Tucked away in the north-easternmost corner of Italy, the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia is largely unknown to both tourists and Italians alike. Cast aside for the glittering beaches of Positano and the careworn elegance of Rome, Friuli-Venezia Giulia is known mainly as Italy’s gateway into Eastern Europe: somewhere to merely pass through as you travel from one destination to another. But this is a huge mistake.
Framed by the dramatic peaks of the Dolomites, Friuli-Venezia Giulia is unlike any Italy you’ll see on the perfectly-curated Instagram feeds of travel bloggers. A region with its heels dug almost stubbornly into its long-standing traditions, Friuli-Venezia Giulia boasts a history as turbulent as its undulating terrain; it was not until the twentieth century, in fact, that the entirety of FVG became part of Italy. The region today is a cultural melting pot, where the Germanic and the Slavic meet upon the quaint Italian cobbles. But it’s the region’s stunning natural beauty that renders it truly unique; from the mountains, it takes less than an hour to drive to the ocean, the roads themselves leading you through endless stretches of vineyards interrupted by agriturismi and tiny, clustered villages.
If you ever find yourself looking to venture away from Italy’s well-trodden tourist trail, then Friuli-Venezia Giulia should sit firmly at the top of your bucket list. From vibrant university cities to towns perched precariously on rugged mountainsides, here are 6 must-see destinations in Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
6 MUST-SEE DESTINATIONS IN FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA, ITALY
Often considered the true heart of Friuli, what this university city lacks in size, it easily makes up for in character. Udine is a curious mix of the Venetian and the Germanic, its elegant architecture drawing inspiration from this fusion of cultures. At its core is the striking Piazza della Libertà, which is home to both the Loggia di San Giovanni – whose white and blue bell tower is inspired by that of the Piazza San Marco in Venice – and the marble-clad Loggia del Lionello. Above these two unique monuments, the Castello di Udine keeps its silent, 500-year watch over the city below.
Start your visit to Udine with an aperitivo in the bustling Piazza Giacomo Matteotti – known more commonly among locals as the Piazza San Giacomo. Whichever bar you choose from the numerous haunts which frame the picturesque square, you are guaranteed a delicious Aperol Spritz. For a truly authentic experience, head to the Osteria Pierimortadele, which is famed city-wide for its mouth-watering San Daniele prosciutto and 1€ glasses of local wine.
Often overlooked in favour of its livelier neighbours, the city of Pordenone is one of northern Italy’s most important industrial hubs – but with a firm grip on its traditional roots. With a compact city centre lined with graceful ‘portici’, and a spattering of bars and restaurants, Pordenone is the perfect place to spend a day browsing boutique stores and wandering the cobbled streets. It also boasts a large number of well-manicured parks and green spaces, including the beautiful Parco Galvani, which includes a tiered rose garden overhanging a tranquil lake.
For traditional local cuisine, book a table in the courtyard garden of Al Cenacolo; for creamy gelato, don’t miss Gelateria Oggi.
Tucked beneath the dramatic peaks of the Friulian mountains, Gemona boasts a somewhat troubled history. Although the city dates back to prehistoric times, and served as a main stopping point on the journey from Italy into Austria, a devastating earthquake in 1976 destroyed most of Gemona, meaning that a lot of the architecture you see today is a reconstruction. This, however, only adds to the sheer beauty of the place, a sense of resilience and determination palpable in every cobblestone. Tucked beneath the dramatic peaks of the Friulian mountains, Gemona boasts a somewhat troubled history. Although the city dates back to prehistoric times, and served as a main stopping point on the journey from Italy into Austria, a devastating earthquake in 1976 destroyed most of Gemona, meaning that a lot of the architecture you see today is a reconstruction. This, however, only adds to the sheer beauty of the place, a sense of resilience and determination palpable in every cobblestone.
The hilltop city of San Daniele is celebrated mainly for one particular factor: its world-famous prosciutto. In fact, the entire city is an ode to this delicacy, with each restaurant offering the coveted meat served in a variety of recipes.
Once you’ve had a mosey around the stunning Duomo di San Michele Archangelo, pop next door to the quaint Enoteca Prosciutteria La Corte di Bacco for the most delicious sandwich you’ll ever eat.
The liveliest and most cosmopolitan city in the region, Trieste is a charming melting pot of central and eastern European culture. Having only become part of Italy in the mid-1900s, it’s safe to say that Trieste’s roots are widespread, offering a glimpse into Italian, Austrian, Slovenian and Croatian culture all in one fairly small city centre.
Celebrated also as one of the world’s esteemed literary hubs, Trieste is beloved for its coffee houses, which once served as meeting points for writers, artists, and philosophers alike – including names such as James Joyce, who lived here for a number of years. Caffè Tommaseo is among the oldest of these elegant, historical coffee houses, and is located just a stone’s throw from the colourful Canal Grande.
A place where Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s natural beauty is portrayed in its full glory, Grado is a tiny island in the Marano lagoon, which is connected to the mainland by two narrow bridges. Although Grado is primarily enjoyed as a summer destination for inland locals, this beautiful island is rendered unique by its wildlife and unusual landscape. It is because of Grado’s curious mix of freshwater and saltwater that some of the best fish and seafood in the region can be sampled here; try a seafood platter at the picturesque Trattoria de Toni.