We were invited by our Italian friends to tour the exquisite Nardini Grappa Research and Visitor Center in Bassano del Grappa. These architectural gems are fondly referred to as “le Bolle” which means the Bubbles.
There are many old world wonders for a tourist to see in Bassano del Grappa, a city that has its origins in the 2nd Century BC! There is the Cathedral, which was built in 1000, the 14th Century Church of Saint John the Baptist, and the Museo Civico which houses works of art by Bernini, Tiepolo, Antonio Canova and Rembrandt.
During WWI Ernest Hemingway was injured in a battle not far from the city and during his convalescence in Bassano he began his epic novel, “A Farewell to Arms”.
In the Centuries between the Romans and Hemingway, Bassano came to be known for another far more pleasurable indulgence… Grappa. Grappa is a powerful after dinner drink made by distilling the seeds, skins and pulp of grapes with an alcohol content ranging from 38% to 60%.
The Nardini family has been making this potent potable in Bassano since 1779 when Bortolo Nardini opened the Grapperia Nardini on the Ponte Vecchio (the famous covered wooden bridge). The Grapperia is still in existence and continues to be owned and operated by the Nardini family.
In stark contrast, a far more recent addition to Bassano del Grappa is the construction of the new Visitors Center at the Nardini Distillery. To commemorate their 225th anniversary, the family commissioned the world famous architect, Massimiliano Fuksas to construct the research laboratory and Visitor Center. The resulting avant-garde structure is an eye-stopping, futuristic marvel.
“Le Bolle” are two elliptical glass orbs. They seem to be suspended above a highly reflective black bottom “pond”. In fact, a structure of thin steel legs support Le Bolle and add to a very organic visual effect. Perched as they are, the structures take on a type of personality. They become less like architecture and more like living organisms. This is quite unusual for modern structures. After all, Le Bolle are constructed from steel and high technology glass and should feel cold and analytical. However, just the opposite is true. The buildings are welcoming – perhaps because their elliptical shapes are in direct juxtaposition to the materials.
Once inside, Le Bolle display a myriad of hidden treasures. The upper parts of the structures are light and airy. The superstructure of the steel enclosed glass panels forms a cocoon that protects the visitor even as it allows you to feel part of the sky and surrounding trees. Downstairs, wood and cement create a much different environment. Although there are no windows in the traditional sense, light pours into the lower part of the structures by means of portals that glow with diffused light.
One of the highlights of the Center is the theater. As theaters should be, this one holds court with a flair for the dramatic. A series of tiers look out onto a wall of glass panels, which frame the view outdoors. With the flick of a button, the huge glass panels close, a movie screen lowers and the rows of seats suddenly spring to life as seat backs open like clamshells to reveal row after row of comfortable seating.
Le Bolle are not only constructed for gatherings and presentations, there is also a working laboratory. Here the real work of quality control and testing of new products undergo strict procedures to guarantee the quality and tradition that have become the hallmark of Nardini grappa.
Tours can be arranged in advance by emailing Francesca at firstname.lastname@example.org
To reach the historic town of Bassano Del Grappa, you can take the train from Venice, Padua or Verona. The city is located about an hour north of Padua. The Venice airport is located 70 kilometers (44 miles) from Bassano.
By clicking the image below you can watch a great video guide to the distillery:
This post is brought by Luke & Barbara from POV Italy, a great site where you can find travel resources and more when planning your trip to Italy. All photos are copyrighted to Luke Wynne.