europe quick trips
Keeping its cool: Lesser-known Grotte Caglieron an easy distance from Aviano
By KENT HARRIS | Stars and Stripes | Published: July 19, 2018
Italy’s most famous sites — such as the Colosseum in Rome, the Grand Canal in Venice and Pompeii — are famous around the world.
But it’s not that difficult to live in the country for years and find lesser-known venues that you’ve never heard of, much less discovered.
Grotte Caglieron is one of those places. It’s less than an hour’s drive from Aviano Air Base and only about half of that for those who live west of the base. But it’s far off normal tourist paths and missing from most guidebooks.
The caves and tunnels at the site, part of the country’s national park system, might not be as spectacular as others, such as Grotte Gigante near Trieste. But they’ve got at least two things in their favor: proximity and cost. Admission is free.
The landscape here was formed over centuries as the Caglieron River carved various paths through softer rock. Today, visitors can see waterfalls, swift-flowing streams and relatively calm pools, as well as caves and tunnels made by nature and by man. Some passageways were laboriously carved out to allow easier access to visitors. One local company has long used a cave to age its cheese.
For first-time visitors, the site could probably use a bit more signage. After winding your way up a twisty road into the town of Fregona, you’ll see some signs indicating that a city lot — with metered parking — might be a convenient place to park. But if you stop there, you’ll still be a little more than a mile from the caves. And the walking path to get there can be hard to find at first — and a bit arduous, if you’re not in shape. But the scenery is pretty.
There are a few smaller winding roads if you keep on driving above Fregona. These can get you closer to the caves if you’re averse to the walk.
In either case, bring walking shoes with good tread. And tread carefully. The paths can be slippery and difficult to navigate. Much of the site was closed earlier this year, as walkways were judged to be too treacherous. During a visit in early June, reports were that those sections — going deeper into the cave system — were supposed to be open on June 15. But several target dates for re-opening the paths before that were missed. Even with those areas closed, there are still caves, rock formations and waterfalls to check out.
Directions: Grotte Caglieron is located near the Veneto town of Fregona, about a 45-minute drive west of Aviano Air Base. There are several ways to get there. The easiest is probably to travel via the SS-13. Take the second right at the traffic circle past the Bennett mall and head toward Vittorio Veneto. On the outskirts of that city, start looking for the brown signs for the grotto or follow blue signs for Fregona.
Times: Open from sunrise to sunset. A good portion of the site was not accessible in early June because of work to make the walkways safer. This section was set to re-open June 15, but several previous target dates had not been met.
Costs: Admission is free. The parking lot in Fregona costs 1 euro per hour.
Food: There are a few restaurants in Fregona and many more along the route from Aviano. But the best bet might be to bring a backpack or two full of picnic supplies. There’s an area designated for picnicking not far from the caves, and there are numerous supermarkets along the driving route.
Information: The site is not stroller friendly. Kids — and adults — need to watch their steps.