Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bassano del Grappa

Bassano Del Grappa is famous for the spirit Grappa. Grappa is now a protected name in the EU, just like Barolo wine and Parmigiano cheese. To be called grappa, the following criteria must be met:

(1) Produced in Italy
(2) Produced from pomace
(3) Fermentation and distillation must occur on the pomace—no added water

The legend tells that a Roman soldier first distilled Grappa in the northern Italian town of Bassano del Grappa using a distilling equipment stolen in Egypt (“Crisiopea di Cleopatra” 2nd century AD). The city itself was founded in the 2nd century BCE by a Roman called Bassianus, hence the original name Bassano Veneto. After the terrible battles on Mount Grappa in WWI , where thousands of soldiers lost their lives, a decision was made to change the name of the town. In 1928, the name was changed to Bassano del Grappa, meaning Bassano of Mount Grappa, as a memorial to the soldiers killed.

The symbol of Bassano del Grappa is the covered wooden pontoon bridge , which was designed by the architect Andrea Palladio in 1569. The bridge was destroyed many times, the last time during WWII. The Alpine soldiers, or Alpini have always revered the wooden bridge and Bassano del Grappa. After the destruction of the bridge, they took up a private collection and had the bridge completely rebuilt. Often soldiers flock to the bridge to remember and sing songs from their days as alpine soldiers. The bridge is aptly named the Ponte delgi Alpini. 

Aquavite (grappa) Nardini has been produced and bottled in Bassano del Grappa since 1779. The founder of Italy’s most traditional distillery was Bortolo Nardini, who purchased in April of that year, an inn at the eastern entrance of the famous wooden covered Bassano bridge, on the Brenta river bank. The inn soon became the “Grapperia Nardini”, strategically located for both the ample water supply, a necessary element in the distillation process, as well as its accessibility to the local regional markets. The Grapperia Nardini is preserved in its original state allowing it to be included in the exclusive Association of Historical Places of Italy.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Festa del Redentore

The Festa del Redentore began as a feast to give thanks for the end of the terrible plague of 1576, which killed 50,000 people, including the great painter Tiziano Vecellio (Titian). The Doge Alvise I Mocenigo promised to build a magnificent church if the plague ended. Andrea Palladio was commissioned, assisted by Da Ponte, to build the magnificent church on the Island of Giudecca. The church, known as Il Redentore, was consecrated in 1592, and is one of the most important examples of Palladian religious architecture. After the foundation stone was laid, a small wooden church was temporarily built, along with temporary bridge of barges from the Zattere, so that the Doge Sebastian Venier could walk in procession as far as the tabernacle. Afterward, the Doge made a pilgrimage to the Church of Redentore every year.

The festival is the third Saturday and Sunday of every July. For this weekend only each year, a bridge of barges is built connecting Giudecca to the rest of Venice. On Saturday evening at 7pm the 333m-long bridge, called the Ponte Votivo (votive bridge) is opened and there is a special religious ceremony at the Il Redentore. Beginning at 11:30pm, a 45 minute firework display is lit over the Il Redentore and the lagoon, which is filled with boats decorated with lights and garlands. Once the fireworks are over, the young people of the city head off to the Lido, where they sit on the sand and wait for dawn.

To view a short video of the fireworks, click here.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lessinia Regional Nature Park

It is not easy to believe that in the past, instead of Lessinia, the area was covered with a warm sea rich in tropical flora and fauna. A drive up the steep slopes of the pre-Alps, will bring you to Sant'Anna d'Alfaedo, where the Museo Paleontoglogico e Preistorio will help you to discover how 50 million years ago this area was covered a big sea rich in many fish and plants. The building itself is built out of stone from the area and is divided into two parts.. The first part is devoted to geology of the territory, to explanations of the stratigraphys of the local caves, and to the exhibition of a series of fossils of exceptional value, among them a shark more than six meters long and a sea turtle, reptiles, ammonites, and echinoderms. The second part is devoted to local prehistory, rich of findings of incredible value, such as those of the cave of Fumane, including a 35,000 year old cave drawing and Roman coins intricate with detail.

Nearby is the Ponte di Veja, the largest natural bridge in Europe at 50 meters high. The bridge is the result of natural formation of the cavern. In the beginning there was a cavern of karstic origin. The structure of the cavern was represented by a sort of architrave formed by the bridge with soluble calcareous rock below. The waters of the torrents passed over the bridge, forming a waterfall. With the passing of time the sinkholes were formed bringing the waters inside the cavern, this fact led to the digging, the most soluble part leaving only the arch in red ammonitic limestone. According to a popular legend, Dante Alighieri, exiled in Verona and the guest of Cangrande della Scala, was inspired by the bridge for the description of Malebolge.

Studies and excavations began in 1932 of the caves surrounding the bridge. Estimates of human presence are based on the Upper Paleolithic and date back 100,000 years with the area populated until about 10,000 years ago, a period of probable loss of the extracting of flints for the appearance of metal in sufficient quantity for the first articles made with flint. Residents near the bridge had to be skilled craftsmen at work building the flint arrows, needles, and pins. 

Stop by the Trattoria Ponte di Veja after exploring the bridge and surrounding area. The menu includes several specialties with tartufo nero (black truffles) from the park.

Molina is a Medieval village at the junction between three valleys in steep wooded mountainside. The village itself is charming. The old stone houses reflect the style of the western Lessinia, and its botanical museum in the main square has a fine exhibition of local flora. Located below the village, is the Parco delle Cascate (Waterfalls Park), the main attraction of the village.

The final immersion of the Lessini region took place during the Tertiary era, 25 -30 million years ago, and the rocks in this area, since the moment of their sub-aerial exposition, were subjected to the action of atmospheric agents which caused their modification and fragmentation. The waterfalls were originated along the rivers because of the presence of rocks with different levels of erodibility. The clayey waterproof layers of the Biancone limestone prevent meteoric water from filtering under the ground, thus causing the creation of springs. 

From the village, follow the path to the park entrance (about 10 minute walk). And if you think the path to the entrance is steep and strenuous, turn back! Once inside the park, you can follow one of three trails. The first is the easy trail and will take you to the grotto and Cascata Nero. The red path (medium difficulty) passes by all but the panoramic viewpoint, the round well, and the Dark-breasts cave. The black path is the most difficult and passes along all points, with several very steep uphill ascents. From either the red or black paths, be sure to zip along the cableway across the Cascata del Tombolino and the bravest can swing right into the Cascata Nera. Stop by the bar once you reach the top to rest for a few minutes and cool down with an ice cream. 

To view all my pictures of Lessinia Regional Nature Park, visit 

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Portorož and Strunjan, Slovenia

It is the saltpans and their natural elements—salt, brine, and fango mud—that spurred the development of tourism in Portorož, a coastal village in Slovenia. When healing properties of these natural elements were discovered as early as the 19th century, Portorož got its first hotels and thermal centers. Today, Portorož is a modern tourist resort with numerous hotels, its own marina, airport, casino, congress and wellness centers, and excellent culinary offerings of the region.

From Portorož, a number of footpaths can be taken to neighboring villages. The Seaside Promenade (3 km) transports you from the modern resort town of Portorož to the Medieval seaport of Piran. Between the Bays (2 km) connects Piran with Fiesa. Along this path, you will travel through unblemished nature and brush. Cool down with a refreshing swim in the Adriatic or relax on the rocky beach area between Piran and Fiesa.

The Strunjan Tunnel path (8km) transports you from the bustle of Portorož to salt pans of Strunjan via the tunnel of the former narrow-gauge Trst-Poreč railway line. The tunnel, built between 1900 - 1902, is 544 meters long and is the longest of the railway line. It is no longer used as a railway; today it is a popular bike and footpath known as the Route of Health and Friendship.

In Strunjan, admire the salt pans which produce the salt flower. Salt flower is the best of the best salt with a distinct flavor and fragrance. Its crystals capture the sea with all its minerals and vitamins, the sun and the rejuvenating microclimate. It grows in the salt basin, on the surface of brine out of salt crystals, building a thin, fragile crust. It can form only in ideal conditions and absolute absence of wind. Sample this unique salt in chocolate sprinkled with salt flower or one of the specially created desserts from Cafe Central in Portorož.

After hiking the steep paths, rejuvenate your body to a Thai massage with hot herbs at the Wai Thai Center. By pressing the acupressure points spreading over the entire body, energy channels are opened up improving, thus, the energy flow throughout the body. The application of warm herbs to the body helps improve blood circulation and alleviates various problems (i.e. rheumatic disorders, muscle and joint pains, as well as physical exhaustion), whereas the massage with oils restores skin tone and preserves youthful appearance of the skin.

To view all my pictures of  Portorož, visit