In the Apuan Alps of Tuscany, you’ll find one of the most complete caves in all of Europe: the Grotta del Vento (or the “wind cave”). For many, this is a summertime destination, but it doesn’t have to be! The cave is open every day of the year except for December 25th. There are 3 itineraries from which to choose so there is something for just about everyone.
A Quick Science Lesson on the Grotta del Vento
The cave has two openings, one at about 600 meters above sea level and the other at 1,400 meters, which creates a constant airflow through the cave. It is a karst cave where wind and other weather conditions have eroded and modeled the limestone rock over millions of years. The fantastic sculptures of stalagmites and stalactites are the result of this process.
It was discovered in 1898 by a four-year-old girl from nearby Fornovalasco and then further explored in 1954 by Vittorio Verole-Bozzello and his group of speleologists from Lucca. Since then, it has been the subject of constant expeditions on an international level and has become one of the best-known examples in all of Europe with over 50,000 annual visitors.
The Grotta has a choice of three separate itineraries from which to choose based on both how much time you have and individual preference. I’ll preface by saying that there is a non-slip walkway equipped with a handrail in almost every part of the three guided tours. All three itineraries are also guided by an expert who will explain every aspect of the cave and give interesting anecdotes along the way. The tour is in Italian, but there are audioguides available in 12 different languages and the guide does a marvelous job of keeping everyone in the loop during the tour.
The first itinerary only lasts one hour and is suitable for very young children and is less physically demanding than the others. You can plan on walking about 800 meters and climbing about 370 steps. On this tour, you’ll see a crystal lake as well as stalagmite and stalactite formations that are still growing!
Itinerary number two lasts two hours and includes the first itinerary plus an additional hour where you can expect to walk a total of 1,500 meters and climb about 800 steps. This one is more physically challenging, but there were some small children on this tour as well as seniors.
The third itinerary is (you guessed it) the first two plus an additional hour taking you deep into the cave. It’s 2,200 meters long with over 1,000 steps to climb. You’ll be able to visit a 90-meter vertical shaft and visit the part of the cave that has the most formations.
Note that both the second and third itineraries are not recommended for people suffering from vertigo, claustrophobia, or heart conditions.
The Grotta del Vento is about an hour away from Lucca in the Apuan Alps Regional Park. Although the road has recently been widened, it is still not for the faint of heart! The official website has suggestions for various routes depending on where you’re coming from as well as tips on using your GPS system. The nearest train station is Barga–Gallicano where you can proceed by bus (however, this service is only offered in the summertime).
It’s highly recommended that you purchase your ticket in advance online (on Grotta del Vento’s official website) as spots fill up quickly, especially in peak season. You will still need to go into the gift shop once you arrive with proof of purchase at which point they will give you a printed ticket indicating your itinerary.
There is a large parking lot available directly below the cave entrance. A gift shop/museum/bar has lots of items for purchase as well as interesting historical photographs and rocks and minerals from all over the world. Sandwiches, coffee, drinks, and pastries are available as well as picnic tables if you decide to pack your own lunch or snacks.
Wear tennis shoes or hiking shoes with good traction and very comfortable clothing. The temperature inside the cave is a constant 10,7 ° C (51° F) and very moist inside so bring a light jacket. It is not windy inside the cave once the guide closes the entrance door.
No pets of any kind are allowed!
Cameras with flash are allowed on the tour but only when you are stopped.
You will be required to store backpacks, purses, and other bulky items in a closet prior to entering the cave for safety reasons.
The Grotta del Vento is a fantastic experience that should be part of any trip to Tuscany. Visit their official website which has a wealth of information for planning your visit.