As with our paddling, the experience itself must be perfectly timed and coincide with the waterfall ‘turning on’. Although this 541-foot cascade may seem like a great natural wonder, it has been bred to death since its inception in 271 B.C. controlled by man. At that time, the Velino River flooded the hills above the town of Rieti, creating swampy, stagnant water bodies full of malaria mosquitoes. To solve the problem, a Roman consul ordered a canal to be built to channel water from a cliff into the River Nera. the Marmore Falls were born. A 2,000-year-old testament to human ingenuity, they remain the tallest man-made waterfall in the world.
Much of the water from the upper Velino River is now diverted to a hydroelectric power station, meaning the falls are just a gentle stream most of the time. To the delight of visitors and adventure seekers alike, the facility flips a switch twice a day to divert the entire body of water over the cliff. When the water is in full flow it is a sublime spectacle, which Lord Byron described in his poem as “a cataract beyond comparison, terribly beautiful”. The waterfalls of Terni.
This makes paddling on the water tiring, especially in reverse. But the effort is rewarded by sudden falls over rapids that throw water in our faces and make us hold on to the raft for fear of being thrown overboard. When Ronny announces we’ve finished the course my arms ache but I’m surprised I want more of the rush. He plays one last trick on us by instructing us to jump off the raft on the shore before revealing that we have to swim across the icy water to reach the jetty.
Later that day I follow one of the six hiking trails around the falls. Along the way, I stop at the Lovers’ Balcony, a small terrace at the end of a tunnel, so close to the roaring cascade that you’ll be blown over by copious amounts of water carried by the wind. I keep walking to reach the higher viewing platform, up about 600 steps. At the top of the falls I am rewarded with a dazzling rainbow. Not even the Romans could have made it.
Plan your trip
Ryanair flies direct from London to Perugia Airport (Umbria’s international airport) in approximately two hours and 20 minutes. The closest town to the Marmore Falls is Terni; From here, regular bus services bring visitors directly to the park.
Rafting on marbles offers guided rafting experiences for the breadth of experience, including beginners, and provides all the necessary equipment.
A ticket is required for access Marble Falls Park and explore the trails. Hours of operation change monthly so check the website before visiting.
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