At the beginning of August, we spent a week in Friuli Venezia Giulia, the easternmost region in Italy and one of the country’s most ignored ones, especially by tourists.
The fact that Friuli is not a popular tourist destination is a real pity because the region is so nice that it really deserves to be more famous but it is also a blessing for those who visit it because Friuli is beautiful, authentic, genuine, and not crowded at all.
We went to Friuli Venezia Giulia because we had been invited to a wedding and we took it as a chance to discover the region. As a matter of fact, we had never been there before, save for three days in Trieste on our way to Slovenia a few years ago. So we said “Perché no?” and decided to spend part of our holidays there.
the Collio wine region seen from Rosazzo Abbey
It was a great choice because we discovered an incredibly beautiful region, with friendly and welcoming people who love to chat and tell you everything about the place and its history. Unlike many other Italian regions, they are not invaded by tourists, so the locals genuinely enjoy chatting with the ones who visit the area.
Friuli Venezia Giulia is a region with a rich history and a difficult recent past. After being Venetian territory for many centuries, Friuli was ceded to Austria in 1797. After the war of independence, an area of the region became part of the kingdom of Italy again. During World War I the region was a prominent theatre for battles and suffered tremendous damage and loss of lives.
After the war, these borderlands were united within the Kingdom of Italy, although Venezia Giulia’s borders were the subject of an international dispute. World War II led to the creation of the Anglo-American Administration in Trieste until the border was defined in 1954. After Trieste was re-assigned to Italy, the Autonomous Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia was finally established.
Ponte del Diavolo (bridge of the devil) in Cividale del Friuli
With such a complex past and the close proximity to Slovenia and Austria, Friuli has a rich culture that is a mixture of Italian roots and Slovenian and Austrian influences. Moreover, the region is very diverse: Gorizia, right on the border to Slovenia, has a strong eastern influence, while Udine is definitely Italian. And Trieste is just something else, as all the locals say.
The region would have deserved a longer stay but we didn’t have much time and we decided to see only some of its areas. We skipped the seaside locations because they might be a bit too crowded in August and unfortunately, we had to skip Carnia, the mountain area: we didn’t have much time and we didn’t want to see it in a rush.
Piazza Paolo Diacono in Cividale del Friuli
All the locals say that Carnia is incredibly beautiful, as beautiful as the Dolomites in Trentino yet with way fewer crowds, so we definitely want to go back and visit it at a slower pace.
Our first stop in the region was the Carso area. Our main reason for going there was to stay at Locanda Devetak, a historical restaurant established in 1870 that serves local traditional food and wine. We also stayed for the night there and had the best time: people were caring and welcoming and we had the best breakfast with local and homemade food only. Write their name down in your travel book, trust me!
the main square in Gorizia
Our first day was spent discovering Carso, a barren limestone plateau with innumerable subterranean caves and sinkholes, often completely invisible. It was Carso that the Italian Army had to advance to capture its objective of Trieste and this made it the theatre of many terrible battles. There we visited some historical sites and in particular Monte San Michele, which is a sacred area and open-air museum.
Then we visited the Collio wine region, a quiet area of vineyards and small villages that dot the hills. It reminded me of the Langhe region but definitely more down-to-earth and less trendy. We stopped at a very famous winery one day and the owners spent three hours of their Saturday afternoon drinking with us and talking about their work and their daily life. I don’t think this happens in many other famous Italian wine regions!
Transalpina train station and the border to Slovenia
Speaking of towns and cities, we have visited Gorizia, Cividale del Friuli, and Udine. I liked all of them for different reasons. I loved Gorizia for its unique location and history. Right on the Slovenian border, Gorizia has a twin town, Nova Gorica, established in 1947 when the old town was left to Italy after the end of World War II. Very few people know that, like in Berlin, a wall had been built there too and remained in place until 2004.
Gorizia is now a very quiet and silent town yet full of interesting places to visit, definitely a not-to-be-missed location in the region. Another town we visited was Cividale del Friuli, which is smaller than Gorizia but definitely more lively – and a bit more touristy too. Its main tourist sight is the Ponte del Diavolo (the bridge of the devil), a bridge over the Natisone river built in the 15th century whose name comes from an old legend.
Piazza Matteotti in Udine, one of the town’s main squares
Then we visited Udine, a lively university town full of bars and restaurants. Like many other places in Friuli, it has a rich history and, due to the fact that it has been Venetian, then Austrian, then Italian, it has many different flavors. It has a charming historic center, with two elegant piazzas and many precious buildings. Also, two small medieval canals flow through the town center, creating some very picturesque corners.
Udine has many interesting attractions to visit, like the castle on a hill overlooking the center. The castle houses some of the most important museums in town and offers some really beautiful views. Udine was ruled by Venice for a long time and its influence can be seen in Piazza della Libertà, right below the castle, with the Palazzo del Comune resembling the Doge’s Palace in Venice.
a view of the streets in Udine
The town considers itself the city of Tiepolo and many of its masterpieces can be admired in the Castello, the Duomo, and adjacent Oratorio, and also on the walls of the old Patriarchal Palace. But what I loved the most was just spending time doing some serious people watching while sitting at local bars sipping a Spritz bianco – and a great dinner with local food at the Osteria Alla Ghiacciaia!
Spritz bianco – white wine, sparkling water, ice, and lemon – seems to be the local’s favorite drink and I can see why: it’s light and fresh, the perfect aperitivo. In fact, as much as I have appreciated all the historical sights and attractions, it’s the food and wine of Friuli that I will always remember!
the beautiful mountains of Friuli
Speaking of food, we had frico, the local delicacy, a pancake-like feast of cheese and potatoes, multiple times and loved it every time. We had cjarsons, some type of ravioli filled with a mixture of sweet and savory ingredients. We had gubana, a snail shell-shaped cake filled with nuts, raisins, cookies, sweet wine, sugar, and cocoa, and strucchi, small treats with a sweet nut-based filling placed between two thin layers of dough and then fried.
The food and wine there are exactly like the people and the region in general: genuine, down-to-earth, unpretentious, which is why I liked Friuli so much. If you have seen a lot of Italy already and want to discover an area that is far away from the common tourist routes, spend time with the locals and interact with them, learn more about Italy’s recent history, Friuli is definitely the place for you!
Now tell me: what is your favorite off-the-beaten-track location in Italy?
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