300,000 tourists visit the Frasassi caves (Grotte di Frasassi) every year. But even there I managed to get off the beaten track and have a great adventure!
The blue and red speleo adventure routes in the Frasassi caves are for the more curious. The blue route (percorso blu) takes 2 hours to complete and a group of 25-30 people is admitted a few times a day. The red route (percorso rosso) is for 3 hours and the groups are smaller – 10-13 people. Now we are talking!
We started by putting on brightly coloured overalls, rubber boots, disposable hair caps and helmets with lights. The long man-made tunnel brought us to the first cave chamber, Abisso Ancona, which left us speechless: 200 metres high, 180 metres long and 120 metres wide. This chamber would easily fit in the Milan Cathedral. We continued following the tourists’ path on nice wooden bridges, with our jaws dropped at the grandeur and beauty of the stalactites and stalagmites. It was crowded enough and other visitors were staring with curiosity at our outfits. Don’t know about the rest of the group, but I felt like a speleologists, who was about to enter the mysterious world of one of the largest caves in Europe. And so we did, stepping off the wooden bridge through a little gate, followed by the looks of the less adventurous tourists we began our speleo-adventure.
Photo by Grotte di Frasassi
The description on the Frasassi website warned: prepare to get dirty! And muddy it was! Although the mud and clay were white, of that type that you find in places less frequented by man and want put on your face as a clay mask. I had no gloves on (all adventurers are supposed to bring a pair each but I forgot about it), so I could feel the waxy smoothness and coolness of the stalagmites, the chalky texture of the clay.
Our guides had acetylene torches on their helmets that stank like hell and illuminated dark tunnels, bottlenecks and skids where the weak lights from our helmets couldn’t reach. In one chamber we all switched our lights off and set quietly for a minute or two. I could hear the water dripping from the ceiling of the cave on the floor. That was the only sound breaking the dead silence in the cave, the sound that has not changed for one and a half million years since Grotte di Frasassi formed here. It was dark, cool and peaceful.
But we had no time to relax: we continued to walk on the edge of a 30 meters deep pit, avoid stepping in deceitfully clear pools of water (some of them were almost one meters deep), crawl on all fours in a 30 meters-long tunnel, climb up a slippery wall, squeeze ourselves through long bottlenecks. And all that while being surrounded by ethereal beauty of cascades, columns, crusts made of calcium salts and blue water pools.
We emerged from the abyss (well, that’s how I felt, anyway) dirty and happy, marching on the tame and clean wooden bridges under the admiring gaze of the ‘regular’ tourists.
The Frasassi caves are open for visits all year. Book your speleo adventure at least one week in advance as places are limited. The blue route costs €35, the red route €45. Audio tours in English are available for the regular tourist route only.