ANNA’S BAR sits on the shore of a fjord-like lake that occupies a narrow valley between the northwest corner of the Monte Grappa Massif and a small group of wooded hills, including Monte Novegno and Col del Gallo, the highest. To get there, we take a narrow road that climbs along the side of the valley above the Cismon Torrent and the dam that created the lake in the 1950’s.
I began stopping at Anna’s when I first started doing this ride back in the 90’s, and made it the “official” rest and refreshment stop on the rides I lead for a cycling camp. Everyone is enchanted by the location, and I recall some vacationing cyclists who didn’t want to leave, preferring to savor the scenery and tranquility while eating a simple salame and cheese sandwich on the terrace rather than returning to their hotel for a three-course lunch.
Like half the people in Belluno province did at one time or another, Anna had emigrated to find work, and spent 10 years in Geneva, Switzerland. She returned to her homeland more than thirty years ago and has been running the bar ever since. Adjacent to it, and connected by a door, it is a tiny but well-stocked and well-organized little grocery store, also hers. The mom-and-pop bar-alimentari combination has always been a fixture in little mountain villages, where it’s played an essential role in the social life of the inhabitants. Women would meet and exchange news at the grocery store, and in the evenings men would gather to play cards in the bar. But now they are becoming a thing of the past, as their owners retire or pass on, and people move out of the mountains in search of work or an easier, faster lifestyle.
But Anna has the advantage of being in a tourist spot. There are boat rentals, picnic areas, a lakeside path, a campground, and now even a hotel. She does a good business in the summer. Other times of year, things are a lot quieter. I’ve stopped on spring or fall days when the only customers are a group of elderly men who gather to play cards and, weather permitting, bocce. “I don’t make much from those fellows,” she says, “but what can I do? There’s nowhere else for them to go.” (And even if there were, why would they want to go anywhere else but here?, I thought).
But it’s not only the elderly locals who take refuge there. I recall a ride I did last year when it started to rain just as I reached the north end of the lake (I was doing the ride in the opposite direction). The wind came up and drove the sharp, stinging raindrops into my eyes. “Gotta make it to Anna’s!” was all I could think. Ah, the warmth and sanctuary of that little bar! Anna took an alarmed look at me, soaked and dripping, and exclaimed “Hot tea!” I sat on the stool, drank the tea and ate a slice of apricot crostata. Fortunately, the rain had abated by the time I left.
When my husband decided last year that he wanted to devote his time and energy to road cycling, I finally had the chance to take him on “the lake ride,” and thus share a place and experience that had been part of my life for so long. He was enthralled. “What a wonderful place! You mean you ride here all the time?!” Of course, we stopped at Anna’s. “This is the first time you’ve ever been here?,” she asked incredulously. “Your wife has been stopping here for years.” Then she smiled and reminisced: “Remember that rainy day you came in all wet and cold, and drank the hot tea?”
While my husband and I had a coffee on the terrace, he chatted with Anna, telling her how wonderful he thought this place was, how happy he was to be at her bar, and how he regretted not having come sooner. When we went in to pay, Anna had a surprise waiting: on a table were two glasses of sparkling Prosecco and two slices of sfogliatelle. “Fresh,” said Anna, “they were just delivered.”
“This is to celebrate your first time here,“ she said to my husband. We were delighted and touched by her thoughtfulness.
In October I returned to the US, filled as usual with warm memories. I realized how much Anna’s bar means to me, and at Christmas I decided to send her a card. I wrote how fondly I remembered the hot tea, the special treat, and her hospitality. The bar did not appear on any internet list of establishments in that area, so I just addressed the envelope to “Bar da Anna,” and the town. Who in that area doesn’t know it?
Last Sunday I rode around Monte Grappa and stopped at Anna’s for the first time this season. As I was parking my bike on the terrace and taking off my helmet, I heard Anna’s voice exclaim: “Look who’s here!” She had seen me through the window, came running out, and gave me a hug. “I got your card at Christmas,“ she said, showing her pleasure. I ordered a toast (toasted prosciutto and cheese sandwich) and a lemon soda, and settled back to enjoy the view. The lake was filled to capacity with water, and brightly-colored kayaks and pedal-powered boats were skimming across its surface. I looked beyond to the Vette Feltrine, the mountains above Feltre. And then I heard music. Curious, I got up, peeked into the bar, and saw a gentleman playing the accordion and singing.
He continued his little concert out on the terrace, and Anna, swept along by the festive mood, began to dance. It was one of those spontaneous and memorable little moments that only come along every so often. Then the man finished his impromptu performance and like the troubadours of old, wandered back along the lake to wherever he’d come from.
“Who is that guy?,” I asked Anna.
“He’s from Padova, and has been coming up here for years. His wife used to come too, until she died. But he still comes.”
We all find what we’re seeking at Anna’s Bar.