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From the Three Peaks of Lavaredo to Mount Grappa, from the Lessinia plateau to the Asiago one, Venetian Dolomites and Pre-Alps are a wonderful world to be discovered. But what lies behind all these best known places?
Here are our suggestions for some unusual hiking trips in Veneto: 5 locations throughout this northern region, little known but no less magical and charming.
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Grotta Azzurra and Castle of Zumelle (Borgo Valbelluna, Province of Belluno)
Just a few kilometers from Mel, a small town known as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, a timeless magic takes place.
Reachable by a trail completely surrounded by nature, the “Grotta Azzurra” (in English “Blue Grotto”) is an almost pristine environment, made of a natural rock arch and a small waterfall that crashes into a clear turquoise water pond (hence the name of the place).
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The Castle of Zumelle, not far from the “Grotta Azzurra”, is the best preserved castle throughout Valbelluna: built on the top of a overhanging hill around the I century b.C., it preserves perfectly untouched its tower (which can be visited up to the top, with its floors set as mediaeval spaces), some of its rooms (renovated and partly used as B&B rooms), its small church dedicated to San Lorenzo and its dungeons, where you can see a scale reproduction of the castle and the mythical “Tomb of the Twins”, a sarcophagus where, according to legend, used to lie the sons of Geiseric, king of the Goths, born to his maiden Eudoria during the time he was settled in this castle - hence the name “Zumelle”, from “gemelli”, the Italian word for twins.
In addition, outside the walls, in those that were once the servants’ quarters, there is now a mediaeval restaurant that serves both traditional and ancient local food.
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Altar Knotto (Castelletto di Rotzo, Province of Vicenza)
If there is one place that can really weave history and legend, and inspire a somehow mysterious magic, that is the Altar Knotto.
The Altar Knotto is a massive overhanging stone in Rotzo (a small town in the “Altopiano dei 7 Comuni”, in the province of Vicenza), facing the Valdastico valley; for its peculiar protruding shape and its history over the centuries, it is also known as the “altar stone”, and creates, along with the Eastern “Spitzknotto” in Stocarè and the Western “Hanepos” in Marcesina (also known as “Thor’s Anvil”), the so-called “magic triangle”.
From an historical point of view, the Altar Knotto (Cimbrian for “old stone”) seemed to be used as a sacrificial site: priests used to bring their victims to the stone through trails and tunnels, while people watched in silence; in particular, this cult seems to have come along with Cimbric people beginning to inhabit this area, and bringing, along with their traditions, their Nordic religion, which involved different sacrifices to gods Thor, Odin, Eostre and Freyja.
The legend has it that the Dwarfs’ Treasure is hidden under the Altar Knotto, and that these creatures exhibit it on the top of the stone during sunny and clear days, in order to watch it sparkle - but watch out, because whoever tries to steal even a single piece gets, as a punishment, their hands burnt.
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Grotta del Ciabattino (Sant’Anna d’Alfaedo, Province of Verona)
In the Western part of Lessinia, not far from the well-known “Spluga della Preta” (a 877m deep natural cave), lies the “Grotta del Ciabattino” (in English “Cave of the Shoemaker”), a wide cave characterised by suggestive ice formations that can be seen until late spring.
Contrary to the Spluga della Preta, the Grotta del Ciabattino is publicly open - but not equipped, so you must wear trekking clothes and mountain shoes that are suitable for rough and steep trails: the walk to reach the spot does not take more than a couple of hours, starting from “contrada Tommasi di Fosse” near Sant’Anna d’Alfaedo and following the traced path.
An interesting fun fact about this cave is the legend behind its name, inspired by the cloud-shaped fog that occurs in it because of the wide temperature variation between the inside and the outside: the story has it that a young shoemaker, who was there to shepherd his brother’s flock, saw, during a full moon night, some crows turn into witches and gather around the mouth of the Spluga della Preta; frightened, he tried to hide in the cave, but the witches found him and turned the poor shoemaker into an ice stalactite and his flock into small clouds.
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Cadini del Brentón (Sospirolo, Province of Belluno)
Easily reachable through an open trail specifically created for visitors, the “Cadini del Brentón” are a sequence of 15 natural potholes, carved by the Brentón stream, that look like a series of clear water ponds connected to each other by small waterfalls. The trail also leads to a bridge built right above the main waterfall, the “Cascata della Soffia”.
The most stunning feature of this place is its synaesthetic harmony: rocks and greenery merge together, waterfalls and nature make a constant and gentle background noise, while water creates delicate reflections and light effects that give colours a particular brightness.
The Cadini del Brentón are located in the Mis Lake valley, an impressive artificial lake strictly surrounded by the “Monti del Sole” peaks and the Agnelezze massif - impervious heights that give the whole valley a contemplative and pristine aura.
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Pian de le Femene (Revine Lago, Province of Treviso)
“Pian de le Femene” (Venetian dialect translation of “Women’s Plateau”) is a plateau that connects the provinces of Belluno and Treviso.
The most incredible feature of this place is its landscape: on one side, you can see the entire Valbelluna valley, crossed by the Piave river, while on the other side the whole Pianura Padana and Veneto region open to your gaze - sometimes, when the air is perfectly clear, you can even get to see the Venice lagoon with your naked eye.
In addition to these spectacular landscapes, this site also has a huge historical value: inhabited since prehistory (some archaeological remains dating back to Neolithic were found here), it has always had a great strategic importance, most of all because of its position connecting the provinces of Belluno and Treviso; Pian de le Femene is also one of the landmarks of Italian Resistance: right here on this plateau, in 1944, many partisan brigades gathered together - hence the Monument to the Partisan Woman in Pezzei and a dedicated museum.
From Pian de le Femene, you can easily reach the Col Visentin mountain (1.763 masl) and the San Boldo Pass, an 18-harpin mountain pass also known as “Strada dei 100 Giorni”, “100 Days Road” (as a tribute to its construction, ordered by Austrians between march and may 1918, right after the defeat of Caporetto).
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