IN THE BOWELS OF THE EARTH
A Camper journey to explore Italian caves, from Friuli to Campania.
A trip that takes us down into the bowels of the earth, in some of Italy's most beautiful caves and caverns. Awe-inspiring stalactites and stalagmites, enveloped in silence. Time stops still in a blend of mystery and magic.
A trip of this kind is ideal for those who wish to explore distinctive parts of Italy from a different, original, more "underground" point of view, travelling from north to south. If you feel like putting your geological or historical knowledge or curiosity to the test, without forgetting your love of adventure and the discovery of natural beauty, this is the right journey of exploration for you, on board your camper, of course.
Friuli Venezia Giulia, Grotta Gigante
IN THE BOWELS OF THE EARTH - Grotta Gigante
We start from the north of Italy, from Sgonico, not far from Trieste. Here a visit to the Grotta Gigante, truly immense as its name ("Giant") suggests, is a unique experience. It is a record-breaking place: the world's biggest show cave. Looking up, one is amazed by the spectacle, as the chamber is 98.5 metres high and 167.60 long. A perfect natural setting for stunning events and sports competitions. The Grotta Gigante contains a series of complex scientific instruments, used to measure movements of the earth's crust. Good cheer is added to the visit by the chance to enjoy an underground aperitif, tasting typical local wines in a location of great visual impact. Also not to be missed is a visit to the Museum of Speleology, to find out more about the Carsico district and the science and archaeology of the cave itself. After visiting the Grotta Gigante, it is well worth exploring the beauties of Trieste and its nearby Carso region, a district rich in limestone and picturesque little towns and villages.
Liguria, Grotte di Toirano
IN THE BOWELS OF THE EARTH - Grotta Toirano
Beneath the medieval village of Toirano, near Savona, lie stunning caves, interconnected by a man-made tunnel. They are the spectacular Grotta della Bàsura ("Witch's Cave"), for many years a refuge for the cave bear, and the Grotta Inferiore di Santa Lucia. Visitors will be delighted with the beauty and loveliness of the calcite and aragonite crystals which cover some of the walls of the “Sala dei Misteri” ("Amphitheatre of Mysteries"), where footprints and other signs left by prehistoric man have also been found. The cave entrance ticket also includes entrance to the Ethnographic Museum of the Varatella Valley, housed in the former stables of the Palazzo D’Aste. A visit to the museum, with 1,400 fascinating items on display in its rooms, gives the impression of moving back through time, to an age when men's lives were still firmly linked to nature and work in the fields. A visit to the medieval centre of the village and the ancient Certosa di Toirano abbey is also not to be missed.
Tuscany, Grotta del Vento
IN THE BOWELS OF THE EARTH - Pania Della Croce
In northern Tuscany, in the Apuan Alp natural park in the Garfagnana district, nature has worked over the years with all the skill of a great artist, to shape the Grotta del Vento, a magnificent underground sculpture with an alternation of mysterious watercourses, charming little lakes and pits of terrifying depth, all to be admired from easy paths through the tunnels of the complex. There is a choice of three different visit itineraries, all offering a view of authentic, uncontaminated scenes with an incredible variety of shapes and colours. The cave will also satisfy thrill-seekers, who can tackle the two adventure routes, accessed by booking only: "The Abysses of Light" and "The Corridors of Darkness", with expert guides. After admiring the beauty of the Grotta del Vento, keen walkers have a choice of various paths, from the Pania della Croce, the most popular peak in the Apuan Alps, to the Altopiano della Vetricia, a plateau with a lunar landscape, only recommended for experienced hikers.
Campania, Grotte di Pertosa-Auletta & Puglia, Grotte di Castellana
IN THE BOWELS OF THE EARTH - Grotte Di Castellana
Not far from Salerno, in luxuriant natural surroundings, is southern Italy's most important speleological site: the Grotte di Pertosa-Auletta. Suspended between land and water, light and dark, the underground site runs for about three thousand metres into the bowels of the Monti Alburni. In awe and wonder, enveloped in an aura of mystery, visitors will marvel at what water has shaped: the Braccio delle Meraviglie, the Ramo dei Pipistrelli, the Grande Sala and the Sala del Paradiso. The exploration experience is particularly exciting since it involves a section on foot followed by fascinating boat trip down the River Negro. In the Grotte di Pertosa-Auletta, which belong to the network of Italian show caves created to promote and raise awareness of Italy's limestone cavern systems, visitors can also try speleo-rafting, which combines the pleasure of river exploration with sport. What's more, a less than fifty minute drive away from the Grotte di Pertosa-Auletta, visitors can also take in Padula, with the delightful Certosa di San Lorenzo Abbey and the Early Christian Baptistery of San Giovanni in Fonte.
The Grotte di Castellana, a labyrinth of caverns 3 Km in depth and 60 metres deep, are perhaps the most famous caves in the south of Italy. Located in the Itria Valley, they are a priceless natural heritage: here, stalactites, stalagmites, chambers, exquisite crystals and caverns with fantastic names create a scenario of extraordinary beauty. The Grave is the first and largest cavern, a natural pantheon with a shaft of light entering through its roof, its intensity varying depending on the time of day and season of the year. The Grotta Bianca, at the end of the underground sequence, charms visitors with the splendour and whiteness of its alabaster. But no-one should miss the magical, entrancing nocturnal tour, the “SpeleoNight”, held throughout the year. The area within a radius of about twenty kilometres of the Grotte di Castellana also contains other major tourism destinations: Alberobello, Polignano, Monopoli and Fasano, a blend of art, the seaside and fun for the youngest visitors.
USEFUL INFORMATION FOR VISITS AND CAMPER STOPS
It is important to wear suitable clothing and footwear when visiting all the caves. Entrance ticket costs vary depending on the itinerary chosen, the time of year and the visitor's age, and can be checked on the following websites:
• Borgo Grotta Gigante, Sgonico (TS), www.grottagigante.it
• Grotte di Toirano (SV), www.toiranogrotte.it
• Grotta del Vento, Fornovolasco (LU), www.grottadelvento.com
• Grotte di Pertosa-Auletta, www.grottedipertosa-auletta.it
• Grotte di Castellana srl, Piazzale Anelli, 70013 Castellana Grotte (BA), www.grottedicastellana.it
• Grotta Gigante: campers can use the large free car park near the cave; GPS: 45.708906, 13.765707 or the Obelisco camp-site at Opicina, open all year, Strada Nuova per Opicina 37, Sgonico (Trieste).
• Grotte di Toirano: parking is permitted in the car-park by the ticket office during cave complex opening hours (9.30 am - 6 pm). Otherwise there is parking for 60 vehicles at Finale Ligure, next to the Pamparino market garden at via Caprazoppa 26, tel. 019/695581; it is unattended and 500 metres from the sea; booking is possible; GPS: Lat: 44.172204 - Long: 8.331618. Another camper parking area is located on the via Aurelia at Caprazoppa; tel. 019/6816023; GPS: Lat: 44.16604 - Long: 8.33768..
• Grotta del Vento: a charge is payable for use of the municipal car park at the cave during daylight hours; overnight it is free and well lit, although there are no specific facilities; the road to the cave is narrow and tricky, and not recommended in the dark. GPS: Lat 44.0202, Long 10.2127
• At Grotte di Pertosa-Auletta campers can be parked in the car park by the entrance; GPS: Lat. 40.536989, Long. 15.454556 - Q. 242 above sea level; there is a small camper parking area on via Nazionale at Pertosa.
• Grotte di Castellana: campers can be parked, against payment of a charge, near the entrance on via Grotte or at Agriturismo Monte del Vento, open all year, S.P. per Alberobello 202, at Castellana Grotte, GPS: Lat 40.8353, Long 17.24243