I recently found myself with a totally free day which is a rare thing at the moment so my friends and I decided to make the most of it and check out the Frasassi caves (Grotte di Frasassi) in Genga, near Ancona in Le Marche, Italy.
Near to where I come from in England there are two extensive sets of caves in Cheddar and Wookey that are filled with great stories such as the witch of Wookey Hole and her petrified dog. I loved the caves as a kid for the same reason I love them now, because they are steeped in history and mystery and any other ‘stery words you can think of. For me, they are a glimpse into the unknown. So you can imagine how keen I was to check out Frasassi, one of the biggest cave networks in Europe.
I forgot to take my satnav in the car but knew that I had to take the Ancona Nord exit from the Autostrada (which is the same exit you take for the airport don’t-cha-know) and fortunately the caves were signposted from there despite it being at least another thirty minutes drive.
The signs were pretty good, and soon we were pulling up in a huge car park and I was quickly changing my t-shirt – yeah, gross I know, but it was a hot day…
Once I was suitably dried we walked away from the car towards the throng of people and… hang on…where are the caves? My friends and I looked around but all we could see were food stalls and souvenir shops. The obligatory tourist trap. I’m not joking, they were selling all the typical tourist junk that you just cannot live your life without buying. There were dragon statues, ‘Kiss the Cook’ type cooking aprons and even 2ft high garden gnomes. As you can imagine, it took all my self-control not to buy myself a photo frame adorned with shells… the power of the souvenir is strong, so be warned.
After a few minutes of browsing pointless knick-knacks we saw a short queue and the ticketing office… Bingo!
We were queuing for two minutes when a member of staff began asking if anyone in the line wanted to join the English-speaking tour. Our hands shot up and moments later we were being handed our tickets. Easy.
We were then led over to a small bus stop and told that the next bus to arrive is the one we need and to have a great time. It was only a short bus ride and soon we were walking up a small ramp towards the entrance to the caves.
A member of staff called us together in perfect English and asked us to wait outside a huge airlock-like door that looked like it was straight out of a science fiction film. Eventually the huge brown doors opened and we were strolling up a long and chilly corridor that was man-made, we were told, with drills and dynamite. Very cool.
Minutes later we were in the first of the five ‘rooms’. Now, I shall avoid as many spoilers as possible here so as to not ruin things if you decide to visit the caves but I will talk briefly about some of the things I was told and that I saw so if you don’t want to know anything about the tour whatsoever then you don’t want to read much further.
Also, you’re not allowed to take pictures while inside the caves so the pictures on this blog are from the Wikipedia page, just so you know.
THE FIRST ROOM is known as The Ancona Abyss due to the sheer, unbelievable size of the place. You walk in and you suddenly feel very small indeed which is not a feeling you really expect when you’re underneath the ground.
The tour-guide tells us that the room is so vast it could easily hold the Milan cathedral which pretty much says it all really. Walking further into the room we approach some huge pillars that are imaginatively referred to as The Giants. The guide explains that this room was the first room that was discovered and these Giants were the first things the exploring spelunkers (I love that word) saw. The guide then flashed her torch at a tiny stalagmite on a small plateau on the wall. I wasn’t all that impressed at the tiny thing until she explained that it is actually over 8ft tall and the distance of a football field away from us. Wow.
Towards the end of the first room she began showing us different kinds of stalactites. Some she called spaghetti (which is what they looked like) and explained that they are the beginnings of the larger stalactites, others that formed in waving crests that jutted horizontally from the wall she referred to as ‘bacon,’ as they really did look like breakfast rashers.
THE SECOND ROOM was not as tall as the first but was incredibly long with tonnes of small tunnels leading away from it, all lit up to further the mystery of the place. Inside (no spoilers) there were fantastic structures which the tour-guide named for us.
Much like the blob of rock in Wookey Hole that we are told is actually a petrified dog, so the story goes, we were shown many rock formations and asked to stretch our imaginations to visualise animals and shapes. To be honest, most of them were perfect.
Oh, also, in this room keep an eye out for the ‘Sword of Damocles,’ which is a particularly vicious looking stalactite.
THE THIRD ROOM felt much smaller and narrower than the previous two. We were stood on the man-made path and wound around this room for a while, walking past well-lit mite and tite formations that jutted from the walls until I chanced a look over the edge and saw that the below the bridge, the floor dropped away entirely into shadow. Once again, I felt very small. Further in this room we were shown more stalactite structures and eventually a very cool set of stalagmites.
They are called the Dining Candles as they all stick up randomly from the floor, surrounded by small puddles of perfectly clear water. The area was lit in a way that the whole thing almost looked romantic, a place you could sit with a loved one for hours. Either that or it’s the sort of place you would imagine elves frolicking, swimming and playing hide and seek, but perhaps that’s just me.
THE FINAL ROOM was stunning. We were told that it is called the Infinity Room as it is said that the explorers got lost inside it for an entire day, unsure of how to get out or even how long the room stretched for. When you see it lit up and you’re given a convenient path, as we were, it doesn’t seem so complex. However, when you stand in this room and imagine having nothing other than headlamps to see by you can see nothing but a huge labyrinth of rock. The tites and mites in this room were truly phenomenal, ranging from huge and tall to tiny and plentiful; it was definitely a great way to end the tour.
I would definitely recommend these caves as a great day out. The tour itself lasts about an hour and fifteen minutes but afterward (if it’s a nice day) you can opt out of the bus and take the 20 minute walk back to the car park. It winds through the mountain ranges and takes you past the sulfurous river which obviously stinks but gives you a great opportunity to tease the people who you’re with about their terrible body odour.
When you do visit the caves – and you really should – then be sure to take a packed lunch or at least eat before you get there as the food that is available is unbelievably expensive. My wallet is still angry at me for paying 8 euros for a hotdog and a water. Crazy stuff.
Ciao for now.