The Chronicles of Narnia was one of my favorite series growing up. Partially because we watched the (laughable) 80’s version of The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe on VHS over and over again. The other part was because it’s so cool as a kid to imagine a distant wonderland, that you can just escape to whenever you feel like it.
See, Clive Staples Lewis (I understand why he abbreviated it C.S Lewis) was pretty interested in Roman history, and when he saw the name of this medieval town on a map, he fell in love. Today Narni, Italy is one of the most charming towns in the region of Umbria, and is only about an hour drive from Rome.
In May, Narni hosts a medieval festival that attracts thousands from all over the world, but visiting in December allowed me to see it for the first time like a local. Here’s how we spent our time in Narni.
The Augustus Bridge
The Pointe d’Augustus was built under none other than emperor Augustus himself, in the year 27 BC. It’s 30 meters high, made of the largest marble blocks I have ever seen. This structure was one of the largest bridges ever constructed by the Romans, and it certainly doesn’t sound like an easy feat even in modern times. The bridge was so complex, with so many irregularities that historians think it was a super lengthy process until completion.
It’s such an interesting feeling to be next to something that collapsed thousands of years before, and think of how many people it must have taken to build in the first place. Earthquakes got the best of it slowly overtime, with the final collapsing of the third pylon happening around 1855. You can totally see why they just let the marble pieces stay, and fall back into the nature that surrounds the lovely river beds.
The Gorge of The River Nera
It was much warmer that day than it had been, so we decided to follow the hiking path along the River Nera. The water here is a strange beautiful teal color, and in the dryer seasons you can see straight through to the bottom.
We didn’t hike the whole path, but wandered along the dirt trail until it got a little too muddy to go on. It had snowed the days before, and the little white patches were only left on the highest peaks, and darkest valleys. It reminding me of the Chronicles of Narnia, when winter finally ends and summer is returning after 100 years. Of course it’s no surprise that this path is popular among hikers and trail runners, who love the scenic settings of the Umbrian countryside.
The Historic Center Of Narni
One of the best things about visiting a small town like Narni, is that you don’t feel panicked that you won’t have time to see it all. Granted it helped that we arrived by car and had a flexible schedule, but there is nothing like being able to wander around carefree and soak in all the sites.
We visited the main squares, and then decided to hike up beyond the neighborhoods, to see the Castle fortress called the “Rocca Albornoziana”. One thing I really enjoy doing while visiting other cities, is just to walk around in residential neighborhoods. They’re usually quiet, full of interesting architecture, and really let you imagine for a moment what it must be like to call it home.
The castle was closed for restoration, but it was a lovely walk, and the view from the top is incredible. You can totally imagine how safe it must have you must have felt to live up there at the time, looking down on the beautiful sprawling hills of Umbria.
After hiking back down through the residential areas, we headed into the Church of St. Francis to check out the frescos. They’d been recently restored, and we had a lovely private tour given by one of the young caretakers. He explained the restorations of the motifs and the lives of the saints who’d been represented there.
Growing up protestant, I’m pretty unfamiliar with all the many (many many) saints, but it was a such beautiful history lesson. They’ve been restored to their original beauty, and the colors are just remarkable.
After checking out another nearby church, we had quick snack, (the most amazing white pizza I have ever tasted) and killed some time before dinner. We visited the various shops along the main square, checking out the latest Italian winter fashions and marveling at how much better all the older residents were dressed than everyone else does in America.
It’s still such a strange thing for me to walk in the door of an historic building, and be in the middle of a stationary shop. In Narni, many shops still use the antique wooden signs you’d have seen in the mediaeval period. They sometimes use older Italian and Latin on the signs, so with my limited skills, I would have had no idea what they said. Quite lucky for me, I’ve got a permanent translator by my side who read them off to me as we passed by.
Something I just adore about Italy, is that they still use small specialized shops for EVERYTHING. Magazines still come from the news kiosks, and you’d head to pharmacy to pick up a bottle of aspirin. Especially in these small towns, I can imagine it’s something you grow to cherish, when you’re used to buying half your stuff from amazon.
We hung around Narni for dinner, which is hardly ever served before 8 pm in Italy. Being a hungry American used to eating earlier (and constantly when in Italy) we headed to the best restaurant in Narni the moment it opened. We were able to tour the beautiful bottega just before it was full of patrons, looking to warm up with some Umbrian comfort food.
The restaurant called “La Bottega Del Giullare” means the Restaurant Of The Jester, a nod to the medieval grandeur of this historic setting. It was beautifully decorated with vaulted ceilings, and was the perfect end to a day of wandering in the winter time. Dishes featuring game like boar and roast chicken are typical in Umbrian cuisine, and the hearty pasta dishes did not disappoint. Afterwards, we were so full that we went at half pace down the cobblestone streets, but we made it back to the car as very happy campers.
If you are planning a visit to Umbria, Narni is a lovely place to stop for a visit. You can easily see most important landmarks within a few hours, and the views are spectacular. It’s a perfect day trip from Rome, and a great idea for families who prefer to be in less crowded touristy areas.
Because we visited between Christmas and New Years, the town was full of charming festive decor, and Nativity scenes were everywhere we turned. My favorite part of our trip to Narni, was seeing this beautiful fountain lit up after dark, complete with a simple clay nativity scene in the center. Everywhere you look is like a step back into time, and if that isn’t the magic of Narni, I don’t know what is.