This time I take the stand:
When the guide opens the door, a blast of cool air will rustle your hair, and you'll understand why the locals built a hut over the Buca del Vento, or Wind Hole, as they called it, and used it to refrigerate their produce until World War II. They realized, of course, that all that wind couldn't be coming from just a tiny fissure, and at the turn of the century persuaded a four year old girl to crawl into it. She emerged terrified by the open space she'd found.
In 1932 a group of Florentine speleologists excavated the fissure, finding a few cave bear bones mixed with the sediments, and got 70 meters before they discovered an underground lake. When others returned during the drought of 1962, the lake was dry, and they entered a bizarre world of stalactites and fancifully shaped calcite deposits known as concretions, banded calcite curtains, and shafts that either sink into the ground or disappear into the shadows. By now more than four km of tunnels have been explored, and a kilometer is open to the public.
As you walk down the modern passageway that opens above the lake, you will begin to hear the steady dripping of water that will accompany you throughout your visit. There are three tours, which take 1, 2, and 3 hours to complete (plus a fourth, which is called "adventuresome," that I have not done). The first is essentially horizontal, to a series of halls whose walls are lined with concretions, some resembling eerie creatures from the deeps, and from whose ceilings hang stalactites and curtains of banded calcite you might wish you had in your bedroom.
The second itinerary goes further, down stairs so steep they almost seem like ladders, into a shaft discovered by a speleologist who tossed a rock into an opening and heard a long series of impacts. You leave the concretions behind and enter a shadowy world where even whispers echo, tiny water droplets dance in the lights, and everything is coated by the silt left behind by the waters that flood the tunnels during the rainy season. After viewing the Acheron, a stream that disappears into a cobble patch, you will return to the hall with the curtains via tunnels whose mud encrusted walls look like wooded hills.
The third itinerary branches off from the first, past a wall that looks like a mudslide frozen as it rumbled down slope, to the shaft of an underground water fall known as the Well of Infinity. The stairs to the lip are cramped, and you get rained on, but it's all worth it to watch the water spatter into the maw of the pit from above. The itinerary then merges with the second.
The Grotta del Vento is located in Tuscany; to reach it you will have to drive: Take the road from Lucca to Castelnuovo Garfagnana, and turn off for Fornovolasco at Gallicano.
Unless you are physically unable to tackle several hundred stairs over a period of three hours, you should take the third tour. It runs twice daily, at 10:00 and at 2:00 (20 Euros / person), and you should make reservations, especially in August (write to firstname.lastname@example.org). Also, since the last ten km of the road are tortuous, give yourself plenty of time to get there.
A second bit of advice: The cave's temperature is a constant 50 degrees F (about 10 C). If you go in the summer, bring long pants and a sweater (I changed in the parking lot, and was not the only one doing so). And proper footwear. Not sandals.
If you go in the morning, there's a simple trattoria a couple of km before the cave mouth that's not bad.
Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti. We Are:
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