Many artists dream about painting in Italy. Now, as retiring baby-boomers are increasingly taking up “brush and pallet knife,” more than ever, painting in Italy is the “thing.” Every day, a new “Artist’s” tour of Italy crops up in travel sections of the newspaper and on the Internet. But there still remains a majority of artists who prefer to “go it alone.” They are independent in their artistic styles, and prefer to be independent regarding their travels in Italy . This blog intends to target these free spirited artists who still need guidance to the best places to paint, especially those idyllic gems that are little known and less traveled. Certainly, independent travelers who are not artists will also benefit from this blog.

With a few exceptions, this blog is not a guide to restaurants, lodging, rental cars, or shopping, (except for art supplies.)

Sprinkled among the posts are: my paintings, and a few Italian proverbs and poems written by notable Italian authors for whom I work as a translator.

Please visit my website to view my original art:


Giclee prints of my paintings, ranging from greeting size to poster size, can be purchased at:


Thursday, February 25, 2010


Umbria is known as the “Green heart of Italy.” This landlocked region boasts the soft landscape that inspired paintings by Perugino and Raphael. Its vineyard and olive grove peppered hills roll into the distance, small villages are silhouetted on the crests of knolls, and the mountains are ever-present in the background. A Mecca for plein air painting, Umbria should be on every artists “must see” list.
About five miles outside the town of Terni, taking the State Road "Valnerina", the Cascata delle Marmore (Marmore Falls) offers a spectacular introduction to the region. The 540-foot falls that drop in three tiers is the highest in Italy and the largest manmade waterfall in Europe. Created by the Romans in 271 BC in order to make the stagnant waters of the Velino River flow down the Marmore cliff into the River Nera in the Rieti Valley below, this calcium rich water forms deposits that resemble marble, thus the name. Rather than eroding the ground like most falls, the Marmore calcium deposits actually build up the underlying surface.
Statistics aside, Marmore Falls, where clouds of white foam embrace lavish vegetation, is a magical location to paint. The local population prefer to give it a mythological origin: the story goes that the nymph Nera had fallen in love with a shepherd, Velino, but Juno to punish her transformed her into a river, the Nera. Velino, anguished, threw himself down from the Marmore cliff in order to be united with his beloved: that mortal jump would continue for eternity. How’s that for a bittersweet love story to translate to canvas?
As is sometimes the case, nothing as beautiful as Marmore Falls comes without a hitch. In this case, the snag is that the waterfall has been converted to energy production. So what’s good for the planet is challenging for the artist. Don’t despair, plan your trip to the falls on Saturdays or Sundays, or 11:00 to 1:00 and 4:00 to 6:00 on summer weekdays when the Velino River that feeds the falls gets a break from its energy producing job and is allowed to flow free, cascade, foam, and splash for lucky viewers to ooh, ah, and paint. Just to be safe, check first on the Internet or at the tourist office in Terni for times.
The park at the Marmore Falls has numerous viewing platforms with plenty of room to set up an easel. At the lower outlook (Byron Square) you’ll most likely encounter fellow artists from Italy and other European nations. Many are regular visitors to the falls and will happily provide tips on where to set up at various times of day to take advantage of the best lighting.
If you prefer to hike from the lower level to the upper level, rather than drive, there is a historic trail you can take. To do so, you’ll need hiking or tennis shoes and allow 40 minutes to reach the summit and 25 to get back down. It’s a beautiful hike that has natural ground and in some parts wooded stairs and small wooden bridges. During the walk you’ll be in an extraordinary world of vegetation and caves, but you can’t see the falls until you reach the tunnel called the “lover’s balcony.” When you arrive there, you will be under the highest drop of the falls and appreciate the freshness of the water, having a shower! Bring a raincoat, umbrella, or trash bag. I know this isn’t the ideal condition for painting, but it is one wild and beautiful, unforgettable experience.
If you’d rather remain dry, you can drive between the upper and lower lookouts. At the entrance, (the current fee is 3 euros) you can pick up a map of all the hiking trails and lookout posts. The upper belvedere is an observatory, a small building which stands at the summit above the first and most impressive tier of the Marmore Waterfalls. The view from here is fascinating as it enables you to appreciate from close up the enormous mass of plunging water, and in particular conditions the appearance of a rainbow due to the refraction of the sun’s rays on the rising drops of water.
There are ample restrooms, picnic tables, a bar/deli, and a restaurant, so you can go early and stay late.
If your time is limited, I recommend driving to the upper belvedere first and then driving back to the lower level and taking “route 4” (the trail maps have numbered routes) It takes about 35 minutes (uphill and downhill), which allows more time to paint. This route is isolated as opposed to the others because it’s on the facing side of the falls of Monte Pennarossa and it is reachable crossing the State Road 209 Valnerina at the lower outlook (Byron Square). Via these stone steps you have access to two different panoramic points and you can admire and paint the frontal view of the falls. This is also the widest view of the falls.
In every era the beauty of the Marmore Waterfalls has inspired poets and artists, and numerous paintings and reproductions of Italian and foreign artists exist. Virgil referred to the Marmore Waterfalls when he quotes in the Aeneid, VII book: “a valley of dark woodlands and between the trees a river which thunders and falls over big stones.”
“Horribly beautiful”
is how English poet George Byron defined Marmore Waterfalls. In his Childe Harolds Pilgrimage, Byron sings the praises of the Marmore Waterfalls describing it as one of the most fascinating spectacles ever seen during his numerous journeys.
“The crash of waters! From its rocky heights the Velino ventures through the water flushed precipes. Waterfalls! As fast as light, the shimmering mass of water foams, shaking the abyss. Hell of waters! There where they cry out and hiss and bubble in their eternal torture; while the sweat of their immense agony squeezed by their Flagstone, embraces the black rocks that surround the abyss, spread with tremendous horror..”
George Byron “Childe Harolds Pilgrimage”

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