Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy’s Secret Treasure

Writers Hemingway, Rilke and Joyce all found inspiration in the tiny, Friuli Venezia Giulia region, Italy’s Secret Treasure, tucked away in the far northeast of Italy.  In fact, the food and wines are so special The New York Times named the province “Italy’s secret garden”. This is a travel guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia and hope that it inspires you to visit with us this Italian gem, our home away from home.

Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure

Church we visit with clients that my father-in-law helped rebuilt near Muris after the 1976 earthquake/Photos Audrey De Monte

Today, despite being just a couple of hours from Venice, FVG (Friuli Venezia Giulia) is one of Italy’s least touristy regions, but those in the know visit this region for its cultured cities, stunning landscapes and the fascinating Slovenian-Croatian-Austrian-Italian cultural mix.

This is our home, where my husband was born and raised, where our family lives and a region in which we would love to host you on our hand-crafted small group tour for your next vacation to Italy. Check out also our podcast with Amateur Traveler. 

Everyone knows any Italy itinerary should include visits Rome, Florence, and Venice. You might even know some of Italy’s “off-the-beaten-path” (that really aren’t so off-the-beaten-path anymore) destinations like San Gimignano, Bologna, and Cinque Terre. But I would bet that unless you have a home and family in the Friuli Venezia Giulia like us, you probably have not heard of or have ever considered a visit to Italy’s most north-eastern region. Why should you go, you ask? Well, here in this article I share with you all the reasons why.

Are you looking for an alternative holiday in beautiful Italy and are you willing to deviate from the beaten paths? You found it! This region has plenty to offer Italy fans that have seen many of the country’s most famous sights and are seeking somewhere wonderful, off the main tourist trail.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia is one of the perfect destinations for tourists who do not just want to visit, but prefer to discover the real Italy while connecting more genuinely to the local culture while on vacation and get off the main tourist trail, away from the big buses and the crowds.

WHY VISIT FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA

Map of Friuli Venezia Giulia

Map of Fiuli Venezia Giulia

Driving east from Venice along the “autostrada”, it only takes half an hour to leave the tourists behind and cross into the very different world of Friuli. This autonomous and proudly independent region is officially known as Friuli-Venezia Giulia, a still little-known corner of Italy that has its own language, a distinctive local cuisine, and world-famous wines grown on rolling hillside vineyards.

Strategically located at the crossroads of central Europe, Friuli stretches over Italy’s north-eastern border, from the lagoons and sandy beaches of the Adriatic coast to the grand maritime port of Trieste, along the frontier with Slovenia, then up into Alpine scenery and the border with Austria. It is so easy to fall under the charm of the unspoilt landscape and the warm welcome that many travelers find themselves returning to.

This region lends itself very well if you wish to visit more than one country in your vacation. You can combine Friuli with visiting Austria, Slovenia or even Istria in Croatia (see our 7 day cultural vacation tour with the possible extensions). And it is close to Venice the beautiful capital of the neighbor region Veneto.  You can combine your stay in Friuli, the region that offers it all, to a city strip to Venice.

Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure

Monte Lussari in the Julian Alps/Photo Audrey De Monte

The provinces of the region are: Trieste (regional capital), Gorizia, Pordenone and Udine. The four cities marked by red stars are the provincial capitals: Pordenone, Udine, Gorizia, and Trieste. The region’s capital is Trieste.

THINGS TO DO

  • Cantine Aperte: A fantastic way to taste the local world-famous and appreciated wines is to come for Italy’s Cantine Aperte, when many wineries open up their tasting rooms to the public on the last Sunday in May.
  • Soak up the sunshine on the coast at the popular resort town of Lignano Sabbiadoro. Halfway between Venice and Trieste, it boasts eight kilometers of sandy beach, equipped with umbrellas, chairs, bars and restaurants, and has been awarded the coveted Blue Flag. On the opposite end is Grado, the lagoon city of Friuli Venezia Giulia, a town with an ancient history as well as clean beaches and the chance to go on boat excursions in the lagoon.
  • Special events run throughout every season: cultural events, such as the Barcolana in Trieste and countless exhibitions and food fairs, like Sapori di Carnia in Raveo, Friuli DOC in Udine or Aria di Festa in San Daniele.
  • Altopiano del montasio: You cannot come to Friuli without tasting a piece of Montasio cheese produced since 1200 (another PDO product of the region) if not in its place of birth. Visit the huts and enjoy the stunning mountain views, spot some ibex. Montasio cheese is combined with shredded potato to make frico, served either as a crispy fried snack or as a soft, potato pancake dish, but prosciutto is the region’s most famous export.
  • Taste the unique, gently smoked ham from Sauris or the one from the D’Osvaldo family in Cormons.
  • Play a round of golf on one of the seven 18-hole golf courses set in beautiful locations, like for example in the heart of the Collio, the the Golf & Country Club Castle di Spessa is popular for the modern fairways set amongst a castle that dates back to 1200.
  • Ski at Sella Nevea ski resort is connected to the Slovenian resort of Kranjska Gora, making it possible to ski from one resort to the other. Both the Slovenian (Bovec) and Italian (Sella Nevea, Julian Alps) sides are accessible with a single ski pass for both resorts.

    Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia

    Collio Goriziano (sometimes designated simply as Collio or Collio DOC) is an Italian wine and winemaking region in northeast Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia/Photo Audrey De Monte

Activities to consider in Friuli

WWI guided tours (with my husband Manlio)

Some of the most treacherous battles of WWI took place in the Italian mountains. The battles in the mountains and valleys bordering Slovenia and Austria, were like nothing the world had ever seen or has seen since.

Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure

Manlio with our clients on their private guided tour of Friuli/Photo Audrey De Monte

Grape Harvest Experience

Partake in the grape harvest in the Colli Orientali D.O.C. (controlled designation of origin) area, that produces among the most prestigious wines in the world (for vacations in late August into September only). This is also the best time of the year to discover the wineries and meet its passionate winemakers. The fragrance of the grapes will enchant and awake your five senses.

Olive Harvest Experience

Olives are harvested between the end of October and the beginning of November, and cold pressed on the same day of the harvest. In the morning, pick your olives (2 to 3 hours), followed by lunch with the owners, and in the afternoon partake in the actual production of olive oil! Sample the fruits of your labor: an excellent oil with a golden green color, characterized by an intense fruity aroma and an unmistakable taste: hints of fresh grass, almond and artichoke notes with an initially pleasant sweet taste, followed by a bitter spicy aftertaste. Don’t forget to take home a bottle or two!

Truffle Hunting Experience

Available from Fridays to Sundays, from 1st October to 31st December. This excursion takes you to the “Baredi Woods” where you are guided by experts fond of truffle-hunting, looking for the precious white truffle. The path may vary according to the weather conditions. Lunch included at a local “agriturismo”.

Hit the hiking and walking trails in the Friulian Dolomites, Carnic Alps and Julian Alps

The Carnic Alps and the Julian Alps are two of the most popular mountain ranges in Friuli Venezia Giulia for hiking, skiing, and other outdoor sports. There are 13 nature reserves located within the Friuli Venezia Giulia region and a great number of varying hiking trails throughout them from easy to more advanced.

The Friulian Dolomites are considered the most unspoilt of the entire Dolomite group, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Less frequented than their Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige counterparts, the Friulian Dolomites are a paradise for hikers, climbers and nature lovers. Considered the most untouched area of the entire Dolomite range, its symbol is Campanile di Val Montanaia, an isolated rock pinnacle on the summit that looks like a bell tower. Readers note: Only the fittest climbers would challenge an ascent to the peak, but iconic images of the tower, surrounded by spectacular karst formations, can be easily photographed from lower trails. For low-impact trekkers there are well-kept forested paths and trails, meadows, glacial rivers, brilliant green lakes, dramatic limestone topography and caves.

In the heart of the Canal Valley, Tarvisio is a getaway to the Alpine beauty. The trail of the Fusine Lakes is an easy walk that connects 2 glacial lakes with pristine waters.

hiking in the friulian dolomites

Laghi di Fusine/Photo Audrey De Monte

Hike in the Montasio mountains, famous for the cheese made here. A 15 minute drive from Sella Nevea, following the signs Jof Montasio, you find parking where you can then choose from a variety of walks. The walks are not difficult and you can choose between different distances. You do not have to walk too far before arriving at the first of a series of typical Malga’s. These are small farms where the Montasio cheese is made with milk from the stray grazing cows. You can try typical dishes such as frico, frittata, gnocchi, and of course the Montasio cheese.

A wonderful walk is the ‘sentiero Rilke’ trail which lies between the towns of Sistiana and Duino, in the province of Trieste. The 2-kilometer walk is easy to do and is especially beautiful in the fall when the flora is all different shades of color. You can start your walk in either town. You can also combine the walk with a visit to Duino Castle (closed on Tuesdays). The path owes its name to the Prague writer Rainer Maria Rilke.  Rainer was a guest at the castle in the early 20th century and was inspired by the stunning views to write his masterpiece “The Duino Elegies”.

collio wine region of friuli

Collio wine country, visiting a world famous family-run winery/Photo Audrey De Monte

A VINEYARD CALLED FRIULI

Friuli-Venezia Giulia is the fourth smallest region in Italy, but in this small space it somehow manages to produce some of the most amazing white wines in Italy, and also produce some equally splendid reds. The limited production capacity, however, means that many of these wonderful wines are hard to obtain outside the region. Our cultural small group tours in the region will offer you many opportunities to taste the impressive range of wines cultivated in the lands we explore.

Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure

Our clients doing a wine tasting in the Collio wine area of Friuli/Photo Audrey De Monte

Friuli-Venezia Giulia is Italy’s third most important quality wine region, after Piedmont and Tuscany, and has long been acclaimed for its fragrant, elegant whites. The two premium regions are the Collio and the Colli Orientali del Friuli, hilly zones sharing a border with Slovenia. Colli Orientali D.O.C. (controlled designation of origin) area produces some of  the most prestigious wines in the world. Tocai (now known as Friulano) or Sauvignon Vert is the most widely planted grape variety, pale in color, it is usually drunk young and makes a perfect aperitif.

While the region is known primarily for its white wines, more than thirty different grapes are grown in the region. They are used in the production of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Refosco, Terrano, Tocai, Rebula, Merlot, Ribolla gialla, Friulano, Schioppettino, and Verduzzo. Top reds include Cabernet Franc, Refosco or Terrano as it called around Trieste, and best of all, the Schioppettino. The region also produces prestigious sweet wines (dessert wines) like Picolit (produced in very small quantities and commanding high prices) and Ramandolo.

The Collio Goriziano, Colli Orientale and Carso DOC’s (certified growing regions) are less than an hour’s drive apart, but offer an incredible variety of landscapes and winemaking styles. As with the rest of Italy, Friuli-Venezia Giulia abides by the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC/DOCG) system.There are 12 DOC and 4 DOCG (Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit, Lison, Ramandolo, and Rosazzo) and 3 IGTs (Alto Livenza, delle Venezie, and Venezia Giulia).

Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure

World-renowned restaurant La Subida/Photo Audrey De Monte

Dining is equally diverse: opt for fine dining at Trattoria il Cacciatore at la Subida (their menu leans toward Slovenian and Triestine specialities like gnocchi di susine, stinco di vitello, and wild game, to name a few. Best way to experience it is with a multi-course tasting menu) or the rustic atmosphere of a frasca, which is a very local thing to do. Up in the Carso, the rocky, hilly strip between the Gulf of Trieste and Slovenia, the tradition of osmize still prevails. Follow the trail of tree branches attached to signposts at country crossroads.

While locals and visitors alike enjoy the vast wine offerings, Friulano wine is often preferred because of its taste and local roots. To dine in Friuli Venezia Giulia is to taste the land, the traditions, and the heart of northeastern Italy. Do you want to immerse yourself in the Friulian life? Then you cannot skip the visit to eat or drink a “taj” (as we call the glass of wine) at aperitif time.

CITIES & TOWNS NOT TO MISS IN FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA

Trieste, Venice by the sea

Piazza Unità d’Italia/Photo Audrey De Monte

TRIESTE – The little Vienna by the sea and Habsburg café culture

Trieste, the capital of Friuli Venezia Giulia, is quite unique, as it mixes Italian, Austro-Hungarian and Slovenian influences. Located on a thin strip of land between the Adriatic sea and Slovenia’s border, it has for a long time been at the crossroads of Latin, Slavic, and Germanic cultures, and this is reflected in the city’s feel and architecture. You can see this in the architectural influences of the Viennese Neoclassical style that was so popular in the 18th century in Austria. This is because Trieste from the late 14th century until the end of the First World War belonged to the Habsburg Empire. Trieste became the most important seaport of the Austrian monarchy. Post WWII, Trieste was a free territory under Anglo-American military rule. Local cuisine offers a wide choice of dishes deriving from both the Mediterranean and Central Europe and some of the best coffee you can find in Italy.

Piazza Unità d’Italia, the symbol of the city, is considered to be one of Italy’s most beautiful squares and is a perfect example of this fusion of cultures. Visit the medieval Castle and the Cathedral of San Giusto which hosts stunning Byzantine mosaics and medieval frescoes and the best view of the Adriatic. Trieste’s coffee-house culture is second-to-none and is the coffee capital of the country with Illy Coffee reigning supreme here. Antico Caffè Torinese, Caffè degli Specchi, Caffè Tommaseo, and Caffè San Marco are three of the city’s best coffee houses, where historical literary figures including James Joyce once gathered. Not only famous for its Hapsburg past and coffee culture, the origins of Trieste date back to 100 B.C, when the Romans founded a small trading establishment called Tergeste. Visit the Roman Theatre, the Forum and the Augustan Roman arch “Arco Riccardo”.

Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure

Castello di Miramare/Photo Audrey De Monte

  • Don’t miss the Miramare Castle, built on the waterfront in the 19th century by the Habsburg Archduke Maximilian of Austria with a wonderful park and enchanting views of Trieste and the gulf.
  • Watch the world’s largest sailing regatta: On the second Sunday of October, be sure not to miss the spectacle that is the world’s largest sailing regatta. Over 2000 boats of all sizes gather each year for Trieste’s Barcolana.

Descend deep into the earth at Grotta Gigante: the world’s largest tourist cave

Friuli Venezia Giulia is home to the Guinness Book of World Records holder for the largest tourist cave on Earth, the Grotta Gigante. It is a single cavern that is estimated to be around 10 million years old and with dimensions of 351 feet high, 213 feet wide, and an astounding 918 feet long. The steps are divided into comfortable ramps, but this particular cave is not best suited for people with difficulty walking or climbing stairs. Visits are only possible with Grotta Gigante’s specialized guides.

Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure

Udine, my husband’s home town/Photo Audrey De Monte

UDINE – Historical capital of Friuli

This city lost its regional-capital status to Trieste in the 1950’s but the compact city of Udine remains Friuli’s cultural capital.

This is my husband’s birthplace and where our family lives. Often considered the home of Friulian culture, and the birthplace of the “Friulano” language, Udine is found right in the heart of the region and is a real gem.  More than 350 years Udine was part of the Venetian Republic and this is clearly visible in the architecture of the historic center. With its Renaissance squares, Venetian villas and Tiepolo frescos, the city has an impressive artistic heritage. In contrast to many Italian cities, which can often feel like theme parks for tourists, Udine is refreshingly workaday, and offers the rare thrill of feeling like you’ve truly discovered somewhere in Italy which is completely off the tourist trail. Udine, offers the visitor its Piazza Libertà, considered “the most beautiful Venetian square on the mainland”.

The city center is based around Piazza San Giacomo, a pretty square lined with colorful bars and restaurants. It’s the perfect spot for lunch, or for your evening aperitivo (spritz). Visit the 14th century Romanesque Duomo where you can admire the fresco “Assunta” from the famous artist Giambattista Tiepolo. Walk up to the palazzo from the 1500’s on the hill, passing under Palladio’s Arco Bollani for views over the city and the Alps. If you’re lucky enough to pass through in September, you may be able to experience the renowned Friuli DOC festival, celebrating all things Friuli-Venezia Giulia, but mainly the food and wine.

Check out my husband’s article on his home town, Udine. 

Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure

Cividale del Friuli, UNESCO world heritage town/Photo Audrey De Monte

CIVIDALE DEL FRIULI – The Longobard City

Cividale del Friuli, a UNESCO world heritage site, founded by Julius Caesar in 50 b.C (called Forum Julii), is one of the most beautiful villages of Friuli Venezia Giulia and was the capital of the Longobards. After the destruction of Aquileia and Iulium Carnicum (Zuglio) in 452 AD, Forum Julii became the chief town of the district of Friuli and gave its name to it. In 568 the city was the first major center occupied by Alboin’s Lombard invasion of Italy, then part of the Byzantine Empire.

The city was chosen as first capital of the newly formed Lombard Kingdom. After the Lombards were defeated by the Franks, (774),  following the last Lombard resistance under Hrodgaud of Friuli (776) Forum Julii changed its name to Civitas Austriae, Charlemagne’s Italian “City of the East”. When the Patriarchal State of Friuli was founded in 1077, Cividale was chosen as the capital. In 1420 Cividale was annexed to the Republic of Venice. After the Napoleonic Wars Cividale became part of the Lombard-Venetian Kingdom. It was ceded to Kingdom of Italy in 1866.

Cividale del Friuli, few kilometers from the Slovenian border, with its historic devil’s bridge which straddles the Natisone river, with its treasure of narrow cobblestone streets, characteristic medieval homes, the Lombard temple, the Celtic Hypogeum, Palu di Livenza one of the oldest Paleolithic sites in northern Italy and convent of Santa Maria in Valle, make it a delightful town to stroll around.  Gubana is a delicious specialty, a type of strudel with apples, pine seeds and raisins, that you should not miss!

AQUILEIA Roman Ruins – Without Aquileia there would be no Venice

An Insider's Guide to Friuli Venezia Giulia

4th Century Mosaic floor of Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta in Aquileia/Photo Audrey De Monte

Much of the 2nd-century AD Roman city of Aquileia lies unexcavated beneath the fields of the small Friulian town, but there’s still plenty to see above ground. The highlight is an exquisite 4th-century mosaic floor preserved in a 12th-century Gothic basilica which, at 760 square meters, is one of the largest Roman mosaics in the world. Glass walkways allow you to admire the vivid depictions of episodes from the Bible and lagoon sea life. The basilica also provides access to the Crypt of Frescoes, decorated with rare Byzantine frescoes.

Friuli Venezia Giulia was not just part of the Roman Empire: Founded in 181 BC, Aquileia was the capital of the area and held strategic importance, especially during the Augustan period. One of the most glimmering jewels of the region, Aquileia, one of the most important towns of the Roman Empire, was a launching point for expeditions and military conquests and a large commercial hub. The ruins of its Roman river port are amazing (Porto Fluviale), and include a quay that is 1,312 ft long, with two docking levels and landing stages paved with stairs (1st century A.D.). The Patriarchal Basilica is not quite in the town center, but rather parallel Via Sacra, overlooking Piazza del Capitolo together with its baptistery and majestic bell tower.

Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure

Aquileia, once the fourth most important Roman city and a UNESCO world heritage site/Photo Audrey De Monte

The oldest nucleus is formed by the Aule Paleocristiane (the Paleochristian Room), built in the 4th Century A.D. by the Bishop Teodoro, with support from the Emperor Constantine. They are lasting proof of the decisive role the city played in spreading Christianity in the early Middle Ages.

The town has three museums worth visiting: the Museo Archeologico Nazionale (with many documents dating back to the Roman Era, artisan productions and finds from the ancient city), the Museo Paleocristiano (where the ruins of a large ecclesiastical building are preserved) and the Museo Civico del Patriarcato (protecting sacred wooden and metal reliquaries). Finally, any visit should include a tour of the Cemetery of the Soldiers who fell in WWI, located just behind the Basilica.

Other places to include in your visit of Friuli Venezia Giulia:

  • Palmanova: A well preserved fortress-city, built in 1593 by Venetian Republic, to defend against the Turks and Austro-Hungarian empire, is A UNESCO World heritage site. With its 9 pointed star shape, monumental entrance gates and the 3 circles of fortifications from the 16th, 17th and 19th centuries, Palmanova is a great place to visit as well as an opportunity to go shopping the Outlet mall (Italian brands for good prices).

    Photo of Palmanova from above, the only way to see its star shape.Late Renaissance, built by the Venetian Republic in 1593, the fortifications are a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site

  • Sacile, a fairy tale town developed around the 7th century on two islands on river Livenza as a fortress along the route that led to Friuli. It is known as the Garden of the Serenissima due to the many palaces along the Livenza River, built for the nobility at the time of the Venetian Empire.
  • San Daniele del Friuli: The hilltop town of San Daniele, is world-famous for its prized ham. Perhaps I’m a little biased but I prefer the less salty and sweeter prosciutto di San Daniele. Get there the last weekend in June for the Aria di Festa, when prosciutto is celebrated, with tours to meet culinary artisans, feasting, music, and activities for the kids. Highlights of the historical center are the awe-inspiring Renaissance chapel inside the Chiesa di San Antonio Abate, (aka The Sistine Chapel of Friuli), and the Cathedral of San Michele Arcangelo.

    Prosciutto di San Daniele in Friuli

    Prosciutto di San Daniele is created by the expert hands of master prosciutto makers whose age-old knowledge and strict rules transform meat and salt into a masterpiece of flavour and delicacy. Every prosciutto is the result of an artisanal process in a tradition handed down for centuries through families and generations/Photo Audrey De Monte

  • Spilimbergo: Situated on the banks of the Tagliamento River, Spilimbergo is the home of the world-famous School of Mosaic, “Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli” the only professional school of mosaic art in the world. where you can see students from all over the world at work learning the ancient form of art.  You can visit the Spilimbergo mosaic school also as an individual visitor.
  • Gemona and Venzone: These 2 medieval towns that have been completely rebuilt after the earthquake of 1976 and are really worth a visit, where you can imagine yourself going back in time. Venzone, chosen as Italy’s most beautiful village in the 2017,  is quoted as an example of reconstruction by anastylosis (each stone was catalogued and put back in its original place), and don’t forget to check out the mummies in the museum! In Venzone the 1957 movie ‘A farewell to the arms’ featuring Rock Hudson and written by Ernest Hemingway was filmed.
    Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure

    Since 1965 Venzone is declared a National Monument as the only fortified village of the Region in the fourteenth century and then one of the most extraordinary examples of architectural and artistic restoration/Photo Audrey De Monte

    What to see in Gemona del Friuli

    Gemona del Friuli (Photo Audrey De Monte)

  • Sauris: resembles a fairytale kingdom, one of the most beautiful and characteristic mountain villages of Friuli Venezia Giulia. The typical wooden houses always full of flowers, the beautiful blue lake of Sauris, the tour of the mountain huts immersed in nature, Zahre beer, the smoked ham, speck and the famous local pickled vegetables in the territory such as the sclopit, the wild garlic and wild asparagus.Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure
  • Pesariis: Alice in Wonderland hamlet, one of the world’s clock making capitals, with an enchanting museum and 14 monumental clocks displayed throughout the village.
  • Sappada: a mountain resort, surrounded by the impressive Dolomite massifs (UNESCO World Heritage site), which still retains its ancient traditions: from the characteristic wooden houses, to the Sappadino dialect which has remained unchanged for centuries; from local crafts to the production of typical cheeses and cold cuts. The village of Sappada (Plodn in german dialect sappadino, Bladen in German, Sapade Ploden or in Friulano, Sapada in Ladin language) is a linguistic island German-speaking, as well as a summer and winter resort. Located between the historical regions of the Cadore and of Carnia, the northern offshoots of the Dolomites, at the border between the regions of Veneto and Friuli and Carinthia (Austria). A landscape still uncontaminated area in which the variety of animal and plant species live undisturbed.
  • Grado: connected to the mainland by a bridge that leads you over the lagoon, Grado is known for its fresh fish dishes, quaint cobbled streets and endless sandy beaches. A stay in the Boutique Hotel Oche Selvatiche is a truly unique experience. A sustainable lodge nestled right into the lagoon, it makes guests feel as if million miles from the hustle and bustle of city life. Enjoy the views across the water from the hotel’s rooftop pool and spa, and admire the flocks of nesting pink flamingos. The Grado lagoon, part of the north Adriatic coastal floodplain, is a unique nature reserve, home to numerous species of aquatic birds and a great variety of vegetation. The island of Grado, a port during the Roman era, was settled by refugees fleeing the barbarian invasions of the 5th century, then became an important commercial and political center during medieval times.
  • Sesto al Reghena with its magnificent Benedictine abbey of Santa Maria in Sylvis dating back to the 7th century.
  • Marano Lagunare, an old fishing village where the presence of the “Serenissima” can be seen everywhere. Enjoy a boat ride in the nature reserve Foce dello Stella, followed by an upstream journey along the River Stella which has never changed its course throughout the centuries. During the excursion, the biological diversity of the sea fauna and flora will be explained to you, the key resources for the lagoon, as they represent the biological clock of the entire wetland system. You will also be shown the various fishing methods, traditional and modern, used in the lagoon depending on the seasons and on the migration cycle of the fish species living in the Upper Adriatic Sea.
  • Tarvisio: At crossroads on the border of Austria and Slovenia, it is a gateway for skiing and hiking. Nearby are the beautiful lakes of Fusine (Laghi di Fusine), which you can take a nice 2 to 3 hour walk around.
  • Villa Manin: Set amid cornfields and vineyards, the 17th century villa was originally the summer residence of Ludovico Manin, the last doge of Venice. During the 1797 signing of the Treaty of Campoformido, which ceded much of northern Italy to Austria, this palace was briefly home to Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • Gorizia: City straddles the Italian-Slovenian border. Much of the city was heavily damaged during World War I but has been rebuilt; sights include a castle, cathedral, and 17th century church. One of the museums to visit would be the Museo della Grande Guerra. Between 1915 and 1917, the hills around Gorizia saw some of the most brutal fighting of WW1. Gorizia itself was mostly evacuated in 1916 and suffered large scale destruction. Despite casualties of around 1.7 million, the Isonzo Front (named for the river that runs just west of Gorizia) remains relatively unknown outside of the countries involved.
  • Sacrario militare di Redipuglia: The ‘Sacrario di Redipuglia’ is a tremendous sight and the largest war memorial in Europe. It occupies one side of the Monte Sei Busi and the huge stepped stairway is the resting place for 100,000 soldiers killed on the eastern front in the First World War. What is interesting is that those who fought here came from every corner of Italy and it was one of the first great cultural and linguistic exchanges in modern Italian history.

    Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure

    Sacrario di Redipuglia/Photo Audrey De Monte

  • San Giovanni d’Antro in Pulfero is both a cave and a church.  The cave has been used for many different purposes over the centuries: a lonely hermitage, an impregnable fort and a place of worship and pilgrimage. Therefore, today visitors are offered a historical/artistic tour of the altar chamber and side chapels, or a nature-based tour along the 300 metres of the fascinating caving route in the labyrinthine underground.

    Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure

    San Giovanni d’Antro/Photo Audrey De Monte

WHAT TO EAT

As my husband was born and raised in this region, I am very lucky to have his family here. My sister-in-law is a wonderful cook and my brother-in-law just loves his region and knows where to go for the best wine and food experiences. When we are here, we often go out with friends to check out new places or go back to some of our old favorites.

Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure

Some of the local specialties in Friuli/Photo Audrey De Monte

“I’ll walk right out on a shaky limb and say that the gastronimic experience in this region is unsurpassed in Italy, even in justly lauded Piedmont, Sicily and Emilia-Romagna”, Frances Mayes. “In delectable Friuli Venezia Giulia, some of Italy’s best wine is poured into the glasses of all the best restaurants you’ve never heard of”, Frances Mayes.

Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure

Oven baked Gnocci/Photo Audrey De Monte

Friuli’s is a cuisine that not only tells the story of the land and the seasons, but also hundreds of years of shifting borders and cultural exchange. Delicious seafood fare comes from the region’s coast of the Adriatic Sea. The cuisine relies on simple recipes and local ingredients: meat, dairy, sausages and legumes, used to create tasty specialties. Some of the more popular dishes on the menu here include:  a polenta based dish called zuf; a pork and vegetable soup named jota; bread dumplings known as gnocchi de pan, and a specialty of prune dumplings called gnocchi di susine; cjalzons a stuffed pasta (very special); frico which is the signature dish of Friuli, a type of potato cake with the local Montasio cheese fried golden brown. Another specialty is musèt con la brovada (cotechino pork sausage served with turnips soured with marc).

The most important typical product of the region is Prosciutto of San Daniele, well-known and exported worldwide, followed by Montasio cheese,  sweet d’Osvaldo prosciutto from the Collio region, and Sauris smoked ham. Among the salame and pork meats produced in Friuli, you can find varying salames, soppressa, sausages and the most famous regional dessert is called gubana, a shell of pastry stuffed with dried fruit. Friuli Venezia Giulia is also renowned for its distillates, including traditional and flavored grappas. No matter where in Friuli Venezia Giulia you dine, a little slice of culinary heaven is what you will find.

An Insider's Guide to Friuli Venezia Giulia

Gnocchi di Zucca with Ricotta Affumicata/Photo Audrey De Monte

WHERE TO STAY

castello di buttrio

One of the properties we book for our clients/Photo Audrey De Monte

Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure

Our guests at a wine agriturismo enjoying freshly prepared breakfast/Photo Audrey De Monte

For our clients on one of our personally hosted small group tours, we offer a 1 week stay in either a wonderful country property or in the town of Udine. The larger cities like Trieste and Udine have the most options when it comes to where to stay, and although there’s certainly a high season there are people visiting year-round. On the coast of the region, the accommodation is much more seasonal. During the summers, the hotels along the Adriatic are likely to be full of Italians on holiday as well as tourists. If you want to get out into the countryside, you’ll find agriturismi and B&Bs.

How long do you need to visit this region

Well, firstly, it would be a shame not to see Venice while you are in the vicinity. Venice is unique and deserves to be visited. Aside from Venice, I believe a 7 night stay to be ideal. We run exclusive small group tours of this length and it works perfectly.

Best times to visit Friuli

March/April for White asparagus season

Late June for the San Daniele prosciutto festival

September/October for wine harvest

November/December for Christmas Markets

How to say hello in “Friulan”

If you have traveled in Italy before, you would know that the common hello greeting is buongiorno. The Venetian word Ciao is used for friends and people you know well. In Friuli they also use a version of the Ciao but it is Mandi, which means, God be with you.

Climate

The diversity of the landscape of Friuli Venezia Giulia also lends itself to a rather diverse climate. The northern mountain ranges experience an Alpine-continental climate where the temperatures can get extremely cold and sometimes yield one of the coldest winter temperatures to be found in all of Italy. Snow abounds particularly during the winter months and provides amazing skiing an din the summer/fall offer great options for hiking.

Travel Guide for Friuli Venezia Giulia: Italy's Secret Treasure

The beautiful region of Friuli/Photo Audrey De Monte

The majority of the coastline experiences mild and pleasant temperatures with the city of Trieste experiencing the least change in climate between the seasons. However, the Karst Plateau, which rises just above Trieste, is subject to a weather phenomenon called the north-easterly wind Bora. This wind whips across the Gulf of Trieste from the north with some gusts clocking in at speeds of close to 93 miles per hour.

Getting to and around Friuli

You can fly to the Marco Polo Airport in Venice or the Airport of Treviso (Aeroporto di Treviso A. Canova) which both are about 120 km (about 75 miles) from Udine. Also Friuli Venezia Giulia has its own Trieste Airport which is about 40 km (25 miles) from the capital Trieste but also from Udine. Trieste Airport is the only airport within the region itself, and offers a range of domestic flights, along with flights to and from London, Munich, Frankfurt and Valencia. Venice’s two airports, Venice Marco Polo Airport and Treviso Airport are only an hour by car from the center of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and offer a much wider range of international flights.

The airport shown on the map is Aeroporto FVG (Friuli Venezia Giulia) or Trieste Airport. In the past has been called Ronchi dei Legionari. It is located 40 km from Trieste and Udine, 15 km from Gorizia, 50 km from Pordenone.

See the beauty of Udine, Trieste, tour the vineyards of the famed Collio, and delight in Friuli’s gastronomic delights with Audrey on our Italy’s Secret Treasure tour of Friuli Venezia Giulia.

About Audrey De Monte

Born in New York City, to European native parents, and raised in Western Africa, I have studied, lived and worked on three continents (Africa, Europe and North America), and have traveled extensively throughout the world. Travel has shaped my life, who I am, and how I look at the world and travel continues to be my biggest teacher. Together with my native Italian husband, we speak 5 languages (French, Italian, German, Spanish and English of course). I have spent a lifetime in several countries in Western Europe, since early childhood, visiting family, friends, studying, living and working. I grew up with the local customs and traditions of these countries.