Your Guide to Italy’s Hidden Gem in the Venetian Alps
A day trip or overnight stay in Bassano del Grappa offers an entirely different experience from the touristy attractions of nearby Venice. Bassano del Grappa, at the base of the Dolomites in the Northeastern region of Veneto, Italy, is the birthplace of the famous Italian liqueur grappa and home to generations of skilled ceramic artists. The picture-postcard town resides in a storybook setting on the banks of the Brenta River at the base of the Venetian Alps.
If you have a day to explore the city, here’s what I recommend:
Drink in the culture with a grappa tour:
Grappa is known as Italy’s “moonshine,” a distilled aperitif that comes from grape pomace, a blend of grape seeds, stalks, and stems leftover from the wine-making process. Grappa production began in the region in the late 1800s with two families, the Polis, and the Nardinis, opening distilleries. The alcoholic drink is emblematic of Italy’s circular economy, a zero-waste ethos in its farming, cultivation, and livestock practices.
To learn more, I visited the Poli Distillerie Museo del Grappa (The Poli Grappa Museum), which chronicles the history of grappa distillation. The museum, in the historic town center of Bassano del Grappa, has a collection of more than 1500 small grappa bottles from 323 different distilleries.
GioBatta Poli founded the Poli Distillery in the late 1800s, starting with a still that he built on a horse-drawn cart. GioBatta would sell his grappa to local farmers as he traveled around the region. He opened the Poli Distillery in 1898 in Schiavon, near Bassano del Grappa in the heart of Veneto. For four generations, the Poli family has produced grappa, evolving it into an extensive line of flavors. Today, the distillery’s antique copper still stands at the entrance and is one of only a few remaining.
The industrious Italians distilled grappa from a variety of ingredients, including fruits and plants, producing grappa liqueurs in a wide variety of flavors or infusions such, as licorice, honey, or blueberries. In Northern Italy, grappa distilled from celery, which is widely grown in the region, is a popular aperitif. You can experience the different grappa essences in the museum’s fragrance room, which dispenses the smells of different grappa flavors.
The museum chronicles the history of grappa production, originating as an ancient alchemy craft by the Egyptians, inventors of the first rudimentary distillation instruments called stills. The Arabs, who conquered Egypt in 641 BC, improved the art and craft of distillation.
The classification of Grappa refers to its geographic provenance from the Veneto, Piemonte, Lombardy, Trentino, Alto Adige, Friuli, and Barolo regions, which were granted the right to use a geographical appellation with the name Grappa.
Grappa comes in four different categories: young (Giovane), which smells of fresh grape pomace; aromatic (Aromatica) originating from fruited aromatic grape varieties including Moscato or Tramine; or aged grappa known as Vecchia or Invecchiata, Stravecchia or Riserva that is seasoned in oak casks for at least 12 months. Stravecchia is very old and Riserva grappa ages for at least one and a half years.
The museum has a tasting room, serving up grappa samples in the ideal conditions—a tulip-shaped glass and at temperatures of 50 to 55 degrees for young grappa and 60 to 65 degrees for aged grappa.
The Nardini family also produces grappa in Bassano del Grappa, competitors of the Poli family. You can tour the Nardini Distillery, which has been producing grappa since 1779.
Walk along the Medieval Wall:
Bassano del Grappa is surrounded by mountains and overlooks the banks of the Brenta River. For a sweeping birdseye view, walk along the city’s Medieval Wall, which dates back to 1461 and admire the local landmarks.
Along the walk, you can see the Clock Tower and the Iron Bridge.
Shop the local market:
The historic town center hosts a daily market of local vendors selling everything from fresh produce and flowers to handmade crafts and clothing. This is an ideal spot for souvenir shopping, including ceramic products authentic to the region. Bassano del Grappa is home to generations of Veneto ceramics artisans. To learn about the history and technique of their craft, I suggest a visit to Museo della Ceramica (Museum of Ceramics).
Take photos on the Old Bridge (the Ponte Vecchio):
Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), also known as the Bridge of Alpine Troops in honor of those who, in 1948 helped repair the bridge after it was damaged during World War II. The covered pedestrian bridge, built in 1569, is the town landmark, linking the two banks over the Brenta River.
Walk along the covered bridge, pausing to take advantage of Instagram-worthy photo ops and stop in at the Museo degli Alpini, dedicated to the Italian Alpine Corps.
Stop at the town’s original Distilleria Nardini, which claims to be the oldest distillery in Italy, in operation since 1779. The bar resides in an old home on the bridge that serves up a Nardini Spritz made of the distillery’s own bitter and prosecco topped with a slice of orange.
Drink an Aperol Spritz at an outdoor cafe:
The Aperol Spritz is a popular aperitif drink in northern Italy, made with Aperol liqueur and prosecco. Bassano del Grappa’s close proximity to Processo Road, a region of vineyards and processo producers, means you can savor this alcoholic beverage at the source with locally sourced ingredients.
The bittersweet alcoholic beverage won me over immediately, and I spent the rest of my ten-day trip searching for the Aperol spritz bars and cafes in every town and village that I visited.
Join me on a walking tour:
If you have an extra day in Bassano Del Grappa, I suggest spending it at the city’s stellar museums, including The Civic Museum of Bassano del Grappa, one of the oldest museums in the Veneto Region, housed in the former convent of the Franciscan Friars since 1828. The Palazzo Bonaguro, located near the Ponte Vecchio, has a permanent zoological collection of rare animals
What to Know if You Go:
Bassano del Grappa is about a 40-mile drive north of Venice in the northern Italian region of Veneto. The town has a population of approximately 43,000 residents. While exploring Bassano del Grappa, I stayed at the lovely Stella Alpina Bed and Breakfast in Conco, located between the towns of Bassano del Grappa and Asiago.
I highly recommend Stella Alpina for its warm hospitality and delicious homecooked breakfast served each morning, which is a culinary event— sweet, savory and made with locally grown ingredients.
For more affordable car rental rates, I suggest renting a car from a local resident, as opposed to renting from the airport. You can search local rentals from the company GetRentACar.com
To book tours with local guides:
To find accommodations:
Special thanks to Marco Ferrin and his extended Ferrin family for sharing their culture, community, favorite places and insights throughout my travels in Northern Italy. As a longtime local family in the Northeastern mountain communities of Italy, the Ferrin family has deep roots and vast knowledge of the region.
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