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Bassano del Grappa


Ponte degli Alpini, Bassano del Grappa
Ponte degli Alpini

An unexpected welcome to Bassano

Nothing interesting ever happens on a Monday evening in February but when you travel around Italy in the off season with an open mind and a willingness to engage people in conversation then odd things can happen or maybe it's because Bassano del Grappa is just one of those places......

Tuscany Tour description

Having just finished dinner in an excellent local restaurant with only five other diners still seated, occupying three different tables nearby, I made a chance remark to one of them about something in the news that resulted after a few minutes in all seven of us exchanging opinions about various current affairs in Italy. It was a friendly but lively conversation that required some grappa to lubricate - we were after all in Bassano del Grappa so it seemed inappropriate to drink anything else.


Antico Ristorante Cardellino, Bassano del Grappa
Just one of those spontaneous moments when you discover how friendly and engaging Italians can be

After much lubrication, as it was already late, the owner of Antico Ristorante Cardellino suggested that we move on to another bar to continue our conversation as he was eager to close for the night. We complied and left but shortly afterwards the two local Bassano residents in the group pointed out that nowhere else would be open so late on a Monday and then to my surprise they suggested that we go back to the same restaurant and persuade the owner to re-open it for us to continue drinking and chatting.


Piazza della LIbertà in Bassano del Grappa at night
A very quiet Bassano del Grappa on a Monday night in February

In my experience a suggestion along these lines would have almost zero chance of success because restaurant proprietors work long enough hours as it is, but clearly friendships in Bassano count for a lot and so after a little hammering on the door we were reluctantly re-admitted. This was our first night in Bassano, having arrived only a couple of hours before dinner, so we were not expecting such an interesting turn of events, nor such a warm welcome from perfect strangers.


Bassano del Grappa restaurant scene
Everyone still standing even if not quite self-supporting

Elena only gave me permission to share one of the photographs I took after our re-entry, the others all being less than flattering of everyone involved as by now the grappa was starting to take its toll. Unfortunately the authorized photo (above) is missing two people in the group but it captures the scene perfectly.

On the left of the photo sitting on the bar is my wallet because I took it out as soon as we entered to emphasize that it was my round, not having paid for a single drink so far. But several glasses of grappa later when the restaurant owner's patience was finally exhausted and it was time to settle the tab, I was told that it had already been taken care. So it seems that the good people of Bassano refused to let a stranger and foreigner in their midst pay for a drink all evening or perhaps it was because they were charmed by Elena. Anyhow, that's what I call good old-fashioned hospitality but how often does that happen in the modern world?


All well and good but what about the food?


When you visit Bassano you should go to Antico Ristorante Cardellino, not because these events are likely to be repeated but because the food is very good and the menu is full of traditional Veneto dishes. It was recommended to us by Marina, the owner of the apartment we rented for the night and the two regional dishes that stood out for us were Fegato alla Veneziana con Polenta (calf's liver and onions) and Risotto al Radicchio.


white asparagus

The risotto we make at home quite frequently throughout the winter and our recipe includes gorgonzola and walnuts but when the local radicchio rosso di Treviso is this fresh it can support the risotto all by itself.

Calf's liver and onions was a favorite of mine growing up in England, though never with polenta, and it had been decades since I last had it. Trying the Veneto version for the first time I think polenta might be the perfect accompaniment.

We were a couple of months too early for the famous white asparagus of Bassano which has been grown without sunlight since the 16th century and is more tender and delicate than green asparagus so all of it is eaten from the stem to the head with nothing wasted.


Ponte degli Alpini

Ponte degli Alpini in Bassano del Grappa at night

Apart from grappa, which I will get to later, Bassano is famous for its ponte vecchio or Ponte degli Alpini as it's also known.


'Il Bacio' statue in Bassano del Grappa

Nothing remains of the original 13th century bridge, which was swept away by one of the frequent river floods that bedevil this town, and even though Andrea Palladio's 16th century design was far superior and lasted for 200 years, it too was eventually swept away by the mighty Brenta river before being faithfully rebuilt.


Damaged in the Napoleonic wars and then destroyed again by pre-planned partigiani sabotage in 1945, it was rebuilt for the umpteenth time in 1948 with the help of the Italian Alpine regiments, hence the name. The statue nearby of a young alpine soldier represents the 'bacin d'amor' verse of the 1916 Song of the Bassano bridge which was composed to commemorate the sacrifice of the Alpine divisions in the attritional mountain battles of WW1.


However, the bridge you see today has benefited from a recent multi-year project to stabilize the river bed, remove unexploded bombs, recover and restore original material and even bring in gigantic oak logs 12 meters long from Brittany.


Ponte degli Alpini, Bassano del Grappa

Less famous than the Rialto Bridge in Venice or the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, the Ponte degli Alpini in Bassano is an equally iconic part of Italian history and cultural heritage, which is why the President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella was present to officially re-open it in 2021. It is also worth noting that the citizens of Bassano, as well as being generous with strangers, raised 170,000 euros among themselves to contribute to the cost of restoration.


The Town of Bassano del Grappa

The 15th century Loggia del Podestà in Bassano del Grappa
The 15th century Loggia del Podestà on the left

The bar at the end of the bridge called Taverna degli Alpini also serves as a local war museum containing many items found on Monte Grappa, which is a 5,800 foot mountain behind the town that was the site of three important battles in WW1. The highest point of Monte Grappa contains a military shrine and the remains of 12,615 soldiers, most of which are unidentified, such was the carnage. Nearby is also the site of a WW2 atrocity perpetrated against the partigiani.


Piazza della Libertà, Bassano del Grappa

Piazza della Libertà (above) is the large central piazza in Bassano with the winged Venetian lion at one end and the 15th century Loggia del Comune at the other end. After 1404, when Bassano came under the control of the Venetian Republic, the Ezzelini Castle from time to time found itself on a war footing in the service of Venice who much preferred to defend their independence well away from the lagoon in places like Bassano. The castle is in good condition today thanks to significant restoration work and is situated centrally at the highest point in town.


Church of San Francesco and Torre Civica in Bassano del Grappa
The 12th century Church of San Francesco with the 14th century Torre Civica on the left

Antonio Canova, the son of a stonecutter, was born in nearby Possagno in 1757 and by 1800 he was the most celebrated artist in Europe. He frequently published engravings of his sculptures and many of these can be seen in the Museo Civico in Bassano. His famous statue of Napoleon, ironically called Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker, was purchased after Waterloo by the Duke of Wellington and is on display at his Apsley House museum in London.

In his later role as a papal diplomat Canova made a list of over 500 Italian sculptures looted by Napoleon, half of which unfortunately still remain in France. Bassano has two other unusual museums - one devoted to the history of printing and engraving and the other to ceramics with exhibits from the medieval period to contemporary artists.


Poli Grappa Museum

Poli grappa museum in Bassano del Grappa

This is not just a museum I hasten to add because there is an an enormous range of different types of grappa for sale. The pomace distilled for their grappa is typically from local Muscat grapes or Glera grapes from nearby Prosecco, but Poli also makes a unique grappa from the famous Sassicaia vineyard in Bolgheri as well as from a premier cru Pauillac winery in Bordeaux that took 12 years of dogged persuasion to obtain.



The grape variety is only one of the variables that impact the taste of your grappa because just as for Scotch whisky the aging time and choice of barrel create many other permutations of flavor. The two grappas that we brought back to Lucca with us are in the photo below.

The Sarpa Oro di Poli is made from Cabernet and Merlot grape pomace sourced in Veneto and aged in French oak barriques. This is the grappa that we were drinking in Antico Ristorante Cardellino and in its praise I should say that it left me feeling much better the following morning than I deserved to feel.

The Due Barili is from the Prosecco Glera grape and is aged for two years in French oak barriques followed by another two years in Pedro Ximenez sherry barrels. At 26 euros and 39 euros respectively both grappas are bargains compared to equivalent quality Scotch prices.


Due Barili and Sarpa Oro grappa

Accommodation

If you are visiting Bassano as a couple we would certainly recommend Marina's awkwardly named 'Cozy mini Bassano Centro' apartment ten minutes walk away from the Ponte degli Alpini. It's a one bedroom, ground floor space that has everything you need including private off street parking and Marina will give you a map of the town and tell you everything you need to know.


Cozy mini Bassano Centro' apartment in bassano del grappa

Everyone prefers to stay in the middle of old Italian towns but we've learned over the years that it's much easier to be just outside the centro storico for the ease of parking and carrying luggage as well as avoiding evening noise, though nothing would have disturbed our sleep after the evening we enjoyed.


The Villas

Villa Maser, Veneto


Barbaro Temple, Veneto

Veneto is replete with grand ostentatious villas commissioned by Venetian aristocrats during the long unbroken centuries of the Venetian Republic.


Andrea Palladio in the middle of the 16th century is the most well-known of the architects involved and the area along the Brenta canal between Padua and Venice has the highest concentration of these 16th, 17th and 18th century villas.


Villa Angarano is perhaps the most famous one that is very close to Bassano. We visited Villa Maser about 15 miles away (above photo), a genuine Palladio design, together with the nearby Barbaro Temple (right photo) which was Palladio's last work before he died.







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