Friuli Venezia Giulia (‘FVG’) is the far northeastern corner of Italy, an hour or less from Venice. It’s small – you could easily drive across it in a day on the back roads – but it squeezes in a remarkable diversity of landscapes. The coasts combine urban beach resorts and pristine lagoons. Above the coasts, the Friulian plains and hills have the art towns and the wine regions, and above them tower the Alps: the sunny slopes on the way to Austria, or the mountain fastness of Carnia on the west, with its hidden valleys and traditional folkways. In short, there’s a little bit of everything, all within easy reach.
The Canal Grande in Trieste was the commercial hub of the historic city © Peter Vanco, Shutterstock
The star of this show might be Trieste. A world in itself, at once the least Italian and most Italian of cities, it is a town built not of pasta and red wine, but of sausages and beer (and spritzes and cocktails and vino bianco from the Collio). Trieste is multi-lingual, mitteleuropäisch, and mad about culture, a city with 32 museums and a great love for good music.
World Heritage Sites
The Ponte del Diavolo in Cividale del Friuli was constructed in the 15th century © milosk50, Shutterstock
There are a wealth of UNESCO World Heritage Sites to be seen in FVG, all with their own distinct character and history. Highlights include: ancient Aquileia, with its fabulous mosaics, the early medieval Lombard capital of Cividale del Friuli and the unique Venetian citadel town of Palmanova. Don't miss the Pile Dwelling site of Palù di Livenza, Parco Naturale Dolomiti Friulane, dating back to 4900BC.
Grado is known as the 'Golden Island' © canadastock, Shutterstock
Friuli’s coast is short, but it’s choice. Grado, or 'Little Venice', is one of the most attractive beach resorts on the Adriatic. Even in Italy, it isn’t as well known as it deserves to be. The ‘Golden Island’ reigns as the queen of its own lagoon, sprinkled with 30 islands large and small and 3km of golden sandy Blue Flag beaches. Best of all, it’s a real place, with a historic centre that goes back to Roman times, a couple of canals to remind us that the Venetians once ruled here, and some fascinating monuments from the earliest Middle Ages.
Outdoor lovers will find plenty of interest in the mountains of Carnia © Mario Verin
FVG is home to three distinct mountain ranges. Italy shares the Julian Alps with Slovenia, stretching from Tarvisio in the far northeast (with the autostrada to Austria) all the way down to Cividale. To the west is the larger, more isolated Carnia, with its mountain villages and traditional lifestyles. For many this is the spiritual motherland of the Friulani. The Friulian Dolomites, in particular, are one of the most scenic and pristine patches of northern Italy. All the ranges offer year-round activities and stunning scenery.
Food and drink
The Castello di Buttrio estate has had an association with wine for centuries © zakaz86, Shutterstock
One of the delights of visiting any region in Italy is discovering new dishes, and FVG, with its smorgasbord of culture, combined with its mountains, fertile plains, orchards (notably cherry) and coast delivers the goods in spades. Polenta and dumplings are more important than pasta; cheese and butter have major roles and there’s a marked preference for combining sweet and savoury tastes inherited from Mitteleuropa.The food is delicious, and quite different from the rest of Italy, a mix of the best of three cultures, the mountains and the sea – the perfect match for the sublime white wines of the Collio and Colli Orientali.
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