Stroll the path under towering poplars, beeches and firs along the Nera River just outside Scheggino perched on a limestone outcrop and you might think that you’re in a national park in North America. You certainly seem worlds away from the gentle landscapes of silvery olive groves and emerald green vineyards cloaking the Umbrian hillsides below medieval hilltowns. But they fan out in front of you as you head out of the long tunnel near Scheggino (nearly 5 km long) which now connects the rugged, majestic Val Nerina to the Valle Umbra Nord (surrounded by the medieval hilltop gems, Spoleto, Trevi, Spello, Assisi and Perugia).
As you walk along the winding Nera River, you’ll see children with parents feeding the ducks or fishing – or groups of kayakers paddling down the river. In the woods along the Nera – not far from the medieval arched entrance to this gem of a medieval hill town – look left and you might see diners sitting under the outdoor picnic tables. If they’re full, head inside to the simple little bungalow for a feast of Valnerina area goodness cooked by Signora Agnese at the Ristorante Giardino delle Naiadi. When son Alessio wanted to start his own restaurant, he enticed his mother (already cooking at a noted area restaurant) to reign at the burners. And she does.
Don’t miss the guazzetto, a fish chowder which – for me – rivals some of the best we’ve ever had in our many many trips to Sicily. But this one is a fresh-water chowder of the Nera River crawfish, pike and trout. And Signora Agnese’s homemade tagliatelle with Nera River crawfish won over Pino, appassioned of seafood (especially cooked nel modo siciliano!). if fish dishes do not entice, try the homemade gnocchi with meat sauce made with lamb, a black truffle dish or Agnese’s hearty legume/farro soup. Waiter Tonino is ready to offer advise 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, jam tarts 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 you meal – or pouring you a shot of grappa. Un digestivo. You might want one after your feast!
Before we left, we said “Buona serata” to a group from Spoleto playing cards after their dinner: they often drive through the long tunnel to Scheggino, for not just the good food but the serenity, the sense of immersion in Nature’s majesty. Yes, Scheggino does seem worlds away.
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