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Remembered Today:

Visit to Italy: Part 2


Potter

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Part 2 of my visit in June and July

After visiting the museum in Rovereto, we headed north briefly and then turned east from the Adige valley into the mountains again, passing Folgaria and Lavarone, which are battlefield sites and onto Asiago. It was late Sunday afternoon when we arrived and it was heaving with visitors, most of whom I think were there from the cities in the Po valley, getting away from the summer heat. By contrast, Asiago was deserted the next day with most shops closed.

We stayed in the Hotel Erica. This is a small family-owned hotel. It was comfortable enough and the staff were very obliging. Alberto, the owner speaks English but no one else does. You can easily walk into the town centre from the hotel and it has its own free parking. On the first night, we ate in the main hotel in town and paid a lot for a load of pretentious rubbish. We discovered that during the week, Erica does lunch and dinner. You select from a menu which is left out at breakfast time. We ate here for the remaining two evenings and the food was nothing special but reasonably priced. We greatly enjoyed eating with our fellow guests, all of whom were Italians, especially a group of pensioners who made an incredible amount of noise during the meal, as you expect Italians to do. We weren't sure what they did doing the day but they enjoyed themselves. If you're happy with basic but good value rooms and food, I'd recommend the Erica.

By and large, we didn't like Asiago. It's a bit gloomy and the scenery isn't as spectacular as we'd encountered earlier. I think we'd been spoiled by Cortina and Trento. Matt in his contribution to my first post raved about the local cheese but we though it was very bland. However, there's some good delis and grocery shops in the town , so decide for yourselves.

I hadn't come to follow any particular unit or individual, I was just interested in getting the lie of the land and identifying the main site of the July 1918 fighting and the rear areas for the British army. I used Mackay and the Tabacco (Italian map) Altopiano dei Sette Comuni 1:25000. I think to follow the front line you need to go on foot. The British had the favourable ground, with the A-H troops attacking uphill and the the British having the forest to their rear. Trying to follow the front line by car was very difficult and in fact, you get a better impression of the lie of the land from the higher ground north of the town. We didn't root around in the front line areas but did explore the areas on the lee side of the high ground which the British occupied. Be warned, the signing is sparse and it's hard to decide what is the road and what is a track. We found the hospitals descibed in Mackay and Barenthal Cemetery easily enough. We then went to look for Boscon Cemetery and couldn't find it. We drove up a very rough track used by forestry lorries and then abandoned the car and carried on foot before deciding this was ridiculous. Later I realised we were miles away. Tip - study the maps very carefully before you set off.

We carried on and found Granezza, which is straightforward and then had a look at the escarpment facing the Po Valley. Even on a misty day, you can see how the plateau looms above the valley and what a disaster it would have been to lose the high ground. Verona, Brescia and the Po valley cities would have been threatened. From Granezza, we went to Monte Zovetto, the high ground to the south of Cesuna. There is a monument to the Strafeexpedition - the A-H offensive of June 1916 and an incredible view of the mountains to the west. We then went to Magnaboshi. Opposite the British cemetery is a former Italian and A-H cemetery with a lot of wreaths and commemorabilia for the Strafeexpedition. We then went to the private museum in Canove. This is an extensive collection, which you should not miss even though it is a bit of a junk yard.

The next day, we went to the Asiago tourist office and dealt with a woman who spoke excellent English. I asked about battlefield sites and she recommended Monte Zebio. This is north of Asiago. The route is clearly signposted and the map showed a road up to the summit where there are restored A-H trenches. The road got steadily worse and for the last few miles I had serious doubts about reaching the top. If you've got 4 wheel drive - no problems but I was in a 7 year old Ford Mondeo and seriously worried about cracking the sump. I kept going because there was nowhere to turn round (I don't know what would have happened if someone had been coming down) and we got to the top to find someone had already driven a Transit minibus up there! There's a formaggio (cheese factory) at the top but that's it. The battlefield site is very impressive with trenches excavated from the rock, dug outs and on the lee side stone cabins serving as billets and magazines. The Italian lines have not been restored and are not that obvious (presumably because they were less substantial thatn the A-H lines). There was mining and counter-mining and there is a memorial to that. You can also see trenches and structures which have not been restored. Up there, in trenches drilled from the rock and with incredible views across the mountains, you are a world away from the Western Front! If you go to Asiago, make time to visit this. I had also planned to go to Ortigara, the major 1916 battlefield overlooking the Sugana valley, but the road looked even more difficult, so we decided not to risk it.

We gingerly returned to Asiago and went to the Ossuary (Sacrari Militari della 1a Guerra Modiale). This is on the edge of the town and contains the remains of 54,286 Italian and A-H soldiers. The battlefield cemeteries were cleared in the 1930s and these ossuaries created. Asiago was opened by Mussolini in 1938. The Italian soldiers are in individual tombs, six or seven on top of each other, with just their names on a marble front. There are mass graves for the unknown which record the number interred. The A-H soldiers are in mass graves but their names are recorded in a bronze book. It was an interestingly different way of commemorating the dead, almost as if the fascist state had appropriated them. It all seemed very impersonal as we walked down marble corridors with the dead piled around us.

Above the ossuary is a massive arch, bigger I think than the Menin Gate. Access to it was prohibited, though no explanation was given. There are also some A-H artillery pieces outside. Take note, in typical Italian style, the Sacrari is closed for lunch between 12 and 2!

Finally, we left to do what my wife calls "normal things". However I managed a visit to Cavelletto British Cemetery. This is not as remote as the guides and CWGC make it sound, just a short walk down a slope and across a field. A sad place, like all hospital sites. And then down the steep slopes of the plateau to the plain and an appreciation of the logistics involved in supplying the front line.

A couple of asides: driving wasn't as bad as I expected. Italians cut it fine and tailgate. (I stopped looking in the mirror!). The mountains were infested with packs of German motor cyclists on top of the range bikes. Their numbers made them a pain.

Maps: in addition to the Tabacco map mentioned, I used the Touring Club Italiano 1:200000 Trentino Alto Adige, a Kompass map of the Dolomite Front (Italienisch-oesterreichische dolomitische Front-Karte, 1:50,000 (it's also available in an Italian version), and a map of the Front in the Asiago area, available from the Tourist Office (Luoghi delle Grande Guerra 1915-18). It has an accompanying guide and explanation of the sites, available in German (Fuehrer zu den Schauplaetzen des Grossen Krieges) or Italian.

Well, I hope you find this useful. I know most people will go to Asiago but try to include some time for the Italian sites in the mountains - they really are something special. I have managed to download my photos to somewhere I can find them again, so I will post some. However, I may need some help, so keep an eye out for my next post.

Phil

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Phil,

sounds like you had a really interesting trip, thanks for a most informative post, I look forward to seeing your photos when you manage to get around to it.

Regards and best wishes,

Scottie.

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I've been to Asiago twice and love the place, I stay at Hotel Alpi, Marco owner speaks some English, he has a picture which is also in the museum at Canove of his grandfather & 5 brothers in uniform, all survived. It's good to go to Slovenia also for Caporetto battlefield.

The British did hold the high ground, it's amazing AH broke their lines, they had about 2 miles! of ground to cover before reaching the British and in June 1918 they were about starved as were their animals, a beggar army by then.

Asiago plateau is lovely , the town is nice, good restaurants and lots LOTS of forts to visit, they promote 100 kilometers of forts and some like Belvedere which is near are restored and open. There are places in the mountains with caves cut into rock for troops and guns, paths on the edge which are a real hazard to the pants of the person walking them today!! Great but scares the hell out of you.

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Thanks for part 2 Phil,

It was very interesting reading indeed. I did love the cheese there but I guess it is all down to different tastes.... I like mild cheeses that don't overpower a sandwich. I'm assured that as the cheese ages, it's flavour and texture changes quite a bit.

Asiago is expensive.... no two ways about it. When we ate out (which wasn't often) we found it to be good food. I think I know the Hotel you ate at... but we were put off by the fact they didn't start serving until 7:30 so we went instead to a Pizzaria across the street.

Unlike you we spent all or time within the British lines and apart from one short trip didn't visit the A-H positions... sounds like we may have missed out there. Perhaps when we go back we'll do more of the things people tend to rave about in Italy.

For us the trip had a distinct goal and that was to locate my great Granddad's battery position which we think we pretty much accomplished. I think to get the most out of visiting the Asiago battlefield you need to be in a hiker's mindset and similarly equipped/prepared. It is an area that lends itself to exploration and we felt that in terms of finding things of great interest the Plateau certainly delivered. I can't think of another Great War battlefield where there is likely to be a better state of natural preservation than that found at Asiago.

I meant to put up some photo's last weekend but didn't get around to it.... I'll endeavor to remedy this next weekend instead.

Thanks once again Phil.

Matt

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A couple of asides: driving wasn't as bad as I expected. Italians cut it fine and tailgate. (I stopped looking in the mirror!).

That made me laugh, Phil. That is the secret to driving in Italy, don't look in the rear view mirror.

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