Hugging the banks of the river Brenta, the charming city of Bassano del Grappa in Northern Italy has more than just Grappa to thank for its popularity. On the flat plains of Veneto with a hilly backdrop there is plenty of scenery to admire and the historic centre of town, is small and packed full of interest with arcaded streets, open piazzas and balconied buildings with an almost alpine feel. Arriving at the bottom of the hill and parking the motorhome in the spacious car park, we followed the curved, sweeping pathway up into the tree lined Viale dei Martiri (Avenue of the Martyrs) and on into the town.
The ancient 16th century Palladian bridge (The Ponte Vecchio) proudly spanning the river Brenta, is the city of Bassano del Grappa’s most iconic symbol. Painstakingly built in wood to give it greater flexibility against the force of water, this bridge has been destroyed by war and rebuilt several times over the years, yet always to Andrea Palladio’s original design. It brought to mind Trigger’s broom (Only Fools & Horses) – still going strong after only 17 new heads and 14 new handles! Joking aside this is a gracious bridge much loved by the locals and although the original is long gone the current structure is still showing its age and is held up and supported along its length to help prevent further damage. From the river banks the red wood above the flowing water, with brightly painted properties lined along the sides, is an enchanting sight.
We’ve all heard of Grappa the liqueur but we personally had never tried it so we did make a beeline for the Grappa Poli Museum showing the process of Grappa making along with a free tasting, as marked, just the Western side of the bridge on our city map. We happily strolled into the entrance, were given a set of headphones and charged 1 Euro 50 each. ‘Oh well’, we thought, its still really cheap. One hour later we emerged having viewed countless display cabinets full of militaria, covering the history of the Alpini, still wondering where the Grappa was. By mistake we had wandered into one of Grappa’s other well known attractions, the Museo Degli Alpini, which had nothing at all to do with the liqueur and all to do with the area’s military history! This nonetheless fascinating little museum was packed with photos and items from various conflicts but mainly representing the fighting on Monte Grappa during the First World War.
So, on to the actual Grappa Museum! Strong, sometimes harsh and with a high percentage of alcohol, from 37.5 to 40%, this strong spirit is not to everyone’s taste as we were about to find out. Produced from the lees of wine making (the leftover pulp, seeds and skins) this famous, centuries old liqueur is produced using a unique method described in detail on the Museo Della Grappa website. It was fascinating to see the distillery equipment, including huge copper stills and bain maries. High quality Grappa is smooth and complex but it started out life as a medicinal product and the drink of peasants, later developed by artisans to create complexity, flavour and enjoyment of its taste. Today Grappa is all about the taste and a very enjoyable tasting we had! Not overly keen on the pure Grappa, we were both very enthusiastic about the flavoured liqueur versions which are created by adding natural fruit or herbal extracts after the distillation process. Served in tulip shaped crystal glasses, as is tradition, we tried a number of delectable flavours including honey, plum, lemon and blueberry and enjoyed each and every one.
Always seeking out a good view we made our was next to the 40 metre tall Civic Tower in Garibaldi square to take in the panorama over the city and beyond. (It has to be said that every town seems to have a Garibaldi square but we are yet to set eyes on a Garibaldi biscuit!) Preparing our calf muscles for yet another climb we were pleased to find out that it was split into 5 stages, each with a display floor exhibiting the history of the tower and its building, enabling us to catch our breath without having to make up the usual excuses (my shoe lace has come undone, I’ve got a stone in my shoe etc, etc). A giant, thankfully silent, bell hung at the top of the tower and a final narrow, spiral staircase let us out to the roof for a far reaching outlook over the surrounding area.
Back on the ground it was time for some much needed refreshment and we topped up our caffeine levels with a tasty cappuccino on Liberta Square, over looked by the grand old Chiesa di San Giovanni, enjoying a break in the shade and a bit of Italian people watching.