Il Cammino dei Borghi Silenti is an 86 km long ‘ring’ route that winds along the northern slopes of the Amerini Mountains, in Umbria. The journey is divided into four stages lasting as many days and crosses unspoiled places and medieval villages still intact: the feature that distinguishes it is the charm of silence, which from the woods of oaks and chestnut trees, to the ancient walls of small towns, seems embrace and include everything.
The walker who will be able to listen to the silence that surrounds him, will be able to make a journey out of time and space, enter a sort of time machine: he walks with good legs but above all with a big heart! The route is located in the south-western part of Umbria, in one of the most fascinating and least known places in the region, far from the big crowded tourist destinations.
The project intends to promote and learn about places of sure charm through the efforts of the ancient paths, giving the possibility of being able to walk along its ring also to mountain bike lovers.
This route, being structured like the Camino de Santiago and the Via Francigena, is also an excellent training for those who want to face such experiences in the future.
From Tenaglie to Tenaglie through the Way of the Silent Villages, four days of walking for 86 km of development
By Gabriele Marcheggiani
TENAGLIE – It all started on a torrid afternoon last summer when Marco, head of Amerini Trekking, just returned from the umpteenth journey around Italy, wanted to share with me his idea, a bit of a jump: “And if we traced a path of the Amerini mountains that cross the whole ridge that goes from Narni to the Corbara lake? A path of at least a week and almost two hundred kilometers of development would come out! ”.
I have to be honest, the idea seemed a little crazy and for a moment I thought that Marco still had the adrenaline of his latest venture in his blood that had led him to cross Sicily on foot from Palermo to Agrigento.
In the following days all that was done was to talk about this thing – calling it a project at that moment was at least pretentious – until, sharing together ideas and knowledge developed with Amerini Trekking, the draft of what today came out, in all respects it is THE WAY OF THE SILENT VILLAGES. For practical reasons – but also because there was no money to spend – it was decided to cut the entire southern area of the Amerini mountains, concentrating the path in the territory best known, Marco better than myself, the one that revolves around the peaks of the Croce di Serra and Melezzole and which crosses the municipalities of Montecchio, Guardea and Baschi.
Before even understanding which path to follow – an underlying idea, however, there was, we knew where to start and where to arrive – the administrators of the municipalities involved were involved, who gave almost unconditional support. Tracing a ring path that, starting from Tenaglie, returned to Tenaglie after four days of walking and 86 kilometers of route, had by now taken over anything else but there were still different aspects to be defined, several quarrels to solve.
First of all, that of accommodation and refreshment points, all things that on the eastern side of the Amerini mountains are not so easy to find: once the path with the individual stages has been defined, a hopping has started in search of agritourisms, bed & breakfasts, accommodation, trattorias , pizzerias, bars, which could somehow give the availability to collaborate with the Way of the Silent Villages.
And there was a lot of enthusiasm, almost nobody said they were uninterested in the project and whoever did it, I am convinced, could regret it shortly. In this too, the municipalities have done their part, although not everything is defined yet, making available some unused rooms to be used as small hostels managed directly by the communities. At this point, given the excellent welcome from the local administrators and the accommodation businesses in the area, the Way began to take shape, it became more and more concrete project and less and less … what: the Amerini Trekking structure was doing things big . The name that came to mind one morning in July was missing, while descending from Piano Croci, above Guardea, the small village of Santa Restituta appeared in all its poetic beauty, wrapped in an almost cloistered silence of which it was impossible not to notice.
And how many silent villages the Way crosses, starting right from Tenaglie and then Toscolano, Melezzole, Morruzze, Morre, Acqualoreto, Civitella del Lago, small gems set among the oak, chestnut and hornbeam woods of the Amerini mountains! A unique territory of its kind, one of the least known and least frequented in the whole of Umbria, where it is not uncommon to walk for whole hours without meeting a living soul, enjoying from every side an always different and satisfying panorama of the efforts undertaken.
Here, the intent with which the Path was traced is precisely this: to give those who want to follow it an almost salvific experience, for the body and the spirit, an escape from the daily chaos of everyone’s life, a necessary return to the rhythms lenses of the seasons, to the sounds and colors of Mother Earth. Now that the Way of the Silent Villages is traced and ready to welcome thousands of pilgrims from all over, all that remains is to describe its treasures, its silences and its ancestral beauties step by step. But these, if you want, are other stories that I would like to tell you soon.
Way of the Silent Villages, first day. When Mogol suggested the name of this stretch of route: “Towards the enchanted valley”
by Gabriele Marcheggiani
TENAGLIE, first day of the Way of the Silent Villages.
The first steps are the most important, those that bring out the physical and mental torpor, the necessary premise for each journey. The first silent village crossed is the one from which you start: Tenaglie is sweet as honey, it is a herbal tea that restores and cares. From the top of its hill, the small village dominates the Tiber valley and the whole Tuscia, from the Cimini mountains to the hills that announce the unmistakable profile of the Amiata: remaining indifferent is almost impossible in front of this portion of the world that in the hour at sunset, when the sun settles behind the hills of Viterbo, it gives the attentive traveler an ever new spectacle.
There is a precise moment, an exact moment, when the sun before hiding seems to leave a last play of light as a gift, a dazzling blaze that is reflected inside the lake of Alviano: it is the extreme, daily farewell of light, before the sky becomes the preserve of the ladies of the night. The path, however, turns towards the south, wedging itself in the magnificent Cocciano valley, an incredibly intact place, closed everywhere by a dense network of wooded hills: Cocciano is the Umbrian countryside as one imagines it, which refers to old photographs on the subsidiaries of the elementary, imbued with that almost Franciscan essentiality, where every element – the plowed field, the house, the farmyard, the dirt road, the source, the forest, the mountain – seems to have been put on purpose to satisfy the sight and the spirit.
Before entering Guardea, the Way approaches a little towards the castle of Poggio, a thousand-year-old building that belonged to Lucrezia Borgia and in which, it seems, also stayed the emperor Charles V, the one whose empire never set the sun; for a moment the pilgrim will return to look at the Tiber valley that the castle has dominated since the year one thousand, up to the entrance into the town of Guardea and the subsequent ascent towards Piano Croci, from where finally the path enters the wild heart of the mountains Amerini. From this small meadow highland, another world begins to appear, more grim perhaps, whose perimeter is traced by the chain of the Umbrian-Marche and Lazio Apennines. From this natural terrace facing east, you can see all of southern Umbria in an overview, with the Terni basin dominated by the slopes of Terminillo and the Martani mountains behind which Spoleto hides, invisible to the eye.
Entering the village of Santa Restituta is one of the reasons why this path should be undertaken by anyone, even by those who have never taken two steps beyond the city park: this village is what inspired the name of the path itself, the one in to which an almost cloistered silence makes the pilgrim enter an ever less earthly dimension. It is precisely among the narrow streets of this almost abandoned village, where few souls still live, perched on a hill surrounded by oak and chestnut woods, that the Way of the Silent Villages seems to undertake an intimate, almost spiritual path: if it is true that fatigue of walking is a bit like penance that makes atone for sins, the Way of the Silent Villages is something more, an intimate prayer, a vertical impulse of the soul for those who will know how to tune the pace of the steps with the search for something beyond. Just below the town of Santa Restituta, there is the Tenuta dei Ciclamini, home of the CET, a sort of university of music founded and directed by Giulio Repetti in Mughal art. And it is precisely during an interview with Mogol that the famous lyricist of Lucio Battisti suggested the name of this stage of the journey; he told us that the name “Enchanted Valley” is the one that in his opinion best suits the beauty of the places, a name that no administration has ever wanted to use for this territory than from Castel dell’Aquila, through a dense and almost uninhabited forest, it leads north and the villages of Toscolano, Melezzole and Morre, all silent villages that the Way crosses.
A visit to the Tenuta dei Ciclamini is almost a duty for those who want to undertake the Way, of which Mogol himself has said he is enthusiastic. The kilometers traveled in the first stage approach the second decade but there is still to be discovered and crossed the village of Toscolano that the pace of the centuries has never scratched. One afternoon last autumn, asking for information from a lady busy hanging out the laundry, we came to discover that thirteen people live permanently in the village and that only in summer do the houses populate a little more: where, if not along the roads and paths can we find refreshment from the wounds of a world that moves swirling at the speed of the Web and feeds on the worst false news?
Here the plug does not come off, along the way, on the contrary, we reconnect with what is most essential, like a journey backwards in search of the authentic roots, which are not the idiotic and reckless ones of the bitter sovereignty, but the fundamental ones that they sink in the relationship with Creation and Mother Nature. Because the Way of the Silent Villages in some ways is first of all a Franciscan Way in the most authentic sense. At the end of the first stage, having reached the enchantment of the village of Melezzole, the tired pilgrim will have already understood the invaluable value of those first steps taken a few hours earlier in Tenaglie and much more will have to be discovered. But this, if you will, is another story.
Way of the Silent Villages, second day: an immense altar overlooking infinite horizons
by Gabriele Marcheggiani
MELEZZOLE, second day of the Way of the Silent Villages.
The sun embraces this village from the first rays of the morning: waking up at dawn in Melezzole is a ritual that every walker should devote himself to grasping every moment of a day that promises to be great. Melezzole is much more than its renowned chestnut, to which an annual fair is dedicated at the end of October.
Melezzole is a light caress in the midst of a triumphant nature, it is a discreet presence in an archaic universe that seems to be enough in itself, which asks nothing of the world outside that goes at the speed of a click. From the small medieval church of San Vitale, in the middle of a chestnut wood, the path rests lightly on the ridge of the mountain before starting to climb with some effort and some tight turns, towards the top of the ridge that separates the slope eastern from the western one of the Amerini mountains.
The path becomes a little heavy before the path, almost without realizing it, leaves the dense forest to emerge at the top of a large meadow clearing: it is a privileged balcony that no lady can ever afford that of Piano Puosi, with its views spectacular towards the Terni basin and the Martani mountains, a place of ancient charcoal burners and abundant pastures.
Once again, looking around to fill your eyes and be enraptured by an almost childish amazement of what babies feel when they begin to discover the world around them: this is probably the first true miracle of the Way of the Silent Villages, a primordial experience in a microcosm that breathes, moves and lives like this forever. Turning decidedly north, the path now points towards the peaks of the Amerini mountains, at first a little more on the peeled ridge of Piano Puosi, finally entering once again in a dense forest of holm oaks, hornbeams, oaks, always keeping on the edge ridge from which, among the vegetation, you can only imagine a panorama without equal.
The summit of Monte Croce di Serra, the maximum height that these pre-Apennine mountains reach, does not immediately jump to the sight, hidden as it is by the thick bush: going up a few steps to the right towards the summit cross, the traveler will find refreshment to his efforts undertaken simply by letting himself be immersed in an ocean of quiet, light and colors that every sailor of the spirit would like to be able to sail.
But no, this is not yet the place, you need to have a little more patience and go back on the path. Just a few minutes away, right in front, walking further north, you get to that incredible pulpit that is just beyond the top of Mount Melezzole: no wayfarer will be able to remain impassive in front of the wide open horizons that from this clearing – the bald top dei montecchiesi – shows a leopardian universe that only the poet of Recanati, perhaps, could adequately describe.
I happened to see people moved to tears the first time they saw the infinite horizons from up here, because who will not be able to move and will not prostrate his soul at the foot of this immense altar, probably will not fully understand the hidden meaning that the Cammino dei Borghi Silenti contains. From here, it seems incredible to say, with a little luck in the sunset time looking west, you can also see a slice of the sea: certainly the only point from which a landlocked region, Umbria, can see the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Before starting the descent, the eye rests on a small white cross, a little further down from the side of Montecchio: next to it there is a small memorial stone, with a photo faded by time, an extreme tribute of a father to his son tragically disappeared at an early age. From Melezzole to the small village of Morruzze, man has hardly left a trace, so the pilgrim will walk for hours and hours without likely meeting a living soul.
Continuing north, on the crest of the Amerini mountains, the path will be constantly immersed in dense thickets practically intact and only in a stretch, a few steps, it will cross a paved road with little traffic that going up from Montecchio forks right at the height of the crossing going down towards Civitella del Lago on the left or towards Morre, on the right. From a decidedly impervious valley, the path climbs up to the small village of Morruzze, the second silent village of the day and one of the most characteristic: as in Santa Restituta the day before, an almost cloistered silence welcomes the walker, on a pretty little square in which a shaded bench, an ancient well and a precious fountain are the masters.
The nearby village of Morre already has the characteristics of a small town with a few shops, a bar and even a pharmacy but just take a few steps and enter the winding alleys, to return to immerse yourself in that silence that is the constant during the Way.
The day was tiring, the difference in height and the goal is now a few kilometers away: no step has been taken in vain for the pilgrim, much less those who conclude this effort, immersed in the most characteristic Umbrian landscape where thousands of shades of green make to be counterbalanced to the infinite sky.
Entering the small village of Acqualoreto could leave the same feeling that the medieval pilgrim felt at the sight of the walls of Rome; another evening is approaching, another day is coming to an end along the Way of the Silent Villages and rest is necessary before tackling other paths and taking other steps. But this, if you will, is another story from these timeless places.
Way of the Silent Villages, third day: from torment to ecstasy in a path that becomes almost a secular prayer
by Gabriele Marcheggiani
ACQUALORETO, third day of the Way of the Silent Villages – Lying on a hill, with a view that sweeps towards the tuderte territory and the green hills that surround the city of Jacopone, the silent village dominates the Tiber Valley for a wide stretch. On September mornings, when summer is no longer and autumn is not yet, Acqualoreto seems to glide over the sea of mists that envelop the valley below, like an Olympus distant from the earthly world that becomes throne for the gods: nothing is more intimately linked to the Umbrian land like the landscape that can be enjoyed from this pleasant hill.
If the pilgrim on the Way was looking for this, he will have enough to fill his eyes and heart with every step. Today is a day of real effort, before returning to cross the side of the Amerini mountains, the wayfarer will have to walk on an arduous but fascinating, hard but rewarding path; decidedly lost altitude from Acqualoreto, the path descends towards the north and the Tiber valley, passing through woods and clearings interspersed with isolated farmhouses, a retreat of famous people: one of these houses is said to have belonged to Horst Tappert, Commissioner Derrick of a German-brand detective who made history about twenty years ago on TV.
The Path of the Silent Villages was already here, under everyone’s eyes, it was enough to see it through the eyes of the artist, of the one who from the raw wood already imagines the work of art accomplished. Once you reach a crossroads, the path divides: those who have decided to do it by mountain bike will have to descend almost to the banks of the Tiber and take the state road that from Baschi leads to Todi through the Forello Gorges, which when the river is swollen with water and the Corbara dam closed, look more like a Norwegian fjord than an Umbrian landscape.
Gorges of the Forello
Even this place, little known and little frequented, is a treasure of the Way, a naturalistic and landscape pearl of rare beauty. Those who walk the path on foot, will suddenly enter a Dante forest, a place far away, perhaps even from time, where wild nature alone is the master: in this dense forest, with a slightly uneven path, the the sun never penetrates, not even on hot August days and few are those who during the year venture among these holm oaks and hornbeams which have a density similar to a tropical forest.
Suddenly exiting on a large unpaved square, the path has reached the lowest point touched by the Way: the Hermitage of the Pasquarella, entwined like an ivy on the ancient rock, is slightly higher, hidden from the view of the traveler by the intricate and dense forest. Believe it or not, stop for a moment in silence on the pulpit of the binnacle that seems suspended on the tops of the trees, stripped of all your burdens, abandon your few and let your spirit rise above these rocky cliffs to hover like a hawk flying over this realm of Being.
Hermitage of the Pasquarella
Let the silence corrode your useless armor and penetrate to the bottom, until you touch the deepest strings of your soul. He climbs the path, climbs in tight turns, sometimes very narrow and rears up in the middle of this ancestral forest where few men set foot: it climbs with difficulty, because the Path of the Silent Villages is not trivial in anything, but it is an effort that purifies at every step: the rite of walking is a bit like a secular confession, it is exodus and atonement through fatigue and sweat.
At the end of the demanding stretch, the Way touches an ancient Roman furnace, still well preserved, in the locality of Scoppieto, another silent village with a certain charm.
From castles to medieval villages, in the presence of a millenary construction, this is the charm of the Way, a total journey through time and space !. Resuming the journey on gentle roads that are easily covered, you quickly reach Civitella del Lago or de ’Pazzi.
Perched on Lake Corbara, overlooking like a dominant terrace a territory that seems infinite, from the hills of Tuscia to the nearby Orvieto and then again towards the buttresses of Mount Peglia, Civitella is a cinema in which a film is screened that does not even receive a thousand awards Oscars will reward enough. As on the top of infinite horizons, I have seen people no longer at an early age, moved by the view of the panorama that can be enjoyed from up here. I remember a big man in his fifties, apparently not used to tenderness, calling a friend of his in Perugia saying, textual words: “You can’t understand where they took me, I didn’t know a place like this until this morning I didn’t even know it existed and it’s an hour from home! But what are we going to do around here and there, in Umbria ‘n there is nothing missing”.
Yes, in Umbria there is so much to enhance, an open-air treasure that is worth more than all the oil wells on the planet and certain corners are not known even by the Umbrians themselves! Left with a little nostalgia, Civitella, the path glides between vineyards, olive trees and unspeakable horizons, always having the Corbara mirror on the right; the path is now almost inertial, the legs have worked a lot today and like any desired goal, the arrival in the beautiful Baschi is a reward for those who are worth.
What will remain in the mind and heart of what has been seen so far along this path? On the eve of the last stage, the pilgrim, even if tired, will not be able to go back with his gaze on the path traveled a moment ago, torment and ecstasy enclosed in a few steps, a capital experience capable of satisfying the soul and the body. Now the rest is more than necessary before walking again but this, if you want, is another story yet to be told.
Way of the Silent Villages, fourth day: the hills of the sun or of Nature that takes pleasure in itself
by Gabriele Marcheggiani
BASCHI, fourth day of the Way of the Silent Villages – The alarm clock rings early also this morning, the last day of this short but intense journey. Waking up early allows you to savor every moment of the day, without wasting even a minute. In Baschi, the pilgrim will be struck by the beauty of the historical center, intact and silent, despite the fact that the Autostrada del Sole and the railway pass a few hundred meters away.
Ancient and frontier place, of family disputes and fratricidal wars of which the ancient lords of the castle were protagonists, Baschi dominates from above the course of the lazy Tiber, which, exiting the Forello fjord and the Corbara dam, heads towards the countryside Lazio and the end of its flow.
Today the path ends and although there are still a lot of kilometers to face and a fair difference in height, the nostalgia for these places already begins to surface in the soul of the pilgrim: every place crossed, every silent village, every piece of landscape observed from this path, they left an indelible mark, an indelible memory that everyone will carry with them forever. The great challenge of those who have had the audacity to think and trace the Way of the Silent Villages is to leave a mark, a trace, in all those who will set off along its 86 kilometers of route: as far as you can turn and visit the whole world, places like this are nowhere else. To put it with Fabrizio De Andrè, “it’s not you, it’s the land that chooses you”.
And this silent land, with its ancient villages and its industrious people, will choose all those who with the effort of walking steps will have been able to look beyond, far beyond the infinite horizons. The landscape becomes sweet, while you go up to the Poggi di Baschi you really have the feeling of being in the right place at the right time, because there is no wrong time to visit these lands, no season will be too cold or too hot to reject the wayfarer. Before descending into the Vallone di San Lorenzo, walking on a wide grassy hill, the unmistakable silhouette of Palazzo Ancajani in Tenaglie appears right in front of the walker, a sign that the ring of the silent villages is about to close. Before starting the descent, just below the vertical of the top of Mount Melezzole – the terrace of infinite horizons – appears to Montecchio view.
Surrounded by olive plantations that act as sentinel to its beautiful village, Montecchio seems to be a vessel that plows the sinuosities of hills sparkling with light, similar to the ripples of the waves when the light breeze rises on summer afternoons: the poet does not it will take to bad if by stealing its famous verses, the wayfarer will feel the need to sink gently in this sea. The Vallone di San Lorenzo is another of the incredible places that make up this Way; the Umbrian-Etruscan necropolis is the plastic testimony of the passage of time and the fleeting passage of man and the civilizations that have forged this land in nature and soul.
Necropolis of San Lorenzo
Panta rei, everything flows, only this enchanted nature remains, the stones of the millenary sepulchres, the impregnable walls of the medieval villages and the severe and profound silence, the unmistakable voice of the divine. Each campaign of excavations is a new discovery, a sign that the necropolis of Montecchio will continue to surprise a little at a time, bestowing with measured generosity testimonies of a distant past in which a flourishing civilization inhabited these hills. You go back uphill briefly, passing through now dried-up ditches and increasingly dense woods, because until the last step the Way of the Silent Villages keeps its wild beauty intact. To cross the alleys of Montecchio, the last silent village, there is a not insignificant risk: if walking on tiptoe you will fill up with its quiet beauty, lingering in the paved alleys to admire the flowered balconies, between segments of sky and sly cats , you may want to stay here forever, like the stones set in the houses of one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.
Montecchio, as a friend once told me, is nature that takes pleasure in itself. The risk of not wanting to leave is overwhelmingly strong. And here is the last remnant of the Way, the one that reports – after four days, three nights, eighty-six kilometers, three thousand meters of altitude difference and over one hundred and seventy thousand steps – in the silent Tenaglie.
Time has passed quickly but nothing of this experience can be fleeting. The pilgrim, tired but happy to have completed the route, will receive the coveted parchment as a gift, as happens in Santiago de Compostela: in the city that almost overlooks the Atlantic, it is tradition that the walker, having finished the famous journey, participates in a religious rite as a sign of thanks.
Here in Tenaglie, there is no ritual to participate in except that of the lofts of religion, which provides for the umpteenth time a deep and moved look towards the horizons that seem to have no borders from this strip of land. Those same horizons that have furrowed an indelible trace in each of us who let ourselves be involved in the Path of the Silent Villages.