Italy’s Friuli region is one of Europe’s best kept secrets

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(CNN) – Mountains, gorges, beaches and beaches make it one of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in Italy, but few people, including Italians, know anything about it.

Maybe it’s because of the country’s northeastern border with Slovenia and Austria, maybe because of its history of invasion by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or because the locals speak many languages, so it feels like a part of Italy.

Although Friuli Venezia Giulia stretches from the snow-capped mountains of the Dolomites to the sun-drenched waters of the northern Adriatic Sea, there are never many people who leave parts of Italy bustling in summer.

However, according to the locals, it is worth a visit, like the rest of Italy.

“Unlike other regions in Italy, we are not advertised and are far from mass tourism,” says Roberta Bressan, a local tour guide. “Ours is a small-scale reality of beautiful small towns and different traditions that travelers should discover little by little.”

One of the region’s biggest selling points is its natural beauty. With 13 nature reserves and the unspoiled park of the Friuli Dolomites, the region attracts tourists who want to connect with nature or explore the outdoors.

“It’s a green, heavenly place. You can bike, hike, and kayak through mountain springs and rock tunnels in the Dolomites,” said local travel blogger Luca Vivan.

Miramare Castle in Trieste.

Miramare Castle in Trieste.

felipe/Adobe Stock

Friuli’s green valleys are surrounded by Alpine peaks, which on clear days can be seen all the way to the coast. Labyrinths of caves, ravines, canyons, waterfalls, and fast-flowing rivers dot the vast karst limestone plateau at the foot of the hills.

Outdoor activities are available all year round. In warm weather, you can go hang-gliding, kayaking on the turquoise river, sailing, windsurfing, and rock climbing. In winter, you can go skiing and sledding in the cozy resorts of Tarvisio, Tolmezzo and Piancavallo.

Geological wonders include the underwater caves of Lake Gorgazzo, a stunning tropical blue-green. There is also Grotta Gigante, or Giant’s Cave, one of the largest tourist caves in the world.

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Golden beaches

Grotta Gigante is one of the largest tourist caves in the world.

Grotta Gigante is one of the largest tourist caves in the world.

Fabio Di Natale/Adobe Stock

There are dinosaur rock trails, hiking trails that follow skeletons, and old shepherd tracks that connect sleepy villages.

Friuli is also a hot spot for sunbathers.

The lagoon island town of Grado, reminiscent of Little Venice, is as close as the famous resort of Friuli, while Lignano Sabbiadoro is a long peninsula of golden beaches.

Trieste has an unusually secluded beach that dates back several centuries. At all Lanterna in Bagno, visitors are divided into men and women, separated by a white wall that runs along the beach.

“The residents love and are very proud of this place,” said Maria Bonacci from Trieste. “They see it as reflecting avant-garde gay liberation, and the beach’s popularity continues to grow among young people as well.”

Trieste is a destination in itself. The capital of Friuli is sometimes referred to as Italy’s Little Vienna, as its Austro-Hungarian heritage is reflected in its majestic Mitteleuropean architecture and decadent fin de siècle atmosphere.

The city also has one of Europe’s largest squares, Piazza Unità D’Italia, overlooking the sea and surrounded by elegant palazzos that reflect the grandeur of the empire’s past – a fading decadence lined with historic cafes that has long attracted artists and artists alike. came Irish writers such as James Joyce.

Bonacci believes that what makes Friuli Venezia Giulia unique is its “double soul”.

The combination of imperial grandeur, he says, is reflected in cities such as Trieste and rural hilly regions made up of “quiet secret villages where ancient traditions have been preserved”.

The strong bora winds that sometimes blow Trieste at speeds of 160 kilometers per hour help to power the Barcolana, one of the largest yachts in the world, which attracts more than 2,000 boats of all sizes every October.

Aristocratic charm

The annual Barcolana regatta brings hundreds of boats to the Gulf of Trieste.

The annual Barcolana regatta brings hundreds of boats to the Gulf of Trieste.

Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

Small towns in Friuli are worth exploring. Udine is a miniature Venice with exquisite gardens. Bordering Slovenia, Gorizia is known as the Salzburg of Italy. UNESCO-listed Cividale del Friuli has a picturesque medieval center overlooking the amethyst river Natison.

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For archeology buffs, there’s Aquileia, the ancient Roman capital of Friuli, home to a stunning basilica with massive paleo-Christian floor mosaics depicting symbolic animals and the tree of life.

Aristocratic glamor is everywhere. The region has an impressive number of impressive forts and forts that reflect its rich and powerful past.

Miramare Castle is a gem of Trieste, built in the 19th century by the Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian as a luxury resort. It is surrounded by a luxuriant garden with a spectacular view of the Gulf of Trieste.

A magnificent castle that serves as a luxury resort is Castello di Spessa, where the famous Venetian lover Giacomo Casanova stopped during one of his travels and is said to have had an affair with a maid. Today, guests can sleep in its luxurious rooms.

But Friuli also has a “primitive” bucolic spirit. It is full of small old villages where farming traditions and folklore live.

The city of Palmanova is shaped like a nine-pointed star.

The city of Palmanova is shaped like a nine-pointed star.

Sebastian/Adobe Stock

The village of Sappada is a remote German-speaking enclave and ski resort with traditional and unusual pitched-roofed wooden houses known as blockbau. Winter offers silent landscapes with blankets of snow.

Pessaris is an Alpine village famous for the huge handmade clocks that adorn its streets, while nearby Sauris is famous for its traditional beer and cured and smoked sausages.

Cordovado, Toppo, Fagagna, medieval districts intact, villages with a sleepy atmosphere that seem frozen in time and are part of the most beautiful village club in Italy.

The Palmanova Castle is a Venetian Renaissance jewel shaped like a nine-pointed star. Legend has it that Leonardo Da Vinci designed it as an “ideal city”.

Bressan, a local guide who offers tours tailored to the region, recommends a trip to Lake Grado, dining on regional seafood, visiting Friuli’s isolated medieval rural churches, exploring the karst plateau and visiting the former in autumn, when “the colors are like an artist’s palette”. mining centers such as Cludinico, now an open-air museum.

Friuli’s “war tour” is also quite popular, Bressan said. “I often organize day trips to Trieste for cruise ship passengers. American families want to see places where their fathers and grandparents served in World War II, and they already know where to go and what to see.”

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Underground cheese

Friuli is famous for its premium wines.

Friuli is famous for its premium wines.

Luca Zanon/The Awakening/Getty Images

Friuli is one of Italy’s top wine-producing regions, a fragrant, elegant white that replaces the country’s more popular Prosecco.

The two best vineyards are Collio and Colli Orientali del Friuli. Another estate, Ronco dei Tassi, is named after the badger that nibbles on the ripe grapes of the terraced vines (“tassi” in Italian).

Friuli has a strong focus on aperitivo culture. Spritz, a famous alcoholic drink that appeared during the Austrian rule, was originally made with white wine mixed with sparkling water. Today, Aperol or Campari is mixed with Prosecco to make it orange, an Italian classic.

A great wine pairs well with succulent cured meats.

The hilltop town of San Daniele is famous for its delicious sausages cured in the cool mountain air and Adriatic sea breeze. The village also grows smoked trout, known as the Queen of San Daniel, and ham is king.

Other local delicacies can be enjoyed at the farmer-run restaurant, served with local artisanal cheeses such as Montasio and Asino, and a variety of deli meats.

Pitina is a strongly flavored salami made from goat, sheep or antelope meat. The “Underground” cheese tasted in the Karsik Cave is a supreme delicacy.

Classic Friuli dishes include jota, a pork and vegetable soup, homemade plum and blueberry gnocchi, ravioli filled with chocolate and cinnamon, and Montasio cheese and onion fritters.

Another specialty is the musèt con la brovada, a cotechino pork sausage served with grape-fermented beets.

There’s a variety of brodetto fish soups, including busara, black pepper shrimp, grilled bread, and tomato. Trieste’s specialty is sweet sardoni layered with anchovies and onions. Grado is famous for its small, delicious boreto de bache oysters.

For dessert, palachinche is a sweet omelette, and putitza is a traditional cake made with chocolate, dried fruit and honey.

Italians call the cuisine of Friuli mare e monti (sea and mountains) and it is as varied and wonderful as the nature that surrounds the seafood, vegetable and meat delicacies.

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