Italy is one of those European countries I have a special fondness for. From the brilliant cuisine and great wine, through smiling and relaxed people, beautiful design, spectacular landscapes and mountains, through the history and extraordinary monuments. There is no other country in our old Europe, which would hide so many treasures. And that’s why in my first text about cave diving sites we go to Italy!
We will be heading north today to Bassano del Grappa. It is a historic, charming town situated on the banks of a river that winds through mountain valleys. Here come paragliding enthusiasts from all over Europe, here are held famous canoeing and rafting events, here you can taste one of the best grappas (vodka from grape marc) in the region.
And finally – here you will find some extremely beautiful caves, which attract passionate cave divers. Caves in the Veneto (as our region is called) are very diverse in terms of difficulty when it comes to planning the dive and the dive itself. All of them, however, as well as most inland caves in Europe, are connected by a certain seasonality. Seasons, as well as the weather have a significant impact on the conditions in the cave. I like coming here in the winter, when the restaurants still serve porchini`s from the mountain forests, and the water is wonderfully clear. Spend Valentine’s Day underwater and then in the evening indulge yourself with tiramisu and local prosecco.
This is the first of our Veneto caves, located a few minutes walk up the slope, through a backyard tomato farm and finally, down to where one of the tributaries has its beginning. Already from afar, you can see a beautiful lake, in which the entrance to the cave is located. If we are lucky, the lake impresses with its crystal clear water and turquoise color. At a depth of about 18 meters (which depends, of course, on the water level in the lake itself) in the bright, limestone rocks you will find the entrance to the cave. The corridor is really spacious. Elefante has a fixed guideline made of relatively thick rope, which creates a comfortable and simple tourist route. The corridor descends quite intensively, so after about 100 meters of swimming we can reach a depth of 48 – 52 meters.
Not far from the majestic Elefante, which boasts the beauty of a Renaissance cathedral with its huge chambers and a pale rocks, you will also find a good pizzeria. The spaces of this queen of the region are so spacious that you can eat your pizza here and sip on some local wine without hesitation.
System Oliero – Siori i Veci
The entrance to the two, twin caves (each of which has one of the tributaries of the Oliero River flowing out of it) is located within the local Oliero Park. There are some lovely ladies who work there and you will need to show them all necessary documentation and permissions. Prepare them earlier as it is not possible to obtain these permits on the spot.
The Veci cave entrance is really massive. The corridor descends quite gently, so getting to a depth of more than 50-55 meters will take some time. In addition, when the corridor is already at a depth of 56 meters, it begins to shallow to about 40 meters. Making a very long dive here, at a distance of about 700 meters from the entrance we will find ourselves at a depth of 35 to 40 meters.
Siori is different from its sister. Although here the corridor is also very wide, the height is definitely lower than in the case of Veci. In the lowest parts it can be just over half a meter high, so this cave is definitely friendlier and simpler for divers in a side configuration.
The fairly wide entrance to each cave and the construction of the passages make both caves well suited for more novice cave divers, especially Veci. Problematic may be the periodically very strong current, which will prevent us from approaching the grotto, where there is an underwater entrance. It is particularly strong at the entrance to the Siori described at the end.
One of the more difficult caves in the region. The problem with the beautiful Fontanazzi lies in its entrance. Almost immediately after submerging, the diver must squeeze through a fairly narrow corridor leading down to a depth of 18 meters. This cave is definitely more suitable for divers in the side mount, and will at least make you rethink your eating (or dietary) strategy, if only you don’t want to get stuck in an awkward position. How about a salad instead of pizza? Or at least one tiramisu instead of two?
It is worth taking a moment just to enter, to then enjoy the beauty of the corridors of Fontanazzi. Right after the narrow part, which for many years has held back the typical tourist cave divers here are the tunnels. No tightness here, because you dive in a space that is closer to a subway tunnel. The rocks are rather dark, but without hesitation I would classify Fontanazzi among the most beautiful caves of Western Europe. Most of the dives, typically tourist ones with time under an hour, will not take you very deep – If you want to see how a sample dive in this incredibly charming cave looks like, go HERE.
This is the most remote of all the caves listed here. Getting there is quite a challenge. A narrow, extremely scenic road runs along a steep slope and through small mountain towns. Eventually our road enters the forest and at the end of it, its a good idea to park a car just before an old stone bridge. From here, anyone wanting to cave dive needs to go for quite a walk with equipment up the riverbed, over huge, mossy stones. It would be ideal to first enjoy the wonderful local cuisine and wine, then take a health trail in Rio Torettta and at the very end, as we already are slim as a river pike, go to Fontanazzi described above. Unfortunately, the distance means that this modest forest beauty is usually left for the very end of the trip.
You can look forward to future episodes that will take you to other countries. Some of you probably know how fond I am of cave diving because of their unusual, evocative of distant worlds (maybe even a bit of Lovecraftian) interiors. These dives are usually accompanied by a sense of uncertainty about what we will see behind the next corner, what the visibility will be, what the conditions will be, whether the current will allow us to enter at all. I hope you will wait.
A variety of caves
Pizza and tiramisu
The butt gets stuck in Fontanazzi (after pizza and tiramisu)
About the author
Daria has been involved with IDF since the very beginning of the federation. She is a MDI instructor as well as a Trimix and Advanced Wreck Instructor. In diving she appreciates intimate trips to caves and more exotic, fascinating macro world in tropical seas. You probably know her as the author of our training manuals.
Besides diving she likes to spend her free time in the mountains and on trips, always with a book in her backpack. Privately she has a great weakness for sloths, quokas, mouse deers and other bizarre animals.