Vallo di Nera: Entering Another WorldAs you come out of the long tunnel connecting the North Umbrian Valley to the Nera River Valley, you’ve left civilization behind and entered another world: of wooded gorges, craggy limestone cliffs and medieval hill towns hanging precariously off stony outcrops. Most of these villages are now nearly abandoned: hardy farmers, resilient shepherds once took on the challenges of eking out a living here.
They had little choice. Any young people living in the villages nowadays head rapidly – thanks to the tunnel – to towns on the other side of the mountains (Spoleto, Foligno) for work. You probably won’t see any youth as you stroll Vallo di Nera – one of the most charming of these Val Nerina mountaintop hill towns – but the elderly you’ll meet have stories to tell.
On a recent memorable visit, friends and I chatted with ninety-four-year-old shepherd Settimio about his life on the surrounding mountainsides. And as he headed off with his walking stick, we asked about a restaurant: “There’s one – and people say it’s good.” Winking, he added, “…even better if you’re hungry.” After our meanders through the village, we were. Chef Paolo’s cooking certainly merited the Michelin awards on the glass door of his Locanda Cacio del Re. We watched him make our ravioli stuffed with ricotta of sheep’s milk (what else?), then the fettuccine he’d serve us with a fresh artichoke sauce. While Paolo formed the puff pastry cestino (“basket”) to fill with porcini, his wife Cinzia drizzled olive oil on the smoked duck breast with wild berries, yet another antipasto.
We savored the saffron and almond-encrusted trota salmonata of the Nera River and capriolo (an Appenine deer) stew with grilled polenta. Poetry-on-a-plate for dessert: an almond semifreddo drizzled with chocolate.A regal banquet in a tiny Umbrian mountain town.
Read about Scheggino on the Nera River