Travel Guide for the Italian Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia: Exploring The Northern Border Region
Writers Hemingway, Rilke and Joyce all found inspiration in the tiny, Friuli Venezia Giulia region, tucked away in the far northeast of Italy.
Today, despite being just a couple of hours from Venice, FVG is one of Italy’s least touristy regions, but those in the know are heading here for cultured cities, deliciously wild landscapes and the fascinating Slovenian-Croatian-Austrian-Italian cultural mix.
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’d bet that unless you live in the Friuli Venezia Giulia like us, you’ve probably not heard of or ever considered a visit to Italy’s most north-eastern region. Why should you go, you ask? Well, here in this blog 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’ve seen many the country’s most famous sights and are seeking somewhere wonderful off the main tourist trail. This is our home, where my husband was born and raised, where our family lives and a region we would love to host you on one of our cultural vacations for your next vacation to Italy.
Friuli Venezia Giulia is one of the perfect destinations for tourists who do not just want to visit, but prefer to immerse themselves in the local culture while on vacation.
WHY VISIT FRIULI 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 wild and still little-known corner of Italy that has its own language, a distinctive local cuisine, and a host of 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 wild Alpine scenery and the border with Austria. The first visit here can come as a surprise, compared with Tuscany or Umbria. But it is so easy to fall under the charm of the unspoilt landscape and the warm welcome that many travelers find themselves returning.
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, Bavaria, Slovenia or even Croatia (see sample itineraries for 7/10 nights). 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.
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 to is to come for Italy’s Cantine Aperte, when many Italian vineyards open up their tasting rooms to the public on the last Sunday in May.
- Hikers and bikers are specifically drawn to the rolling green hills of Isonzo Valley in Collio. The winding roads take them on a spectacular journey through charming little villages and acres of vineyards. You can also zip around on a yellow branded vespa!
- If soaking up the sunshine on the coast is what you prefer, then head to 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 of the cove 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 made by D’Osvaldo family in Cormons, still using old craft techniques and tools and only employing locally-bred swines.
- Learn to mush a dog sled: You don’t have to go all the way to the Arctic to learn to drive a dog sled; the International Mushing Sleddog School in Tarvisio offers tours and in-depth courses for your chance to drive your very own dog sled. And I can guarantee that it will be much, much warmer than a dog sledding tour in Lapland. There are even summer programs offered for those that really, really don’t like the cold.
- Play a round of golf: The Friuli Venezia Giulia is home to seven 18-hole golf courses, many set beautifully amongst the vineyards with panoramas of the snow-capped mountains. In the heart of the Collio, the Golf & Country Club Castello di Spessa is popular for the modern fairways set amongst a castle that dates back to 1200. Or head to the seaside Grado Golf Club for a challenging game with hazards and bunkers. The club even has a spa and is located close to lovely beaches.
Hit the hiking trails in the Dolomites
Perhaps why the Friuli Venezia Giulia isn’t on the tourist radar is because it is not home to cities like Rome, Venice or Florence that lure visitors to revel in the days gone by. The Friuli is still very much a region that communes with nature and every bit of it can be explored by hiking its trails. There are 13 nature reserves located within the Friuli Venezia Giulia region alone and a number of varying hiking trails throughout them.
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. There are well-maintained trails all across the many regional natural parks and mountain huts where to spend the night at high altitude. 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 chalets and pristine waters. Surrounded by woods and high peaks, you will want to linger and perhaps hike to the Zacchi refuge which offers a Finnish sauna.
One of the most challenging day hikes is the I Sentieri delle Acque (translated to The Water Paths). It was here that woodsmen transported wood over the water. The trail runs through a deep valley cut by the Chiarso Creek, has many spectacular panoramas and even passes by the famous 170 year old and 115 feet tall white spruce named Palma.
There are even trails that follow the footprints of Antonio, the dinosaur who’s skeleton was found near the village of San Giovanni in Tuba. Though you have to visit the Civic Museum of Natural History in Trieste to see Antonio’s skeleton, the trail pays homage to the fantastical character he has become in these mountains.
Coastal paths and mountain passes
Whether you’re up for gentle, poetic strolls or hardcore vertical ascents, this region offers fabulously diverse landscapes to explore. In the Carnic Alps, stroll wildflower-dotted fields between Sauris di Sopra and Sauris di Sotto, or embark on a high-altitude trek through woodlands and upland meadows to see the Dolomites from the Sella di Razzo pass.
Down on the Duino coastline, the path that inspired poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies is now an easy but extremely beautiful 1.7km trail from the Castello di Duino to the town of Sistiana. The holly oak and hornbeam lined path takes you along a limestone cliff tumbling towards the sea.
Deep snow and uncrowded skiing
With popular Dolomites ski resorts just over the border in Veneto and Südtirol, it’s no wonder that Friuli’s own Dolomites and Julian Alps are often overlooked as a ski destination. Friuli Venezia Giulia offers lots of opportunities for an unforgettable vacation. From the Dolomites to the Carnic and Julian Alps, the mountains of this region are a perfect place for those who love winter sports from skiing and snowboarding to climbing, ice skating and hiking. The vertical walls, high peaks and deep valleys of Forni di Sopra and the wooded valleys, rustic mountain huts and deep, deep snow (sometimes until May) of Tarvisio and Sella Nevea make for a for an utterly unspoilt and starkly beautiful place to ski, snowboard, cross-country, snow-shoe or dog sled. The resorts’ proximity to the Austrian border means you can also sample the slopes of two countries in one trip. One of the premiere destinations is Forni di Sopra. It is the highest ski destination in the region’s Carnia Alps. Other well-known ski resorts are Sappada, Zoncolan, Pramollo.
A VINEYARD CALLED FRIULI (White wine heaven)
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. Tocai (now known as Friulano) or Sauvignon Vert is the most widely planted grape variety – pale in colour, it is usually drunk young and makes a perfect aperitif. Top reds include Cabernet Franc, Refosco or Terrano as it called around Trieste, and best of all, the obscure Schioppettino.
Friuli’s Friulano, Ribolla Gialla and Malvasia are the darlings of smart wine lists the world over, but the experience of drinking the region’s wonderful whites and cultish orange wines on their home soil is an altogether more laid back affair.
The Collio Goriziano, Colli Orientale and Carso DOCs (certified growing regions) are less than an hour’s drive apart, but offer an incredible variety of landscapes and winemaking styles. Cellar door dining is equally diverse: opt for vertical tastings and fine dining at Bastianich’s Orsone or the genteel rusticity of Valter Scarbolo’s La Frasca.
Up in the Carso, the rocky, hilly strip between the Gulf of Trieste and Slovenia, the tradition of osmize (pop-up tastings at vineyards), still prevails. Follow the trail of tree branches tacked to arrowed signposts at country crossroads and you’ll soon be sampling the latest vintages of the powerful and addictive local white Vitovska by the jug, with platters of local cured meats and cheeses to keep you tidy.
Wines are made using traditional grapes such as Pinot Grigio, which, grown here, takes on unique flavors, Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco; and using indigenous grapes, such as Friulano, Ribolla gialla, Malvasia istriana, Vitovska. Wines tend to be fresh and fruity.
Prestigious sweet wines (dessert wines) like Picolit (produced in very small quantities and commanding high prices) and Ramandolo, and excellent reds, among them Pignolo, Terrano and Refosco, are also produced.
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. While the region is known primarily for its white wines, producing 18 million cases of wine annually, 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.
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 in some historic inn and farm to eat or drink a “taj” (as we call the glass of wine) at the aperitif.
Wine lovers should make a point to visit Friuli Venezia Giulia around the last Sunday in May if only for Italy’s Cantine Aperte. During this time, most Italian vineyards are open to the public. Visitors will have the opportunity to take in spectacular vineyards at the bottom of the alpine foothills, visiting small quaint villages, cozy eateries and taste white wine from some of the premier producers in the area, including Zidarich, Schiopetto, and Radikon.
There are several wonderful wineries to visit, but one of our favorites is Venica & Venica. Giampaolo Venica, whose wines can be found in some of the best restaurants in the world, is one of the region’s most enthusiastic ambassadors. His family’s winery is known for its fragrant whites, Friulano, Malvasia and Sauvignon Blanc. The vineyards’ unique location in the picturesque Collio DOC gives the wines impressive depth. Book ahead for a tour and tasting.
The ‘Strada del Vino e Sapori FVG’ is an itinerary that touches on several farms and wineries in the region to discover Friuli Venezia Giulia’s bounty directly from local producers.
CITIES & TOWNS NOT TO MISS IN FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA
TRIESTE – The little Vienna by the sea – Habsburg café culture
Trieste, the capital of Friuli Venezia Giulia, is quite unique in the panorama of Italian cities, 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.
A stop at the Piazza Unità d’Italia, the symbol of the city, a beautiful, sea-facing square in the city’s center, is the 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.
The former free port of Trieste blossomed in the 18th and 19th centuries under the Habsburgs, becoming a vibrant and fluid border zone whose grand cafes were filled with Italian, Slovenian, Croatian, Yiddish, German and Greek chatter. Today its cosmopolitan spirit, elegant architecture and penchant for pork knuckle and sauerkraut still reflects this not-so-distant Austrian past.
Wander the grand avenues and drink a hometown Illy espresso in the grand Mittel-European cafes where James Joyce finished Dubliners and began Ulysses, such as Caffè San Marco. Its coffee-house culture is second-to-none and is the coffee capital of the country with Illy Coffee reigning supreme here. Antico Caffè Torinese, Eppinger Caffè and Caffè San Marco are three of the city’s best coffee houses, where historical literary figures including James Joyce once gathered to discuss their art.
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”.
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.
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.
UDINE – Historical capital of Friuli
Losing its regional-capital status to Trieste in the 1950s may have been something of a blow for Udine but this confident, compact city remains Friuli’s cultural capital today.
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, along with a vibrant contemporary edge thanks to its large student population. 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.
For your foodie experience, find the logo “osteria storica” and you can have lunch in a piece of the city’s history. The best known are the Osteria all Ghiacciaia, Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo, Trattoria agli Amici in business since 1887 and Osteria alla tavernetta
Osteria al vecchio stallo, housed in a 17th century building is one of the oldest in the city. Once a stable and rest stop, 3 brothers preserve traditional cuisine of Friuli.
Spritz aperitivo seems to start earlier here than anywhere else in Italy, with the festive Veneziana – Aperol and prosecco – drunk at terrace tables from 11am. Aperitivo here is a cheap and particularly cheerful affair with a spritz averaging €2 and toast topped with prosciutto, cheese or smoked fish for €1 or so a piece.
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, then granted by Alboin to his nephew Gisulf as the capital of a Lombard Duchy of Friuli. 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, with its historic devil’s bridge which straddles the Natisone river and signs that greet you in the town’s four historic languages (Italian, Friulian, Slovenian and German) 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, the various museums, make it a delightful town to stroll around in search of the many traces of its glorious past. Cividale is also well known for its top wines, great food (Gubana is a delicious specialty – a type of strudel with apples, pine seeds and raisins – that you should not miss!) and close position to the finest wine cellars of the region!
To sample Cividale’s well-known, cinnamon-infused winter dessert called gubana, pop into a pasticceria and grab a slice or two. The Panificio Pasticceria Cattarossi is only a stone’s throw from the cathedral, with a large range of pastries, cakes and desserts.
AQUILEIA Roman Ruins – Without Aquileia there would be no Venice
Much of the 2nd-century AD Roman megacity of Aquileia lies unexcavated beneath the fields of the eponymous 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 astonishingly vivid depictions of episodes from the Bible, lagoon sea life and wealthy patrons.
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, 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.
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 floor mosaics both inside and outside the basilica are magnificent. The basilica also provides access to the Crypt of Frescoes, decorated with rare Byzantine frescoes.
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, 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). This is also the town we come to for our yearly pizza pilgrimage to “Al Gambero” as the owners are from Naples.
- Sacile, a town developed around the 7th century on two islands on river Livenza as a fortress along the route that led to Friuli.
- Visit Sesto al Reghena with its magnificent Benedictine abbey of Santa Maria in Sylvis dating back to the 7th century.
- San Daniele del Friuli: The hilltop town of San Daniele, is world-famous for its prized ham and rivals Parma in the Emilia Romagna. Perhaps I’m a little biased but I prefer the less salty and sweeter prosciutto di San Daniele. Take a guided tour to an historic ham factory Bagatto (3 generations). 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. You can visit one of the town’s many prosciuttifici for a tour round the processing plant and to sample some ham, or enjoy delicious cold cuts at one of the many prosciuttifici in town; the Osteria Ai Bintars, at Via Trento Trieste 6, is one of the best.
- 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. As you enter the hall and the classrooms, you immediately experience a special atmosphere: multi-colored mosaic tiles and masterpieces testify that everything here is created from embedded materials, light and movement. 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 is now quoted as an example of reconstruction by anastylosis (each stone was catalogued and put back in its original place).Do not 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.
- 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.
- 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 imposing and 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.
- Pordenone: The ancient Roman Portus Naonis on the river Noncello, a city near Veneto border, home to 12th-13th century churches and palaces as well as the remains of a Roman villa. Walk along the Corso with its frescoed buildings, an authentic open-air art gallery! Visit the Cathedral, where you can admire the works of the main Friulian painter Antonio de Sacchis known as “il Pordenone”.
- Grado: Named Austrian Riviera, 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. Head to Trattoria de Toni and sample some of the best fish in the region; while it’s one of the most costly evenings out in town, the seafood platter is worth it. 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.
- Tarvisio: At crossroads on the border of Austria and Slovenia, it is a gateway for skiing and hiking, teeming with hotels and lodges. Nearby are the beautiful lakes of Fusine (Laghi di Fusine), which you can take a nice walk around. Do you enjoy a hefty brisk walk and you want more than a little walk around the lake? No problem, there are several mountain paths that run up. One of them leads to the refuge ‘Rifugio Zacchi’ where you can eat something.
- 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. Within the castle lies 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. Perhaps the First World War only really finished on the May 1, 2004 with the entry of Slovenia into the European Union. What remained as a symbolic border was removed completely and the horrors of the 20th century finally put to rest.
- 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, one of the cleanest in Europe, 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.
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.
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 southern border with the blue expanse of the Adriatic Sea. Typical Italian fare is very much a product of the area’s shared border with the Veneto region. The northern border of Austria and eastern border of Slovenia infuse local dishes with strong flavors native to those countries. No matter where in Friuli Venezia Giulia you dine, a little slice of culinary heaven is what you will find.
The cuisine relies on simple recipes and genuine 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 de susini; cjalzons a stuffed ravioli; frico which is the signature dish of Friuli, a type of potato cake with Montasio cheese fried golden brown. Another specialty is musèt con la brovada (cotechino pork sausage served with turnips soured with marc). The range of vinegars, vegetables and honeys shows the extent of the bountiful food culture in this region.
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 from the Collio region, and Sauris smoked ham. Among the salame and pork meats produced in Friuli, we can find varying salames, soppressa, sausages and the most famous regional dessert is called gubana, a shell of pastry stuffed with dried fruit. Strudels and fruit cakes are delicious as well. Friuli Venezia Giulia is also renowned for its distillates, including traditional and flavored grappas.
WHERE TO STAY
As we have family here, we rarely stay in hotels, but we have enjoyed on some occasions staying in properties around the region. For our guests on their cultural immersion vacations with us, we offer a 1 week stay in a wonderful country property.
The larger cities like Trieste, Udine, Gorizia, and Pordenone 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’re sticking to the cities and larger towns that you can access via trains and buses, you’ll find charming boutique hotels. If you want to get out into the countryside, you’ll find agriturismi and B&Bs. Just remember that if you’re hoping to get out of the cities and towns, you’re going to need a car.
1. HOW LONG DO I NEED TO VISIT THIS REGION:
Well firstly it would be a shame not to see Trieste or Venice while you are in the Vicinity. Trieste is a delight and Venice, well, she is unique and deserves to be one of the most visited cities of Italy. Aside from these two cities we think a 7 night stay to be ideal. We run several tours of this length and it works perfectly. Groups of 4 to 8 are ideal.
2. 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
3. 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.
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, snowboarding, and trekking opportunities with nearby luxurious mountain resorts.
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.
5. FAMILY TRAVEL IN FRIULI
Whether it’s golfing amongst the land’s natural beauty, playing in the Lagoon of Marano, or touring the region’s impressive collection of castles, there are plenty of exciting activities for the whole family.
The Castle of Gorizia offers stunning views of its namesake’s town and the majestic Alps. This eleventh century structure built upon a rolling green hill looks to be straight out of a child’s fairytale story. Inside the castle is the Museum of the Middle Ages of Gorizia which showcases original furnishings, knights’ suits of armor, and reproductions of weapons from that period. Also not to be missed is the Castle of Udine. This early sixteenth century structure is stately and reminiscent of a large and elegant mansion. Today it is home to the History and Art Museum of the City of Udine.
Families that prefer to enjoy the splendor of local beaches will enjoy Baia Sistiana. The beach is considered to be one of the best in the region, with a number of lodging options and water-based activities. Some of the more popular activities along the beach include sailing, scuba diving, and swimming.
6. FRIULI WITH KIDS
Friuli Venezia Giulia is a glorious playground for children with a number of gorgeous castles, dinosaur adventures, and bob coasters. Castles were very much a part of the region’s early culture and are still a major tourist attraction today. The historical structures sprinkle the entire region. Some of the more popular castles are Duino, Muggia, and Miramare in Trieste. Also of note are the many castles of Udine near the Natisone River. However, no castle expedition is complete without visiting some of the older structures in the area such as Castello Valentinis and Castello of Cassacco.
Follow the trails of Antonio the dinosaur’s prehistoric footprints. The dinosaur’s skeleton was discovered close to the village of San Giovanni but is now relocated to the Civic Museum of Natural. The trails close to where his skeleton was found give childlike insight into what locals affectionately call the dinosaur of the Dolomite Mountains.
Continuing with all things dinosaur, children will enjoy visiting the Parco Naturale Regionale delle Dolomiti Friulane to see real dinosaur fossil footprints. The large footprints are found in a great Dolomitic boulder that dates back to more than two hundred million years ago in the Triassic period. Young kids, and even some adults, are enchanted by walking a path that dinosaurs once roamed.
A favorite for many is the Alpine bob coaster. The ride is similar to a roller coaster that goes only twenty-five miles per hour for about half a mile. The coaster winds through the mountainside giving riders a bird’s eye view of spectacular scenery and the thrill of rushing through the crisp mountain air.
7. GETTING THERE 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. The closest lodging to the airport is at Ronchi dei Legionari (3 km from the airport) or in Monfalcone (5 km from the airport).
While the Italian train system is fast and the cities of the region are well-connected, hiring a car is the best way to explore the region. Car hire is available from all three airports, perfect for a road trip around the region.