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Grotte Castellana, a unique place to visit near Bari

When deciding what to see near Bari, top of your list should be the Grotte Castellana, a magical underworld 70 metres below ground.

Situated in the Itria valley near the town of Alberobello, this stunning complex of caves is one of the largest of its kind anywhere on the planet. A surreal 3 km-long series of passageways and chambers dominated by curtains of stalactites hanging like giant needles, with glittering walls of crystal, underground lakes and huge stalagmites towering up from the rock floor.

Along the way there are any number of fantastic features to admire, from "La Grave," the huge opening chamber that stands 100 metres long and 60 metres deep, through to the winding corridor dubbed "Il Serpente" and the gravity-defying column known as the Tower of Pisa.

The Grotte Castellana culminate in the Grotta Bianca or "white cave", so-called because the walls and ceiling bristle with tier upon tier of stalactites made from pure white alabaster.

A result of the weathering effect of water on limestone, the caves began to form 65 million years ago, with the stalactites being relatively recent additions forming within the last 2.5 million years. They were first discovered in the 18th century, a period during which they were the focus of much folklore, but they were not properly explored until 1938, when cavers Franco Anelli and Vito Matarrese dug their way through into the Grotta Bianca, a chamber never before been seen by human eye. The caves were opened to the general public shortly afterwards and have since become a major attraction, drawing millions of visitors.

Warm and humid, they can be visited all year round except for Christmas Day, making them a great option if you are wondering what to see near Bari during the off-season.

There are two kinds of tour available - a 50 minute route covering a distance of roughly 1 km, or a longer 2 hour option which takes in the Grotta Bianca. Tickets cost 15 Euros for the full itinerary, 10 Euros for the shorter route, with free entry for under 6's and reduced prices for children up to 12. Tour schedules vary depending upon the time of year, but from April through to September, there are short tours in English at 9:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 2:30 p.m., and 6:00 p.m., and long tours at 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.