Sitting in the centre of the Venetian Prealps in north-eastern Italy sits Monte Grappa, a majestic 1776 m or 5823 ft. high mountain, whose apparent serenity betrays its dark history. Scene to some of the most devastating battles of World War I, the mountain top is now home to an eerie memorial and ossuary.
Even if military history isn’t your cup of tea, the sweeping views of the surrounding landscape and the possibility to explore a series of catacombs make Monte Grappa a great destination for a half-day trip from nearby Bassano de Grappa.
Read on for everything you need to know about visiting this unusual place.
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The History of Monte Grappa
During World War I, Monte Grappa played a strategic point in the Italian front, as it overlooked the Piave River and the plains of Veneto. In November 1917, the Austro-Hungarian army launched a massive offensive to capture Monte Grappa and break through the Italian lines.
The battle for Monte Grappa lasted for several weeks and was one of the bloodiest of the war. The Italian army eventually managed to repel the Austro-Hungarian forces and secured the mountain. Today, in addition to the gargantuan monument, traces of trenches and battery emplacements serve as a reminder of Monte Grappa’s role in the War.
What to See and Do on Monte Grappa
Military Memorial and Ossuary
The humongous memorial on the mountain top contains the remains of almost 23,000 fallen soldiers. Built under Italy’s fascist government in 1935, the monument doesn’t only form a vestige of the senseless bloodshed of WWI, but also calls to mind another dark period in Italian and European History.
The southern half houses the bones of the Italian Soldiers, placed in a series of semicircular columbaria (the Fascists loved their Neo-Roman architecture) and topped by the small Chapel of the Madonna del Grappa. From here, incongruously spectacular views of the Venetian Prealps and the Piave River open up.
From the chapel, the 300 m long Via Heroica (Path of the Heroes) runs to the symbolic Portale Roma Gate and the Austrian Ossuary at the Northern end of the crest. The 14 monoliths bordering the path bear the names of heavy WWI battlegrounds.
Owing to the style and the historical context of its construction, the memorial certainly feels more foreboding than poignant, especially when it’s wrapped in fog like when we arrived here. Still, despite the time and likely political purpose of its erection, it still manages to serve as an effective reminder of the futility of War.
Exploring the Tunnels under Monte Grappa
The top of Monte Grappa is criss-crossed by a large number of tunnels, hewn into the mountain my Italian Soldiers during the defence in 1917. A few hundred meters of these can be explored for free in company of one of the soldiers posted at the foot of the monument.
To do so, you’ll need a group between three and six people (you can just ask around for other people to join you, if necessary – that’s what my Stefanie and I did). You’ll enter the Vittorio-Emanuele-III-Tunnel, traverse several tunnels and visit a few cannons.
You’ll get a helmet when entering the tunnels, but it’s a good idea to bring some sturdy footwear, as there are puddles and muddy patches in some areas. The entrance to the tunnels and the guard post of the soldiers can be found near the small military museum near the Italian section of the monument.
The Military Museum
The historic Caserna Milano building contains a small Museum with info and artefacts pertaining to the WWI battles. It wasn’t really for us, but military history buffs might be interested in the displays of weapons, uniforms and gear from that area.
Guided Tours of Monte Grappa
If you’re a little crazy, you might want to join a guided bike tour of Monte Grappa. Starting at nearby Follina, the tour traverses some beautiful landscapes, but be advised that the climb to the top of Monte Grappa is probably gruelling. Still, it looks like a great adventure, if you’re prepared for it.
How to get to Monte Grappa
Monte Grappa is located in the province of Treviso, about 80 kilometers or 50 miles north-west of Venice. There are no buses or other public transport options going to the mountain, making driving there yourself the only option to visit Monte Grappa independently.
The closest town is pretty Bassano del Grappa, which is an approximate 30-minute drive to the south. Be aware, that the road is steep, narrow and has lots of switchbacks, so you’ll need to drive carefully.
Also make sure to fill up your tank beforehand, as there are no gas stations once you leave Bassano. We entered the mountain from the more remote north and didn’t see one for several hours. We returned to Bassano running on fumes, glad that we could roll down the mountain for the most part.
Where to stay near Monte Grappa
Pretty Bassano del Grappa is the closest town and has enough interesting sights in its own right to make a good base for exploring the mountain. There are plenty of hotels and guest houses in town, ranging from small budget options like Ostello Bassano del Grappa to midrange hotels like Hotel Positano to more luxurious choices like Hotel Glamour.