The Spoleto - Norcia cycle route is today an example of a former railway successfully converted to bicycle tourism, but let's take a step back ...
We’re in Umbria where you can’t see the sea but where hills, protected areas, beautiful villages perched on promontories... surely don’t lack! It is the year 1926 and it’s an autumn full of news for this area in central Italy: the Spoleto – Norcia railway line, with narrow-gauge and electric traction, is ready to start its short story in the overview of the Italian railways now almost forgotten!
Discovering the former railway by bicycle
The Spoleto – Norcia railway was dismantled in 1968 and due to its characteristics can be surely defined an Alpine (or Apennine?) railway with 19 galleries and 24 bridges and viaducts. An exclusive peculiarity of the Spoleto – Norcia railway is the gradient of 4.5% of the tracks between Spoleto and the valley of the river Nera, a slope quite unusual for a normal railway. Today many decide to face this route by bicycle (mountain bike or also touring bicycle like us) along the 51 km of the whole railway line between the city of Spoleto, the hills of the surroundings, the Valnerina valley, one of the most evocative places in Umbria, the valley of the river Corno and then Norcia.
Immediately the route climbs constantly with a gradient of 4.5% till the Cortaccione viaduct and continues till the one of Caprareccia among breathtaking views and galleries where the bottom is sometimes a little tricky. Along the roadside you can often glimpse signs mentioning the areas bordering the track as reserved for truffle hunting. The viaduct of Caprareccia discloses the station and the pass with the same name. Shortly before reaching the station of Caprareccia you have the possibility to abandon the cycling route and go down to Arezzola, and then go back to Spoleto.
The pass is exceeded with a gallery long almost 2000 meters, the longest of the cycling route. In order to exceed this stretch of the former railway it is necessary to use a head torch or a bike light because the gallery isn’t lit. At the end of the tunnel, after about 10 km along the route, starts the descent to Sant'Anatolia di Narco that, in its last part is particularly pendant. Evocative is the "helical passage" of the former railway line among viaducts and galleries. Pay attention going down along the tunnel towards Sant'Anatolia di Narco because of the bottom so rich in small stones to sink the tires and make the bicycle swerve, especially if loaded.
After a very short stretch on the 685 state road (200-300 meters) you go back again to the track of the old railway Spoleto - Norcia also signaled by the signs as Greenway n° 6. On a well-trod bottom starting from Sant'Anatolia di Narco you continue cycling flanking the SS685 road towards Castel San Felice, a picturesque perched village that the track skims without reaching. The village is higher on the right, but if you have enough time, it’s worth a visit. The cycling itinerary of the old railway enters Valnerina, the narrow valley running northwards that allows to come close to Norcia. Rapidly, flanking the river Nera, you first reach Piedipaterno and then Borgo Cerreto. Just beyond the village of Cerreto di Spoleto, perched on the canyon wall, stands out, ideal place where to check the passages in the valley in the past.
you suddenly turn to the east leaving the Nera and starting flanking the river Corno that is born on the Terminillo mount in the Lazio region. It’s easy to follow the track again for a few kilometers until it gets lost in a large lawn just after passing a house with some menacing dogs. At the crossroads where, the track in front of you ends in the grass, while on the left goes up towards the state road along a short but step, unfinished stretch, turn left and go on till you run into a gate that may be closed (likely in low season). In this case you’ll have to climb over with your bicycle and luggage as happened to us. From this point on the old Spoleto - Norcia railway
hasn’t been restored yet and to continue towards Norcia
you’re obliged to take the SS685 road. 7-8 km of traffic congested, dangerous road (you have to go beyond lit galleries too) divides the end of the track from Serravalle, where the route starts again. The alternative option to avoid the SS685 is to follow from Triponzo the Greenway of the river Nera
(we have already traveled the section from the Marmore Falls to Ferentillo) towards Preci and reach Norcia from the north even if the road gets longer.
Try to cycle along this stretch during daylight and to make yourself as visible as possible with reflective jackets. In summer the state road is very beaten but in the low season, avoiding rush hours, you could be lucky and find not many vehicles. In Serravalle you start again to breathe taking the last section of the Spoleto - Norcia line till Norcia
, where we’re heading to; you leave the river Corno and follow the indications along a path in the woods... it’s impossible to get lost! Norcia, one of the most beautiful villages in Umbria, is in the Monti Sibillini National Park
and is a good starting point to explore the surroundings by bicycle (also by mountain bike, renting one in the village).
The Spoleto – Norcia railway
that was on rails, today is an off-road track not so demanding, but to cope with it its’ necessary to have a minimum training and be equipped with a strong bicycle. Take with you enough water especially in summer and if it’s very hot (there are two springs along the route, many bars and then you can buy provisions in the villages), different kinds of food and an electric torch / head torch to go along some galleries quite long and with no lighting.
The route isn’t a ring therefore to go back to your base you need to get ready on time, unless you want to spend a night in the beautiful Norcia, starting point of The Saint Benedict's way cycle route
. The railway line can be traveled in both directions but the classic is obviously with departure from Spoleto. It’s possible to start the track from Norcia
but from Sant'Anatolia to Caprareccia the bottom of the galleries is difficult to be traveled due to the huge number of small rocks, so we suggest that you face it downhill. Signs are not always present especially where the itinerary ends in the state road, but the route can be easily guessed and overall we did not find any particular orientation difficulties!
What to see along the Spoleto – Norcia railway
, with its beautiful cathedral, the Rocca Albornoziana, its palaces and monuments is surely one of the prettiest medium-size towns in Umbria and it’s worth a visit also to spend there a couple of days before leaving for the adventure along the Spoleto – Norcia railway. Spoleto is also reachable from Assisi by another cycle path
, but we’ll talk about it on another occasion. Leaving behind Spoleto, attention focuses especially on the engineering works of the many viaducts and railway bridges with really evocative views on the perched villages.
The Valnerina valley
, narrow and fascinating with the small villages of Castel San Felice, Borgo Cerreto..., the valley of the river Corno till Serravalle represents one of the wonders of the region and the clear water of the Nera, in the hottest days, will invite you to take a bath. Norcia is at the beginning of the Monti Sibillini National Park, a really interesting protected area because of its biodiversity and landscapes. Piazza San Benedetto is the heart of Norcia and also the place where there are the most interesting and odd monuments besides the fabulous norcinerie. Before going back home don’t forget to buy up Palle del nonno
and cojoni di mulo
Spoleto - Norcia railway is one of the best example o
After the earthquakes of 2016 and 2017
Following the seismic events of recent years, the road system in the area of the Sibillini National Park, between the Marche and Umbria, has been turned upside down and to date some roads are still difficult to pass. Norcia, the arrival point of the railway line Spoleto - Norcia, the city of San Benedetto and the heart of the national reserve is no longer the same. For those who visited the area before 2016, returning after the catastrophic events could be a half shock: some city areas are still closed and access is forbidden, the Church of San Benedetto is now in ruins and many rooms have been closed and / or replaced by new ones. Norcia is no longer the same after that fateful day but the route of the old railway can certainly help to revive this beautiful town of Umbria again.
The cycle route of the former Spoleto - Norcia railway has been included among the cycling routes because we have lived it as a bike-traveler with a loaded bicycle. Randomness has it that on the same day in which we faced the path we were to compete in the 2014 edition of Spoleto Norcia in Mtb! The track therefore lends itself perfectly to being tackled even during a classic mountain bike tour! If you happen to be in these parts do not hesitate: to go along the old Spoleto - Norcia railway is really worth the trip!