One clear spring day I decided to take a trip to the beautiful Niccone Valley.
A few kilometres from Umbertide, the Niccone Valley literally winds its way through Umbria and Tuscany to such an extent that while taking the road that connects Umbertide to Lisciano Niccone, you cross over from one region to the other various times.
My tour in the Niccone Valley had two purposes: on the one hand, I wanted to document the beauty of the valley, on the other, I sought to visit the many places of my childhood, a time when discovering a village or a castle was amongst the healthy and pleasant pastimes of a typical Umbrian youth.
The first stop was the small village of Montemigiano. Located on a hilltop surrounded by olive trees, privately owned Montemigiano dates back to 1200 and has been perfectly restored.
It is a pleasure to walk along its lanes, looking at the stone houses with their small gardens, finally arriving in the small square of Montemigiano that is home to the Bell Tower and Church, where one can admire the view of the valley.
Next I continued on to the village of Bastia Creti, which I was only able to see from the outside. Hidden in the middle of the woods, the village of Bastia Creti is privately owned and has been converted into a luxury resort.
The next stop was the Medieval Castle of Reschio. The castle and the surrounding lands and farmhouses were purchased in 1994 by an Austrian-Hungarian family of Italian origin that restored the farmhouses to create luxury accommodations.
The Castle of Reschio and the nearby small church of San Michele Arcangelo are abandoned but still preserve their ancient charm.
I headed on to Preggio, which is not under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Lisciano Niccone but Umbertide. Preggio is home to approximately 120 people and, to be honest, I met very few of them during my visit.
It is precisely the sensation of being in a small community far from everything and everyone, lost in the backlanes amidst ancient stone houses and surrounded by an infinitely immense natural landscape that makes Preggio a magical place.
After Preggio I decided to visit Sorbello Castle, which is located on the hill across from the Castle of Reschio, but this time in Tuscany.
Persistent in my intention to document my day of discovering the Niccone Valley as much as possible, I was not hindered by the “private property” sign found at the beginning of the dirt road that leads to the castle. I stopped at the small bar in Sorbello and asked for information. The group of people in front of the bar did not discourage my idea, quite the contrary, they spurred me on telling me that the castle is owned by Marchioness Sorbello, a very polite and kind lady. Encouraged by this information, I decided to attempt a visit and, disregarding the sign, I continued along the dirt road that clambers through the woods up the hill, arriving at the entrance to the castle.
I stopped the car, got out and headed towards the castle. I caught sight of a woman in the garden intent on mowing the grass and doing other small gardening chores. The woman, whom I presumed was the Marchioness of the noble Bourbon del Monte family, came towards me. Flaunting one of my nicest smiles, I politely asked if I could see the castle from the outside and the elegant and kind woman, just as they described her at the bar, let me in.
Sorbello Castle, which is of the Ghibelline tradition, as the crenellated towers suggest, was built as a fortress and then became the residence of the Marquis’ family. It is majestic and a bit melancholy.
I imagined immense cold rooms inside and thought of how big it must seem with just two people living there.
Nevertheless, the beautiful day and the manicured garden made this image almost pleasant, providing a sense of tranquillity in slight decline.
After leaving the Sorbello Castle the sun started to set and I realized that the day was almost over. There were still many more undiscovered corners of the Niccone Valley but I was satisfied just the same: I was fortunate to gain entrance to private properties to testify to their beauty.
The Niccone Valley has been known and renowned for a long time: more than twenty years ago foreigners started to become interested in the Umbrian and Tuscan countryside and found an almost idyllic place in the Niccone Valley, the perfect combination of an uncontaminated natural environment, small charming villages and numerous castles.
I returned home with an awareness that the foreigners who fell in love with this valley had every reason to do so. Despite not being able to visit privately owned castles and villages, the fascination of the Niccone Valley has remained unchanged merely for the fact of being able to see these lovely places dotting the landscape from afar.