Picturesque hamlets set in the middle of pristine valleys, an evocative patchwork of vineyards growing on gentle slopes or steep terraces, lovely coastal towns and charming lagoon areas, majestic snow-clad mountains, outstanding wines, tasty delicatessens and a warm, frank hospitality.
This can be found in Fiuli Venezia Giulia - the North-eastern region bordering Austria and Slovenia, which only became definitively part of Italy with its actual borders after WWII. It is now one of the five autonomous regions with special statute - is all this and even more.
A paradise for nature lovers, lovers of sports and amateur artists, the region also is an unmissable food and wine destination: from earthy traditional recipes to contemporary cuisine. Here you can discover elegantly-scented wines and genuine, craft-made products, a visit to the region with its many different zones is an unmissable chance for unique tastes and unforgettable experiences.
1. Visit the Abbazia di Rosazzo, surrounded by vineyards – belonging to the Felluga estates – and ancient roses' gardens, also hosting cultural events and art exhibits. Guided tour to the wine cellar – one of the oldest in Friuli, set up in the XI century by monks coming from Austria – can be arranged and some of the Abbey's halls (the Vine and Grapes Hall, the Fire Hall and the Banquet Hall) are available for private events. The abbey also offers the possibility of staying overnight in one of the 14 rooms overlooking a breathtaking panorama.
2. Sip a delicious hot chocolate made from scratch – without any milk or other fat added – at the elegant Peratoner coffee shop in the very center of Pordenone. Beppe Faggiotto started working as a pastry-chef and chocolatier since when he was a boy and, after taking over the historical confectionery many years ago, he now also runs the legendary Caffé degli Specchi in Trieste.
3. Take a guided tour to an historic ham factory in San Daniele like Bagatto, smelling the irresistible scent of ageing hams and tasting the perfectly-matured ones at the factory's inn. Dante Bagatto will guide you through a visit to the ageing cellars, showing you how he can detect the ham's right ageing sniffing a horse's bone quickly stuck into the meat.
4. Visit one of the 8 remaining “shifting cheese factories” (latterie turnarie) where local farmers alternate themselves in helping the expert cheese-maker to transform their milk into delicious cheese, yogurt, butter and cream. In Muris, a remote village close to the Tagliamento river and to San Daniele, the cheese factory was officially created in 1893 and it still is an important reference place for local people, even though girls don't come here any longer to meet their future spouses.
5. Meet (and taste) the exquisite Regina di San Daniele, the Queen of San Daniele as they call it: a gently, cold smoked trout – with natural wood smoke and herbs – perfect to be eaten on its own with some extra virgin olive oil or lemon zest, or as an ingredient for delicious recipes. Trout – which is also transformed into other tasty products, from the steamed fillets with herbs or the hot smoked ones to the salted eggs – is a healthy, lean, safe and sustainable alternative to salmon or other fish species. Giuseppe Pighin, founder of FriulTrota, and his son Mauro breed the fishes in the cold, clean local waters and the whole process is completely traceable.
6. Wander around Collio's vineyards on a yellow, branded Vespa: the iconic Italian scooter is an ideal way to appreciate the area in complete freedom.
7. Learn about the Sbilf – one of the local hobgoblins – and his “bothers” when visiting the stunning Lis Fadis (meaning The Fairies) winery in Spessa, near Cividale del Friuli. Built by the passionate antique dealer Alessandro Marcorin and his wife, the farm shows all their love for the olden days, from the impressive ancient fruit trees' collection to the winery and mansion's furnishing and materials, coming from ancient buildings from all over Italy. Marcorin also collected wine making tools, glasses and much more, which you can admire stopping by for a short tour and a wine tasting: Lis Fadis counts several different wines, all named after the local elves.
8. Sleep (almost) open-air in La Subida's barn room. Josko and Loredana Sirk, together with their family, created a true paradise among the Collio's woods. Guests can eat a the elegant restaurant Al Cacciatore where chef Alessandro Gavagna prepares excellent dishes or at the rustic tavern, and they can also sleep in the uniquely decorated rooms scattered around the wood of trees and wild fences. The charming rooms and apartments also include the one overlooking the cellar where wine vinegar is made, the romatic “Nest” or the almost open-air room at the upper floor of the barn.
9. Eat the tasty, earthy food made by Teresa Covaceuszach– following traditional and original recipes and using her own orchard's vegetables, fruit and herbs – at the lovely trattoria Sale e Pepe in Stregna, a tiny village in the Natisone Valley. Accompany the meal with local wines suggested by her husband Franco Simoncig and end it with a short glass of “Saint John's wine”, a local sweet drink made with wine and herbs, once reputed to heal every kind of illness.
10. Taste the unique, gently smoked ham made by D'Osvaldo family in Cormons, still using old craft tecniques and tools and only employing locally-bred swines. In winter, the hams are rubbed with salt and pepper, matured in salt for some time, then gently smoked for three days in a dedicated room where cherry and laurel wood burn and wild herbs boil with water in a huge marmite.
After that, they age for at least 16 months in the rooms on the upper floor of the house with open windows to let the air come through. Some years ago EU regulations were about to impeding this traditional processing; luckily enough the D'Osvaldos succeeded to obtain a waiver, and we can still eat their fantastic ham, bacon and speck.
11. Learn how to prepare the original Gubana – the typical cake from the Natisone Valley and all the border area with Slovenia, a baked good filled with a mix of nuts, raisins, pine nuts, butter, sugar, amaretto biscuits and grappa – made by Valeria Domenis at La Gubana della Nonna. Since when she left her previous job to bake delicious traditional cakes and biscuits that she sells in the tiny shop in the small village of Azzida, Valeria has been using her Grandma's recipe to make Gubana ; she is now happy to hand it down to next generations holding baking courses.
12. Enjoy an aperitivo at Caffè Longobardo after visiting the stunning Lombard Temple and the lovely old city centre in Cividale del Friuli, part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. And don't forget to admire the view over the Natisone river and the Devil's bridge from the temple's belvedere.
13. Have a quick (or long) lunch in an osmizza, the typical temporary taverns of the Carso region where loose wine and local snacks – from cold cuts to boiled eggs – are served in a rustic atmosphere. Once, local wineries were allowed to be opened only for 8 days, when the “new” wine was ready to be sold. Now they follow a seasonal calendar. Just check online for the opening days and look for the green branches hanging on the streets
14. Enter the mysterious and fascinating “amphoras' cellar” at Josko Gravner's winery in Oslavia, in the Collio area right at the border with Slovenia; here the must – kept in contact with the grapes' skins, creating the so-called “maceration” – rest in the “buried” clay amphoras for several months, before ageing into the wooden barrel, giving the wine its unique color and flavor.
15. Relax in one of the many historical cafes – coffee shops and bars – in Trieste, trying to understand the overcomplicated yet funny local jargon to order your nero (espresso), nero in b (espresso served in a small glass), capo (espresso macchiato) deca (decaffeinated) or goccia (espresso with a little milk foam). Just be sure to visit the charming Miramare Castle, on the peak of a rocky promontory at one side of the Gulf, before or after that. http://www.castello-miramare.it/eng/home/home.php