FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA
EXPLORE ITALY WITH THIS MAP
It’s where the Latin world meets the Slavic world: the northeastern most border of Italy, where it meets Slovenia and Austria. The Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region offers an incredible panorama of culture and landscapes. The variety of geographic formations, such as the mountains, hills, and coastline, together with its cities famed for their art, are all a reflection of the area’s cultural complexity. The diversified culture is a result of the influence from the surrounding countries, as well as the historical events in Europe that caused borders to be redrawn more than a few times. All of these contribute to a strong cultural identity that draws from both the Italian and middle-European character.
This enchanting area of the world is a largely undefiled display of nature, rich history, cultural diversity, cuisine and traditions. It’s bound to provide you with an unforgettable experience of both heart and mind.
Alps, the Alpine Lakes, Carso and the Coasts
The region is divided into two areas, both historically and geographically: Friuli and Venezia-Giulia, both of which offer a wide array of natural scenery.
In the northwestern area of Friuli are the Carnic Alps, which reach heights of up to 2,780 meters (over 9,000 feet) at Mount Coglians. The area – still in its original, wild state – offers plenty of options for excursions, thanks to an extensive and expansive network of trails. These trails are dotted with huts and lodges, places where one can spend the night or maybe get something to eat. The Tagliamento River, “King of the Alpine Rivers,” divides this area from the Carnic Prealps, which is where the fascinating Dolomites National Park is found. The river divides the area, both historically and geographically, from the Carnia area. Carnia is a paradise of mountains, water, woodlands, and valleys.
To the east, past the Canal di Ferro Valley, loom the Julian Alps, whose alpine lakes and whose age-old forests present fairy tale views in the summer, and an assortment of skiing options in the winter. Moving slightly to the south, we find the Julian Prealps and the natural park by the same name. It’s known for its interesting geology, environment, and landscapes. One particular feature is the Altopiano Carsico (Carso Plateau), which is shared with Slovenia and Croatia, and which stretches all the way to Venezia-Giulia. This plateau is replete with breathtaking caves that are open to the public.
Even the coastline of the region varies between the two areas. The sandy Friuli coastline is home to Grado and Lignano Sabbiadoro, well-known tourist sites. The rocky Venezia-Giulia coastline spans the Golfo di Trieste, where one can find the Barcola Promenade with its bathing areas that are a regular destination for people from Trieste. The name of this locale is the origin of the storied Barcolana; it’s the largest, international sailboat race in the world. It’s held every autumn, and in 2018, it was officially entered into the Guiness Book of World Records.
The Roman Cividale del Friuli and Aquileia
The name, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, is rooted in Latin tradition. Friuli comes from Forum Iulii, which is the city of Cividale del Friuli today. This city was founded by Julius Caesar in the middle of the first century CE, and abounds in monuments and other testaments to history. In medieval times, it became the capital of the Augustine region known as Venetia et Histria, after the destruction of the even older Roman colony of Aquileia. However, the name Venezia-Giulia was proposed by a linguist as a reminder of both Venetia et Histria and Alpi Iuliae.
The Medieval Udine, Pordenone, Venzone and the Renaissance Palmanova
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the region fell into the hands of the Ostrogoths, the Byzantines, and the Lombards, and later came under control of the Francs, who incorporated it into the Regnum Italie (Kingdom of Italy). At the beginning of the medieval period, Friuli was regularly invaded by Nordic peoples. But during the time of the Holy Roman Empire, it was able to achieve significant autonomy by establishing itself at the Homeland of the Friuli. This capital was founded in the city of Udine, whose imposing castle can still be admired today. On the other hand, Pordenone fell into the hands of the Dukes of Austria. In the mid-1400s, the effects of civil wars saw Friuli come under control of the The Most Serene Republic of Venice. During this period, the Palmanova was built – a fortified city with a characteristic polygonal shape with nine points. Venzone is another medieval city in the area; it was voted one the Most Beautiful Towns in Italy, and has been the location of many international films.
After the decline of the Venetian Republic and the collapse of the Napoleonic Empire, Friuli became part of the Lombard-Veneto Kingdom, while Trieste fell back under Austrian control and became it’s only port town. Around this same time, Trieste’s city center and the palaces being built around the Piazza Unità d’Italia began to take on a grandiose architectural style, worthy of Europe’s largest seaside plaza. A perfect example of this is the Castello Miramare, built in the mid-1800s at the behest of Archduke Maximilian, and home of the Hapsburg Court.
The next events in the history of the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region hold painful reminders of an international conflict. Some reminders of the Nazi-Fascist powers include the Risiera di San Sabba (a concentration camp), the Sacrario Militare di Redipuglia (a war memorial), and the Foibe di Basovizza (a sinkhole used for mass burial). Ultimately, in 1963, the autonomous region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia was formed into the area we recognize today.
Cured meats: Prosciutto e salame
The richness and diversity of both the geography and the culture of this are unmistakably reflected in its cuisine. Friuli’s Prosciutto di San Daniele has the honor of being the crown jewel of the region’s foods. This type of ham, produced in the Udine province, is cured by the winds that blow down from the Carnic Alps and from the Adriatic Sea. Its unique flavor comes from an artisanal process that’s been passed down for centuries, originating sometime between the 8th and 9th centuries BCE.
The Prosciutto di Sauris is another noteworthy cured meat from Friuli. It’s produced in a village by the same name and is noted for a light smokiness that comes from smoke produced exclusively by burning beech wood. We highly recommend a gastronomical experience that includes a day in an osmiza, where you can sample Salame Friulano as well as prosciutto caldo in crosta di pane (ham baked into bread), and kren (grated horseradish), all paired with a house wine.
Some of the country’s best cheeses come from the green pasturelands of the Alps. A prime example is Montasio DOP, which is made from the milk of three types of cows: Friesian, Braunbieh, and Pezzata Rossa. Asìno is another type of cheese from the area that is known for its distinctive flavor; it’s probably the oldest type of Friulian cheese. Its refining process requires from two to six months of curing in a brine that doesn’t get renewed. The ingredients – cream, milk, and salt – vary in proportions with every producer, based on their own secret recipe. Another type of cheese, known for its intense flavor, is Jamar. It is cured in the caves of Carso Triestino, 70-80 meters (230-260 feet) deep, where it can remain at constant temperature and humidity for at least four months.
The traditional cuisine of the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region leans heavily on different types of soups, showing a close connection to middle-European cultures. Among the most traditional and the most famous is jota, which is made with sauerkraut, beans, potatoes, and sausage. Another type of soup, typically eaten during the August holidays, is called minestra de bobici. It’s made from corn, beans, and bacon.
Polenta and gnocchi
Due to the extensive cultivation of corn in the Friuli area, polenta is one of the most traditional of the region’s dishes. It’s common in all of northern Italy, but in Friuli they prepare it with cheese to make frico. Last but not least, one of the tastiest – and simplest – main dishes is gnocchi di pane, topped with a ragù sauce or with speck (a type of cured ham).
The Slavic influence in the area brings with it a delicious dish called cevapcici. It’s a heavily seasoned blend of minced meats (a bit spicy), which are formed into a cylindrical shape, then grilled. They’re served with ajvar, a sauce made of bell peppers which is common throughout the Balkans. It’s often served with tecia potatoes. A common side dish from Trieste is porzina con capuzi – a type of pork salami that’s boiled and served with sauerkraut, mustard, and horseradish.
There’s also a wide variety of choices when it comes to traditional desserts. It ranges from the super famous tiramisù alla putizza, to the super sweet fritole.
Friuli’s wonderful traditional dishes are often accompanied by wine; their vineyards have been an important part of the region’s agriculture ever since Roman times. It’s not hard to imagine how much those emperors appreciated those prized nectars; they even considered them to be an elixir of youth.
Today, the region has over 59,000 acres of vineyards producing the finest of wines. It’s made possible through modern production techniques, through the Friulians’ centuries of wine-making experience, and also because of its perfect geography and climate – all conditions that highly favor grape cultivation. What’s more, the proximity to Slovenia and Austria has allowed for an interesting blending and exchange of agricultural products. This has contributed to an ever-growing popularity of the wines from Friuli-Venezia-Giulia on the international market.
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