An island in the sky
At 44 km east to west and 22 km north to south it is the largest plateau in the alps with the most cross-country ski routes and cycling routes in the alps. Because most of the plateau is at least 1000 metres above sea level and its highest mountains are confined to its northern edge it is also the sunniest place in the alps which makes it a hugely popular summer holiday destination as well as a winter sports resort. From the northern rim when can look across to the famous Dolomites and from the south one can see right out to the Venetian lagoon.
The World’s Longest Staircase
Perhaps the most remarkable symbol of the plateau’s position between the sky and the plain of the Po Valley is the startling Cala del Sasso. Its 4444 steps and adjacent gully were was used to bring down the mountain the logs which were cut from its forests. These were floated out onto the River Brenta. Many went as far as the Venetian Lagoon where they were used to build Venice and it’s famous merchant and military navies.
Asiago has a great history which includes famous cave paintings from the stone age (Roana – Val d’Assa), an archaelogical dig complete with reconstructions of an indigenous village (Rotzo) which appears to have been abandoned when the Roman Republic encroached into the area, the red shirt of a local man who was one of Garibaldi’s officers is proudly displayed in the Town Hall (Asiago). The whole plateau was a no man’s land at one time or another during the First World War and then in the Second World War Asiago featured prominently in the Italian Resistance under the Nazi-Fascist Republic of Salo which had its capital at Salò.
The Best of Both Worlds
Being 1000 metres above sea level has made it easier for the people of Asiago to hold on to some of their own individual character but at the same time their industrious nature has meant that the altopiano has a highly developed economy and culture including some of its own international brands in food (e.g. Rigoni foods) and winter sports (e.g. Star wax) and a renowned author in Mario Rigoni Stern (pictured). So it is not uncommon to find locals enjoying a drink to be discussing something like post modern perspectives on Italy’s tumultuous politics and then without a pause switching into Venetian dialect to crack a joke with an earthy angle to bring anyone with airs and graces back down to earth. For example, in April 2015 Nick Franchini was at a big lunch to celebrate the first in an annual Vintage Ski Race and found himself sitting between an 80 year old gentleman from Vicenza, whose father had been a pioneering aviator and who had even met the Wright Brothers in Paris, and a lady in her 50s who had studied architecture under Carlo Scarpa.