A Grand Tour of Umbria - Combined bus and cycling trips will let you discover some well-hidden treasures
From Spoleto to Cascia and Roccaporena
If you choose this excursion you can depart by bus from Spoleto, where you will have probably visited the Roman theatre and the splendid Cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. At a certain point you will start cycling through a rich, green landscape and eventually reach Cascia, a small town where you will note a rather mystical atmosphere. Worthy of note is the Monastery dedicated to Santa Rita da Cascia, whose remains are preserved inside the basilica.
The surrounding countryside also conveys a sense of spirituality, which you will perceive, for example, in the small village of Roccaporena, the birthplace of the saint, where one may visit the key places of her life, including the house where she was born in 1381. This town forms part of the ‘highland community’ of the Valnerina district and Roccaporena is situated in a special position, at an altitude of 700 metres a.s.l, within a spectacular natural cleft in the rock formation that cuts through the two nearby mountains.
A cycle path following the route of a former railway line
The itinerary from Spoleto to Norcia is crossed by a cycle route of rare beauty. Along this track you may cover sections of varying lengths, and the bus will drop you off at the main starting points. The track, corresponding to the former route of the railway line, covers an overall distance of 51 kilometres. Following its abandonment by the local railway company in 1968, it was later converted into a cycling path. Along the way you will pass through deep gorges and valleys, where some gently sloping sections are present. You will also encounter tunnels and viaducts that span the Valle Umbra Spoletana. You will come across various old structures once used by railway personnel and the imposing Ponte della Caprareccia ex-railway viaduct surrounded by an intense green landscape in the background. The Valnerina (valley of the Black River) and the Valle del Fiume Corno (valley of the Corno River) are enchanting areas with undulating landscapes, presenting well cared for sections of agricultural land and areas of wild natural beauty.
Norcia - the heart of the ‘Sibillini’ National Park
The route of the former railway line will lead you to Norcia, a small enchanting town currently undergoing reconstruction after the serious earthquake that occurred in 2016. Not far away are the Piani del Castelluccio, a plateau with vast areas of flat land at the foot of the Monte Vettore peak. The grandiose landscape is crossed by many mountain-bike trails. From May to July the miraculous flowering of the renowned lentil crops occurs. Across a vast expanse of land the blossoming of the legumes cultivated in this area generates a burst of bright colours resembling a palette of vivid shades. In the autumn, the plain becomes a very popular destination for those who love trekking.
Delicious food and excellent wines
At Norcia and in the surrounding districts you will find the Castelluccio lentils: tiny, very tasty legumes which would also be a perfect souvenir to take home with you. The art and craft of preparing cured pork and salami is an ancient tradition and the quality of local cured-meat charcuterie products is exceptional: Sliced Norcia PGI ham and sausages. The local cheese-making traditions also date back many centuries and in this area you will find various types of pecorino cheese, of both the very well-seasoned and also the fresher types, typically served with pepper, onion or fig-based compôte sauces.
This Umbrian itinerary will let you discover yet another highly-prized Italian delicacy of the Norcia district. Two types of locally-sourced truffles are available: the Norcia black winter variant and the ‘scorzone’ (‘bark’-type) summer variant.
You should also try a serving of handmade tagliolini seasoned with a generous dose of the grated 'black gold' and perhaps join a group of 'cavatori' (‘truffle diggers’) on one of their excursions out in the woods. As you follow an expert truffle-gathering team into the woods they will teach you how to recognise particular traces on the ground and identify signs that indicate the presence of the fungi. You will witness the valuable assistance provided by the truffle gatherers’ dogs. With their finely-tuned sense of smell they operate in perfect harmony with the group. Back at the village, it will not be difficult to find a cold-meat butcher’s shop where clients are invited to taste cured meats accompanied by special wines and, in particular, the Montefalco Sagrantino red wine from the Province of Perugia.