If you are looking for a European tourist destination, consider the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of northeastern Italy, bordering on Austria and Slovenia. For simplicity’s sake we abbreviate the region’s full name to Friuli. Depending on your interests, Friuli may be an ideal vacation spot. You can get classic Italian food and other specialties, and wash it down with fine local wine. While Friuli is not exactly undiscovered by tourists you usually won’t be fighting crowds to see what you want. Like most regions of Italy it has belonged to many nations over the years. Unlike most regions of Italy, it remains multicultural, an exceptional mixture of Italian, Austrian, and Slavic influences. This article explores Friuli except for its capital and largest city, Trieste, which is examined in a companion article.
We’ll start our tour of Friuli at Redipuglia about twenty five miles (thirty five kilometers northwest of Trieste. Next we head northeast to the city of Gorizia almost hugging the Slovenian border. Then we proceed north to Cividale del Friuli. There we turn left (west) and finish our tour in Udine.
Italy’s largest war memorial, the Redipuglia Military Memorial built during Mussolini’s rule, lies inland from the Gulf of Trieste. Here repose the remains of almost forty thousand known and over sixty thousand unknown Italian soldiers of World War I. A bit further west are the remains of more than fourteen thousand Austro-Hungarian soldiers of World War I.
Gorizia, population about twenty five thousand, is quite close to the Slovenian border. In fact one of its suburbs, Nova Gorica, is in Slovenia. The Transalpina Railway Square that fed the port of Trieste actually lies in both countries. The nearby Sacrario Militare (Military Shrine) of Oslavia, is the burial place of over fifty seven thousand soldiers of World War I.
Gorizia’s old city is known as Borgo Castello in honor of the medieval castle surrounded by Sixth Century walls. It has quite a collection of Venetian art. You’ll also want to see the Gothic Fourteenth Century Church of San Spirito, the Baroque Seventeenth-Eighteenth Century church of San Ignazio, the Sixteenth Century Duomo (Cathedral) and its frescoes, and the Baroque Eighteenth Century Palazzo Attems.
This town is home to several palaces including the Sixteenth Century Coronini Cronberg filled with Eighteenth Century Venetian lacquered furniture, oriental carpets, porcelain, Japanese prints and sketches, Russian silver, and Sixteenth to Twentieth Century paintings. There is a fine library with over ten thousand volumes of manuscripts and ancient books.
Cividale del Friuli, population about eleven thousand, was founded by Julius Caesar somewhat more than two thousand years ago. Its historic town center is dominated by the Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) home of the National Archeological Museum. Nearby you will find the Sixteenth Century Palazzo dei Provveditori Veneti. Be sure to see the Celtic Hypogeum, an ancient subterranean series of halls carved in the rock; historians don’t know if is was a Celtic funerary monument or a Roman (Lombard) jail.
The Venetian Gothic Fifteenth Century Duomo (Cathedral) was built on the remains of an Eighth Century construction. The Christian Museum next door houses some Eighth Century art relics and outstanding examples of Lombard sculpture. The Fifteenth Century Ponte del Diavolo (Bridge of the Devil) leads to the church of S. Martino that contains an Eighth Century altar. The small church of Oratorio di Santa Maria (Saint Mary’s Oratorio) in the old Lombard quarter of nearby Valle, next to the Natisone river, is a notable example of Eighth Century High Middle Ages art. Saturday is market day in downtown Gorzia as it was in the days of Julius Caesar.
Udine, population just under one hundred thousand, is a relatively recent city founded only about one thousand years ago. Unlike Trieste, the biggest city in the region, Udine belonged to the United Republic of Italy almost since its inception. The Fifteenth Century Piazza della Libertà (Freedom Square) definitely seems Venetian in style with its Palazzo del Commune (now the Town Hall) opposite the Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower). The square also has a lovely Sixteenth Century fountain, Seventeenth Century columns illustrating the Statue of Justice and the Venetian Lion, and statues of Hercules and of Peace.
Udine is home to several churches worth visiting. The Gothic Fourteen Century Cathedral includes a Fifteenth Century bell tower that remains unfinished. Both the Cathedral and the adjacent Oratorio della Purità (Purity Oratorio) contain lovely art works. The Lombard Saint Mary of the Castle is probably Udine’s oldest church and was extensively rebuilt after an earthquake almost five hundred years ago. Make sure to see its period frescoes.
Udine’s major attraction is its castle, situated high on a hill. According to local legend Attila the Hun built it there to watch the neighboring Roman city of Aquileia as it burnt. Twice the castle was destroyed by earthquakes. The Venetians rebuilt it without the fortress, but with a Renaissance palace that now houses the Civic Museum, the Archaeological Museum, and the Historical and Art Galleries. Enjoy the view of the Italian mountains and Slovenian plains from the walls leading to the castle entrance.
What about food? Prosciutto di San Daniele ham is the pride of Fruili. It ranks just after Prosciutto di Parme as Italy’s best ham. Production is centered in the town of San Daniele that once paid its taxes in hams. In fact this area has been known for ham prior to the Romans. But full-scale production only started about a century ago. San Daniele now sells more than two million hams a year. These hams are softer and sweeter than the competition. They are low in cholesterol, high in protein, and rich in minerals, in particular Iron, Zinc, and Vitamin B. Suggested wines to accompany them include Tocai Friulano and Ramandolo.
Let’s suggest a sample menu, one of many. Start with Gulasch di Pesce (Fish Goulash). Then try Arrosto di Capriolo al Pino (Roast Venison with Pine Needles). For dessert indulge yourself with Presniz (Pastry with Rum, Fruits, and Nuts.) Be sure to increase your dining pleasure by including local wines with your meal.
We’ll conclude with a quick look at Friuli wine. Friuli ranks 14th among the 20 Italian regions for acres planted in wine grapes and 13th for total wine production. Approximately 48% of its wine production is red or rosé (only a little rosé), leaving 52% for white. The region produces 9 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine and 1 DOCG white dessert wine, Ramandolo. The G in DOCG stands for Garantita, but there is in fact no guarantee that such wines are truly superior. Over 60% of Friuli wine carries the DOC or DOCG designation, this is the second highest percentage in all Italy.
Ramandolo DOCG is a sweet white wine produced in the area north of Udine from at least 90% of the local Verduzzo grape. The vineyards are high in the sky and the slopes are so steep that the grapes must be processed and harvested by hand. Collio DOC, also called Collio Goriziano DOC, is an appellation from eastern Fruili near the Slovenian border that includes many high-quality wines. The appellation includes a variety of styles and grapes.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his website www.travelitalytravel.com devoted to Italian travel with an accent on fine Italian wine and food. Visit his central wine website www.theworldwidewine.com with weekly reviews of $10 wine and columns devoted to various aspects of wine including wine and food, humor, trivia, organic and kosher wine and lots more.
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