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Age-old cave in northern Italy houses eerie formations

By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 26, 2016

There are few places in northern Italy — especially along the edges of the Alps, where varying patterns often collide — where one can count on the weather being relatively steady.

Grotta Nuova di Villanova is one of them.

Whether it’s a blistering hot day in August or a blustering cold day in January, the temperature inside the cave hovers around 52 degrees, with a humidity level around 100 percent. There’s no wind or sunlight and — though water is constantly dripping all over the place — no rain or snow.

There is a lot of darkness. And about 500 steps to navigate with the help of dozens of strategically located floodlights.

The cave was explored for the first time in 1925, with local residents expanding a crack in the earth where vapor was escaping and then lowering themselves into the darkness below. An access tunnel was dug and a new entrance opened to the public in 1984.

But while access and navigation have changed, the cave has not. Stalactites and stalagmites on display were there long before the first humans entered. It’s estimated that parts of the cave are a few million years old.

The rock formations develop slowly as dripping water leaves mineral deposits while falling from the ceiling to the floor. Tourists are forbidden to touch any of the formations, as doing so causes them to stop “growing.”

Longer visits can be arranged, especially for experienced spelunkers. But most people enter in small groups with a guide and spend about 90 minutes in the cave. Because time is at a premium, photographs — difficult to get in the low light anyway — are generally discouraged.

There are several other caves in the area, including the Grotta Vecchia di Villanova, but most are open only for spelunkers who receive prior approval.

harris.kent@stripes.com

 

 

Grotta Nuova di Villanova

 

DIRECTIONS

Grotta Nuova di Villanova isn’t exactly on a main tourist path, though it’s not far off the A23 autostrada — one of the main routes from Italy into Austria. It’s about a 90-minute drive from Aviano via the A28 (toward Portogruaro) to A4 (toward Trieste) and A23 (toward Udine). One of the easiest ways to get there is to take the Udine north exit to the SS-13 and follow the brown points of interest signs in Tricesimo. It’s also possible for those with more time to take the SS-13 almost the entire way.

TIMES

August, when much of Italy is on vacation, is the prime time to visit, as the cave is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with tours generally starting at 11 a.m. and every 90 minutes after. It’s open 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays in July; 10 a.m. to noon and 1:30-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in May, June and September. In March, April, October and November, the cave is open Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and 1:30-6 p.m. It’s closed to walk-up public tours in December, January and February.

COSTS

Admission is 9 euros (about $10) per adult, 7 euros for seniors and children ages 6-12; kids under age 5 enter free. Parking is free. A trip on the A4 from Portoguaro to Udine costs 5.70 euros in road tolls.

FOOD

There are two restaurants near the visitor’s center and nothing else for several miles. But there are dozens of options along the SS-13. The Fiera mall in Udine, not far off the SS-13, has a food court.

INFORMATION

Website in Italian: www.grottedivillanova.it; in Italian, English and German: www.turismofvg.it/Grotte/Grotta-Nuova-di%20Villanova. Phone (some English spoken): 0432-787915; email: info@grottedivillanova.it.

Much of the interior of Grotta Nuova di Villanova appears to be shades of white or gray, but there are some yellow patches created by a different set of minerals.
KENT HARRIS/STARS AND STRIPES

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