Rain! We tend not to ‘do’ rain. But with 3 of the 4 of us in post virus lethargy we needed a trip to give us a boost. So having sent a number of past guests to the Grotta del Vento because it was raining it was definitely about time we went ourselves. I didn’t think a cave would be ‘my thing’ so it had never made it to the top of the list before but I have to say I’m blown away by these caves, and now will be encouraging everyone to go, even if the sun is shining!
This is the crystal lake, white stalagmites and stalactites formed by calcium deposits. Wet from the rainwater that slowly drips its way underground through the limestone these look as if they are forming before your eyes, and in a sense they are, but to a timescale of thousands of years. They monitored one of the very thin spaghetti stalactites, which are the fastest growing, and in 10 years it grew 1 mm.
Different minerals make the different colours of the cave formations. This colour is from iron (I think!) We had an excellent guide, a Scottish lady from Barga, and we were fortunate to be the only English speakers at that time, so had her to ourselves. There is always an English speaking guide on, and for other nationalities there are headsets in 10 languages.
In this pic below spot the bacon! I’m not making that up, honestly that’s what it’s called, cave bacon, when there are stripes formed in the drapery /curtain formations.
I love the bubble effect here, so hard to believe this isn’t some kind of molten lava bubbling up. It’s really hard to resist touching to check they really are a solid, but touching is forbidden as the oils from skin discolour the rocks.
Looking at the cave formations is like cloud spotting, you can make out all sorts of objects. These are jellyfish, also we saw a dinosaur, giants foot and an old mans face.
These caves have been forming in the Apuane Alps of northern Tuscany for 20 million years. That sort of time span is just mind blowing. They were only discovered recently. Early in the C.20th a group of youths from the village below got a four year old girl to crawl through a gap where wind blew out from the rock, she understandably gave up after a few metres. Adult explorers later made it a bit further in but were blocked by an underground lake or siphon, only in 1961 when the summer had dried up the water was it discovered that there was much more here than just a short basic cave. By making a platform over the lake since 1967 it became possible for the public to safely access these incredible formations.
The name, cave of the wind, comes from the wind that blows through the cave whenever there is a difference in temperature between the inside and outside. The cave is always 10.7 C, the wind blows in or out depending whether it’s hotter or colder outside than this, due to the 8000m change in height between the two cave openings. Even with February temperature (slightly colder) it was enough to feel the wind, it must be really strong in high summer. Another curiosity was the sounds from the abyss, at the ‘chasm of giants’ looking down to the ‘hall of voices’ (Great names) We thought we were hearing the voices of another tour group down there until our guide said no one was down there. Very spooky.
The practical bits.
Grotta del Vento is open every day all year round except December 25th. There are 3 itineraries lasting 1 hour, 2 hours or 3 hours. The 1 hour is easy for any to access provided they can manage short lights of steps. Route 2 carries on down many steps to the hall of voices and an underground river, route 3 includes a completely vertical ascent. For times for each route see http://www.grottadelvento.com/grotta/guida/indexen.html
From Bagni di Lucca (30km, 40 minutes) at Fornoli head right into the Garfagnana, cross the Serchio river (left) at first bridge and head right (north) on SP2o to Gallicano (about 15mins). From Lucca. (45km, 1 hour) head north on the SP2 (then SP20) direction Borgo a Mozzano and Castelnuovo into the Garfagnana. The River Serchio will be on your right. After about 40minutes you reach Gallicano At Gallicano leave the main road, (go right to go under the road to reach the village on the left of the main road) go through the village and head left into the mountains. The caves are well signed with brown tourist signs and are just after the village of Fornovolasco.
As you leave the caves rather than return on the same route you can take the strada panoramica to Vergemoli This is for confident drivers-some narrow and twisty sections but staggering views of the Apuan Alps. No pics to show this as it was wet and misty but there was this waterfall and shrine beside the road. The route is genuinely awesome on a bright day!
Some ideas to extend from a visit to the Grotta del Vento.
At Gallicano cross the River Serchio to reach the charming medieval hill town of Barga with its cathedral on the top of the hill with panoramic views (18km from Grotta del Vento)
Visit the Calomini Hermitage, a monastery built in the rock face on the way up to the caves (10km before the caves, you will see it on your right on the way up on the Fornovalasco road)
From Gallicano head left/north further into the beautiful hills and mountains of the Garfagnana. Castelnuovo di Garfagnana is the main town, good local food speciality shops. At Castelnuovo go right to continue further into the Garfagnana to the village of Castiglione di Garfagnana which is entirely surrounded by medieval walls, to San Romano in Garfagnana if with children orfeeling adventurous try the adventure park of Selva del Buffardello http://www.selvadelbuffardello.it/en/ or carry on a few km further beyond San Romano to the very impressive hilltop fortress at Verrucole.
For stunning return journey to Lucca over the Apuan Alps - At Castelnuovo di Garfagnana take the SP13 via Isola Santa and Arni to Massa. This route goes over the Apuane Alps, at 1000m with a series of tunnels, hairpins and drops and passes many marble quarries, then drops down onto the coastal plain (then head south to Lucca on A12) It is a very spectacular route but not for the nervous, either as driver or passenger!