Not listed among the most popular Italian destinations, Friuli Venezia Giulia is a gem that not everyone knows about. I grew up in this region, and, like many people, I tend to take my native place for granted, but Friuli is so rich and multifaceted that summarizing all its assets is a hard task.
Friuli Venezia Giulia is a lot of things — a strategic location on the border with Austria and Slovenia, stunning and variegated landscapes, high quality wines, delicious food, ancient buildings, paintings, frescoes, and monuments. It is a place of many treasures and a complex history, a land of beauty, and it’s the crossroads of different cultures, languages, and traditions.
A holiday in Friuli is definitely a full-on experience.
The Eastern Dolomites, Julian Alps, and Carnia, situated in the Northern part of Friuli Venezia Giulia, are great destinations for those who ski and anyone who loves to hike. Walking and cycling trails cross the valleys and hills, and unfold through vines, grasslands, and trees, offering an eco-friendly option to enjoy nature, especially in the spring.
Scenic lakes, waterfalls, rivers, and torrents create some amazing landscapes. The Fusine lakes, of glacial origin, border Slovenia and Austria, and their green waters are like mirrors to the surrounding environment.
Friuli is also home to some impressive caves, among which the most remarkable is the karstic Grotta Gigante. This grotto displays stalactites and stalagmites of exceptional beauty, and in 1995 it was included in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest tourist cave.
Friuli is rich in flora and fauna. In the Oasis di Quadris in Fagagna, one of the numerous protected areas of the region, a colony of storks nests every year, while brown bears populate the northern forests.
In summer, seaside places such as Grado, Lignano, Bibione and the coast of Trieste, renowned for their facilities and entertainment, are holiday destinations to locals and tourists.
Ancient castles, towns, and art crafts
Friuli Venezia Giulia owes its name to the Lombards who, in the 6th century, called today’s Cividale “Forum Iulii.” Its history was influenced by many peoples, including Romans, Venetians, and Austrians, and this is proven by the numerous well-preserved ancient houses, churches, castles, fortresses, and art crafts spread all over the territory. The castles of Udine, Miramare, Duino, Gorizia, San Giusto, Strassoldo, Villalta, Brazzacco, Fagagna, Spessa, and Muggia are only some of the most impressive and appreciated.
Cividale and Aquileia (both included in the UNESCO World Heritage Lists), along with Spilimbergo and Grado, are remarkable historical sites. Paintings by famous artists can be admired all throughout the region — some marvelous frescoes by Tiepolo are visible in the Chiesa della Purità (Church of Purity) in the town center of Udine.
Food and wine
Friuli Venezia Giulia offers great gastronomy routes. Due to the variety of its soils and environments, the region makes high quality red and white wines, such as Cabernet, Sauvignon, Friulano (former Tocai friulano), Verduzzo, Merlot, Refosco, and Pinot.
Local cuisine uses simple ingredients, but is incredibly flavorsome. Frico (a wafer of three kinds of local cheese in several variations), frittata di erbe (herbs frittata), gnocchi, and polenta are some of the main dishes. Cheese and cold meats (including the famous prosciutto di San Daniele, speck, salame, and ham) enrich all meals and make a perfect antipasto.
An affordable way to enjoy true local are “Agriturismi,” family run farm-type restaurants and accommodations offering dishes made on site using only ingredients produced by the farm.
Every year, in September, Friuli Venezia Giulia celebrates its food and wines by holding a big festival called Friuli DOC, which lasts for days and draws many national and international tourists.
Sports and entertainment
Some popular sports in Friuli are golf, rock climbing, trekking, sailing, cycling, car rallies, horse riding, and paragliding. Two prestigious golf clubs are Villaverde Hotel and Resort and Castello di Spessa Golf & Country Club.
Many competitions and events occur throughout the year, one being the well-known international regatta called La Barcolana (Trieste).
Shopping and fashion
Fashion, just like food and coffee, is an important cultural element in Italy. Friuli Venezia Giulia offers a wide variety of stores, boutiques, outlets, and shopping malls, which are filled with locals and tourists, many of whom are from Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, and even Eastern Europe, who organize shopping sprees to buy brand items.
Spring in Friuli Venezia Giulia can be rainy and winter cold; however, the region presents so many alternatives that it is worth visiting in every season, and while Friulians can be prickly on the outside, they are very hospitable when you get to know them — just don’t criticize their food and wines!
Last but not least, in Friuli Venezia Giulia, people speak different languages and dialects beside Italian, including Friulian, Slovenian, German, Triestino, Bisiacco, and Venetian dialect, so visiting the territory can be a good excuse to learn some new words and expressions. If you are in Udine, you will surely impress the locals by saying mandi (goodbye in Friulian), when you leave!
Further information can be found at http://www.turismofvg.it/
Written by Laura Cozzolino, with all images courtesy of Laura Cozzolino