Wednesday, September 25, 2013

OTBP: Bassano del Grappa (Veneto)

I’ve decided to start a series on the blog called “Off the Beaten Path”, or OTBP (cuz I’m lazy), where I showcase a lesser-known town mostly in the Veneto region. The big tourist attractions are wonderful and important to see, but Italy has so much more to offer if you can take the time to wander the less traditional areas. Today, let’s visit Bassano del Grappa.

Entrance to bridge - Ponte degli Alpini

Bassano del Grappa is in the Vicenza province of the Veneto. It’s a very old city at the base of the Pre-Alp mountain area and runs along the Brenta River. One of the most recognizable symbols of the city is the Ponte degli Alpini, which is a wooden pontoon bridge designed by Andrea Palladio in 1569.  The Alpini are an elite mountain infantry group that was created to protect Italy’s northern mountain border.

...those are bullet holes folks...
Because of the geography of the city, the town has been on the forefront of many wars – it was hit hard during The French Revolution (Napoleon stayed in the city for several months), World War I (The Great War) and World War II - battle scars can still be seen today. As a result, the Ponte degli Alpini has been rebuilt several times, most recently after WW2, where the Alpine soldiers funded the rebuilding through private collections.  As an aside for literature buffs, Ernest Hemingway spent some time in Bassano during his stint as an ambulance driver in WW1. Several parts of his book “A Farewell to Arms” were set here.

Aside from its war-time history, Bassano del Grappa is also famous for something else – Grappa. Grappa is a highly alcoholic beverage made from distilling all the leftovers from making wine – leaves, stems, pulp, etc.  It’s usually drunk as a digestivo (after-dinner drink) and is also frequently added to espresso for a caffe’ corretto. A well-known Grappa maker is Nardini, who has a very cool space-agey distillery near town that offers a guided tour and samples, in addition to a shop on the Ponte degli Alpini which displays old distillery vats, equipment, etc. and sells the spirit.  Be warned, Grappa is very strong – you can “feel the burn” all the way down when you drink it J.  

Palazzo Sturm -
Museo Remondini
The town is divided by the Brenta River and as you cross the Alpini Bridge you get to some of the oldest parts of the city. It is lovely, and the best way to explore is just to get lost in the maze of streets. If you are a nerd like me, a trip to the Museo Remondini which is a print/paper museum housed in Palazzo Sturm is a must. For 200 years, the Remondini family were high-end publishers who printed on paper they made; they were typographers - printing at a time when books were expensive and precious. The museum exhibits items they published, the presses and letter blocks they used, wallpapers made, etc. It is EXTREMELY interesting for someone who loves all things associated with paper. Throughout the year they also hold hands-on workshops, which I will totally blog about when I get to go! (If you want to read more about the Remondini’s here’s a nice article). Also, housed in the Palazzo Sturm is a ceramic museum. The area is famous for ceramics and the museum showcases the locally made ceramics as well as majolica.

Monument on Mount Grappa
If you want to get out of the city and spend some time outdoors, take a trip to Mount Grappa. The countryside is beautiful, with cows grazing peacefully in the meadows, bells clanging as they walk. You’ll see small wooden buildings, Malga, dotting the landscape where local cheese is made and where, if you’re lucky, you’ll find someone on the side of the road selling that delicious cheese or a sign showing the way to a Malga that will sell it to you directly. At the top of the mountain there is a rifugio where you can take a rest, have a coffee and a snack. Also at the top is an army barracks with a small museum explaining the importance of that location during The Great War and a bunker that you can explore that goes deep into the mountain – wear a jacket, it gets cold! The most moving part of the mountain top is the monument that commemorates the thousands of men who died on the mountain – Italian, Austrian, etc. – all buried together in the ravages of war. Each niche of the monument represents an unnamed soldier that lost his life there.

I think I’ve hit the highlights, but there is much more to explore in this town. It’s a beautiful area of the Veneto and an ancient town full of historical and beautiful sites – definitely worth exploring if you like to get off the beaten path.

More later…

1 comment :

Hotel venice airport said...

It really is a wonderful destination for those that are desiring to try some rally wonderful sorts of wine.