You can view all posts from my trip to Italy here.
If you read my last post on Bassano del Grappa, you’ll know that I fell head over heels in love with this little town! I took so many photos of the beautiful town that I had to split them into two posts. Bassano del Grappa was so picturesque and quaint, and I loved getting a more local experience of Italy 🙂
My friends and I got extremely luck with a serendipitous encounter that made our experience in Bassano del Grappa even more incredible. If you’ve heard of the alcoholic beverage grappa (which I hadn’t before), you’ve probably been wondering the connection to Bassano del Grappa. There is a connection, but the town actually wasn’t named for grappa. It was originally just called Bassano Veneto, and the named was changed to Bassano del Grappa in honor of the Alpini soldiers who died on Mount Grappa during WWI. I’m not sure if grappa was named after Mount Grappa or vice versa, but grappa did seem to originate in those mountains.
So what is grappa? It started as a “poor man’s drink” because it was made with the leftover parts from grapes after wine was produced. People would go to vineyards and collect all these scraps and make alcohol from it. And it actually tastes nothing like grapes, much to my surprise. In the 1700s, one of these grappa makers named Bortolo Nardini was a nomad going to different vineyards in the area to make grappa, and he went to Bassano del Grappa and was delayed for a while. He decided that he loved the town so much he would stay and bought a piece of property on the bridge (yes, ON the bridge). Seven generations later, the Nardini distillery is still up and running, and it’s the second oldest family run business in Italy!
I told you there was a serendipitous encounter that our day in Bassano del Grappa even better, and it’s because of the Nardini grappa distillery. We knew very little about grappa and wanted to see if we could have a tour of the distillery. Because Bassano del Grappa has so few tourists, no one at the distillery spoke English, so between our poor Italian and Google Translate, we got passed along to several people before a woman who knew a few words in English took us to the back and said another woman could help us shortly. We didn’t have an appointment so they could have turned us away, but everyone was so nice, even with our terrible Italian! The woman even gave us Italian guide books and let us keep them! Another woman named Sharla came in after a while and spoke perfect English, and it turned out that she was from Michigan and had lived in Bassano del Grappa for almost 30 years! Sharla said she had a tour scheduled that we could join (seriously, everyone was so nice), and we came back later that afternoon.
Grappa is no longer distilled at the same location since they needed to expand, but they still have all these neat, old artifacts from the Nardini family. The tour was awesome (and free), and we also got to learn a lot from an Italian professor who was in our group!
Remember how I said the Nardini distillery is literally on the bridge? Since they’re on the river, they’ve had a history of flooding. The teal squares mark how high the flood waters got in certain years, which was pretty insanely high!
We got to sample different grappas, and they were really good! My favorite was a citrus one, and we got to try their famous Mezzo-Mezzo grappa, which tasted like a combination of rhubarb and root beer. It wasn’t my favorite, but it’s worth trying if you get the chance! Their tradition is to drink Mezzo-Mezzo on the Ponte Vecchio, which we saw many people doing after our tour.
We even got to meet Antonio Nardini himself!! We actually ran into him later, too, and it was so neat seeing such an important figure in the area just hanging around local wineries with his friends (photo from Mariah)
We had such a great time at the Nardini distillery with Sharla that she wanted to take us around Bassano del Grappa afterwards! She took us to so many places we wouldn’t have found without a local, and we learned a TON about the history of the area, including some very moving stories about the Alpini soldiers. Sharla is also the person who taught us the fun facts about the lion statues in Italy that I mentioned in my first post.
During the end of WWII, German troops rounded up some of anti-fascists around Bassano del Grappa and sent some to concentration camps and hung 31 of them in these trees along the sidewalk.
There is a “castle” in the area, but it’s actually been turned into a residential area so you can’t tour it like other castles
If you read my previous Bassano del Grappa post, I mentioned that the Alpini soldiers that stayed in the area (Ernest Hemingway based part of “A Farewell to Arms” on his experience as a ambulance driver in the areas). Bassano del Grappa meant a lot to the soldiers and they helped repair the bridge after the war, and the town has a museum dedicated to them. Sharla took us to the Museo degli Alpini, which is in the basement of a bar, and we definitely wouldn’t have found it and learned about this significant piece of history without Sharla. Admission was only a euro, and they have an audio tour in different languages to explain the history. Sharla told us that the Alpini soldiers have reunions in Bassano del Grappa to see the museum and the bridge.
After learning about so much important history of the town and realizing how little I know about history of small towns like this, we went out for drinks at different local bars. Sharla knew everyone and told us about the background of the different bars and their owners, and we learned a lot about wine! Everyone was so friendly and answered all of our questions and carried on conversations with us, even with a bit of a language barrier. If you visit Bassano del Grappa, make sure you visit Enoteca Mariga and Enoteca Antico Bar (and say hi to Fabio and Constanza!) because they had incredible wine and were so welcoming!
We walked around the town some more and worked off some of our wine while catching a glimpse of the sunset behind the mountains! I could not get enough of the beautiful views everywhere I looked in Bassano del Grappa.
We got dinner with Sharla and her daughter at Il Garibaldi and tried Italy’s famous aperol spritz (not my favorite drink but I thought it was worth trying). This was also the restaurant with the *interesting* bathroom (read about it in my first post if you missed that story), but their food was good! Especially their chocolate pear cake. After dinner, we went to a local dive bar with Sharla’s daughter (I had no idea they had dive bars in Italy!) and learned how to play an Italian bar game that we were all pretty terrible at- check out the video proof.
Thank you for such an awesome tour, Sharla! (photos from Morgan)
We had such an amazing time in Bassano del Grappa, all thanks to Sharla! If you get the chance to go to Bassano del Grappa (which you should definitely visit), be sure to take in all the local history and check out the Nardini distillery and all those local wineries and restaurants! It’s an incredible place to visit, and there’s so much more there to discover than you would expect 🙂