The winter of 2013/2014 proved a mixed blessing across Italy, and none more so than at the foot of the Pre-Alps in the Bassano area where rain filled most days, except up on the mountains where deep drifts of fresh snow left a white cap above about 1500 metres.
On a rare perfectly sunny Sunday, we ventured to drive up to the peak of Montegrappa, leaving when all Italians are settled at ‘pranzo’ (lunch), so we had the road virtually completely to ourselves, except for the occasional intrepid cyclist, using pedal power to climb the nearly 1700 metres from the base at Romano d’Ezzelino to the top – in just 20 kilometers.
The road is well paved and only narrow if you encounter an SUV coming down at speed. In ignorance, we commented that this would be a good hill-climb for the Giro, unknowing that this year on 30 May, Stage 19 was to do just this same trip, but, believe it or not, as a time trial.
Very early on the climb, you encounter the first of many memorials of the WW1 fighting that occurred on this massif between the Italians and the Austro-Hungarian troops. It occurs that WW1 started 100 years ago this year, and that the battles on this massif commenced over 96 years ago. But the memories for Italians, particularly those brought up in the Veneto region, are still vibrant, as are those of Australians when they visit Gallipoli in Turkey and other theatres from WW1.
Looking up into the sky, we see what appear to be eagles soaring majestically high above us, over 20 of them across the sky, higher even than the top of the massif. In fact, Montegrappa is one of the great paraglider sites in Europe (paraflying), with up-drafts from the warmth of the plains funneling up the side of the mountains.
Nearing the top where the sign says 1776 metres, we were above the residual treeline, and a dazzling eiderdown of snow lay softly on the bones and memories of the past. I am told that flying above Montegrappa in summer, you can still see the craters from the large shells of WW1. It was warm at the top, just above freezing with the sun in full power, and rivulets emerging from under the snow cap. At the Rifugio Bassano, we entertained the idea of a polenta lunch with local cheese, Bastardo del Grappa, and ‘funghi’ (mushrooms).
The busy Sunday wait was filled with viewing the scenes on the walls of the restaurant depicting the Italians scaling and defending the mountain back in 1917/18. Maybe, this is sustainability, we never forget sacrifice for our country, though so many deserted the towns that were destroyed in these now beautiful lands, for more peaceful climates of countries such as Australia.
Looking down, the height of the Eiger face, to the plains below, there is a nearly continuous decorated tablecloth of buildings over the land stretching as far as one can see, with the centres being identified only by the occasional bell tower, and one single river, the Brenta, carrying the memories off into the distance towards the sea at Venice.