillside towns? Which one should we choose? Assisi? Perugia? Bevagna? Deruta? Spello? Anne brings them all to life with her vast knowledge and shared passione of the culture and traditions of these towns. We were fortunate to be in Assis for Callendamaggio. Not to be missed. Thank you again Anne for the generous manner in which you share your Italy. We will be back.


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