The Cave of the Wind, Inside the Apuan Alps Park, surrounded by a pristine environment with great landscape value, there is the Grotta del Vento, one of the most complete among the Italian tourist caves. Its itineraries, in fact, allow you to closely observe the deep galleries, the limestone formations and all the most characteristic details that make it unique and special.
Among all the caves, however, it is the only one to offer visitors the opportunity to choose among the various tourist itineraries available, one of which (the third, to be precise) is for duration the longest in Italy. In addition, it is among the few to be open all year round (except December 25) and thus allow tourists to make an excursion even in the presence of snow, rain and weather.
Finally, the presence of several tourist itineraries makes it accessible to everyone, from individual explorers to families with children, also because there are several services (catering, entertainment) that make the excursion complete and fun.
Origins of the Grotta del Vento and its name
The formation of the Grotta del Vento dates back to about 200 million years ago: on the bottom of the present Tyrrhenian Sea began to deposit a huge amount of coral formations, tastes of shells, fish skeletons, sand and calcium bicarbonate; The debris continued to accumulate for at least 170 million years, eventually forming a mass thousands of meters thick.
Given the size, the consistency and the weight of such an important mass, the various elements cemented each other gradually becoming calcareous rock that, following the strong forces linked to the drift of the continents, It rose, emerged from the sea and formed the mountains that you can admire today. In the meantime, the rainwater, through the porous surface of these mountains, managed to pass directly into the subsoil, forming streams, streams and underground rivers that, covering for millions of years the cracks present, They slowly enlarged them transforming them into those tunnels, tunnels and wells that today characterize the underground complex of the Grotta del Vento.
But why is it called that? Its name derives from the strong current of air that crosses it and that is formed by two entrances at different altitudes. It has a temperature of about 10.7 ºC, which in summer is colder than outside, while in winter it is warmer. The wind speed is directly proportional to the difference between the outside and the inside temperature and, to allow tourists to explore undisturbed, The current of air is almost always completely blocked by the closure of a specially designed security door.
The discovery of the Grotta del Vento
Although the Grotta del Vento was formed millions of years ago, it was discovered only in 1898 by some young people of Fornovolasco who, intrigued by the current of air coming from its interior, They decided to send forward a child of only 4 years because the only one to be able to pass through the crack (too narrow for an adult).
After a few meters, the girl told her friends that the road, initially narrow, tended to gradually widen; this was enough for the boys to get shovels and picks, widen the crack and proceed for about 20 meters. Once they arrived at what is now called the “Bear Room,” they stopped, probably afraid of what they might find going forward. In the past, in fact, it was believed that inside the caves there were monsters and demons.
A few steps, in any case, were enough to bring to light what has now become one of the main tourist attractions of the Apuan Alps and the whole Serchio Valley that, every year, has about 50 thousand visitors.
As already mentioned, the internal path of the cave is divided into three very different itineraries for different reasons: for the landscape characteristics, for the duration, for the difficulty of crossing.
The first route is the flattest, characterized by a graceful crystal pond, numerous limestone compositions such as stalactites and stalagmites and flows in growth phase. The steps are alternated with flat sections, which makes the route ideal for children.
The second itinerary begins with the descent of the Abyss of the Giants that leads to the Hall of Voices, so called because of its particular acoustics that gives really suggestive sound effects. Limestone compositions give way to erosion masses, a small stream and various mud formations. Also in this case it is possible to make the excursion with children, as long as they are at least 6 years old; it is not recommended access, instead, to those suffering from dizziness, has motor difficulties (even minor) and heart disease.
The third route houses a well of 90 meters, totally vertical, which is traveled to reach a large hall. Through the Branch of Wonders you get to the final part of the cave, certainly the most fascinating. The route also includes the first and second itinerary and, therefore, lasts about 3 hours; as a result, it is not suitable for children under 6 years of age, heart patients, those suffering from vertigo and those with mobility difficulties.
In any case, each itinerary is equipped with non-slip concrete bottom, metal railings and artificial lighting, so most visitors can access it safely.
What to wear to visit the Grotta del Vento
Considering that the temperature inside the cave is around 10.7 ºF, with a humidity of 99%, it is recommended to wear appropriate garments such as a shirt with a sweatshirt. It is better to avoid excessively light or heavy clothing and opt for closed shoes with rubber soles. Given the constant dripping, it might be useful to wear a lightweight waterproof jacket.
All services of the Grotta del Vento
Visiting the Grotta del Vento is a truly unforgettable experience to be able to do alone, in couple, in family, with friends; this is also because the services offered are varied and numerous and allow you to spend a few hours of fun with all the comforts available. Here are the main ones:
- Mineral shop: inside the ticket office there is a large store of fossils and minerals where you can buy very interesting pieces not only for tourists, but also for collectors. For the most vain people is also available a wide assortment of jewelry and jewelry in stones and silver;
- books and postcards: the info point sells several publications about the cave and the surrounding area, including hiking maps and road maps, as well as postcards to send to friends or to keep as a souvenir;
- bar: it could not miss a refreshment point, where tourists can have a quick snack at the counter, in a special room or in the adjacent picnic areas;
- photo exhibition: all the history of the Grotta del Vento and its tourist development from 1964 to today is contained in 67 images collected in an extraordinary photographic exhibition not to be missed;
- picnic area: three free picnic areas have been set up just a few steps from the ticket office where, on sunny days, you can have a packed meal brought from home or purchased at the bar. Each area is equipped with wooden tables, wooden or stone benches and a fountain with drinking water;
- shuttle service: for groups of at least 20 people and only by reservation is available the shuttle service that leads from Gallicano or from the railway station of Gallicano-Barga to the Grotta del Vento;
- parking: near the reception there are two parking spaces, one private and free for customers, the other municipal and paid (with blue stripes);
- audioguide: the visits inside the cave are all guided. The language is Italian, but in some times it is possible to join guided groups in other languages.
What to see around the Grotta del Vento
Choosing the Grotta del Vento as a destination for a day trip or an excursion is equivalent to carving out more hours of time to take a tour around the area, discovering other wonderful places that the area offers. Here are the unmissable ones:
Eremo di Calomini
Continuing on the road that leads to the Grotta del Vento, hidden by a thick spontaneous vegetation, you can see a majestic sanctuary with a fascinating history: the Hermitage of Calomini.
According to ancient accounts, the first place of worship would have been a small cavity obtained by chisel blows about 1400 years ago, but the beauty of the place and the presence of a fresh and abundant spring will certainly not go unnoticed by prehistoric men, as well as the Ligurians and the Etruscans; it is highly probable, in fact, that if ever you had to dig under the eighteenth-century church would come out valuable evidence.
The Hermitage consists of a very large structure, but today it is possible to visit only the church and only during Sunday Mass and the main religious celebrations.
Borgo a Mozzano
The village of Borgo a Mozzano is famous for the presence of a five-arched bridge with an asymmetric structure, which has its origins in a mix of history and legend. According to local accounts, in fact, the bridge was made by Lucifer himself who, in exchange for his help, asked for the soul of the first person to pass over it. To deceive him, the villagers decided to pass a sheep first.
Leaving aside the legend, the bridge certainly deserves to be visited both for its unique shape, both for the view marked by the intense blue of the river and the varied shades of the surrounding vegetation.
Continuing towards the heart of Garfagnana you pass through Barga, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. It has kept intact its historic center, with its irregular streets that extend between the palaces. The part to see is the Cathedral of San Cristoforo, with the church surrounded by a large lawn and located in the upper part of the city, from where you can enjoy a breathtaking view.
After Barga, a visit to Castelvecchio Pascoli is definitely a must, famous for having hosted the homonymous writer and poet between 1895 and 1912. Here, in fact, you can visit his house, later become a museum, and walk among his manuscripts, his books and the chapel where he was buried.
Castiglione di Garfagnana
We recommend another stop at Castiglione di Garfagnana, a very suggestive village because of the walls that surround it and its towers. Of Roman origin, the town reached its economic peak in Lombard and Frankish times and still retains the stylistic and architectural characteristics of the time. Do not miss the Parco della Rimembranza and the Torrione della Brunella.