Umbria: Italy’s Dreamy Heartland

Umbria: Italy’s Dreamy Heartland
I’m riding south through Umbria on the Via Flaminia, the ancient road connecting Rome with Rimini on the Adriatic Coast. I fancy it has been improved since Gaius Flaminius initiated construction around 220 B.C.—now named prosaically “Strada Statale 3.” This fast two-lane highway sweeps along the western slopes of the Apennines toward my first destination, Gualdo Tadino.

Turning off the highway, I climb a winding road leading to the town center, nestling on the hillside. My Garmin z¯umo guides me through a warren of steep, narrow streets until my progress is stopped by a wooden barrier. I’m within 220 yards (200 meters) of my hotel. In fact, I can see it across the square, which is filled with young people. Right outside the hotel, a stage is being assembled for a rock concert. “Ingresso vietato,” (do not enter) says the young man behind the barrier. Seeing the Frankfurt registration on my BMW F 800 GS, he tries to explain in German. “Inglese?” (English) I suggest. Apparently, I have to park a quarter-mile farther away or my bike will be towed.

Many of Umbria's fortified hill towns were built during periods of political instability after the collapse of the Roman Empire.

Options—lug my bags almost half a mile to the hotel and lie awake all night with a rock concert outside my window—or, continue on the Via Flaminia to the next town. With dark clouds rolling over the peaks, I decide to move on and rejoin SS3, exiting 20 minutes later in the tiny hamlet of Nocera Umbra. I stop at the first hotel I see—predictably named the Flaminia. At 30 Euros (US$ 39), my tiny room is simple, but agreeably inexpensive.

I ride back out of town looking for fuel and food. It’s Sunday afternoon and all the stores and restaurants are closed—even gas stations—except for a pre-pay debit card pump. The pump won’t accept any of my Canadian cards; however, it does have a bill reader. The smallest bill I have is 20 Euros (US$ 26) and my fill up costs around 12 (US$ 15). The pump doesn’t give change…

Marche: In and Out

East of Umbria, between the Apennines and the Adriatic, is the mountainous province of Marche (pronounced marr-ke). I agree to meet my buddy, Michael, in Spoleto, Umbria. It’s 30 miles (50 km) south of Nocera Umbra, and I have all day to get there. Mountains and motorcycles are a great combo!

Amedeo Severini Perla pares slices of wild boar prosciutto in Norcia.

The Flaminia’s signora (lady) suggests a fluffy, fragrant chocolate brioche and cappuccino for breakfast. I savor it before turning the GS south on SS3 to Foligno where I’ll head east into Marche. But, there’s a problem. The main road east out of Foligno (SS77) is inaccessible due to a bridge repair. Eventually, I discover the old road, Via Flaminia Nord, which detours around the bridge and puts me back on SS77 in San Lorenzo.

There are few roads through Marche to the Adriatic, so SS77 is busy with truck traffic. It’s a beautiful winding, climbing highway that threads between fields and forests before narrowing, and snaking its way ever higher into the mountains. By Serravalle di Chienti, dense woods crowd the road, which is now barely wide enough for oncoming trucks to pass without losing door mirrors to the ancient stone walls. I pause to investigate the old church of San Martino; unfortunately it's not open right now, so I don't get to see inside.

In Muccia, I turn off 77 on to Strada Provinciale 209 to head back down into Umbria, leaving the bulk of the trucks behind. It’s a classic mountain road cascading near the course of tree-lined canyons alongside rushing creeks. Bare crags hover over the road and where the terrain is too steep, shoots into tunnels bored through the rock. While the road surfacing is indifferent, the steady supply of wide curves provides plenty of fun—especially on the plush-sprung GS.