The Venezia in the region's name has little to do with Venice. Yet Venice is an influencer; the mainland's most beautiful Venetian square just might be the Piazza della Libertà in Udine. Tourist favorites Lignano Sabbadoro and Grado bookend a very compelling lagoon. Fishermen's houses called casoni dot the little islands. Many of them have been turned into rural accommodations.
The region borders the Adriatic and the countries of Austria and Slovenia. To the north are the craggy Dolomite Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage site added in 2009. Some of Italy's best white wines come from the region.
Let's take a look at the map and the top cities. The stars indicate the provincial capitals.
The four cities marked by red stars are the provincial capitals: Pordenone, Udine, Gorizia, and Trieste. The region's capital is Trieste.
The region, with an area of 7,858 square kilometers, is Italy's fifth smallest.
Ancient and important: the Roman city of Aquileia was founded in 181 BC, and served then as capital of the region. It is a popular place for tourists to visit, an easy drive from Grado, once Aquileia's sea port. Aquileia's population rose to over 100,000 by the 2nd century AD, but now has fallen to around 3,000. The site has UNESCO World Heritage status. There are two museums and a very early Christian Basilica as well as scattered Roman excavations. To the north of the city is Monastero, which hosts the Museo Paleocristiano. To the south is the very fine Museo Archaeologico Nazionale.
Trieste is the capital of Friuli Venezia Giulia. It's a fascinatingly "different" seaport city on the Adriatic, at the "end of its Italian umbilical" as described by Jan Morris, author of Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere. It was the Austro-Hungarian Empires only port, and thus became quite the industrial and financial center. Today it's a city of ex-pats and writers rather than tourists. You'll find the tourist office at the edge of Piazza Unità d'Italia.
Associazione Italo Americana del Friuli Venezia Giulia is located in Piazza San Antonio, 6 and provides Italian language classes as well as film events.
The covered market, Mercato Coperto is on Via Giosuè Carducci 36. Food is on the ground floor, which also includes a bar. You'll find inedible stuff like clothing, antiques and books on the upper floor.
A 10km bus ride from Trieste is the tourist favorite Miramare Castle, a gleaming white aristocratic residence immersed in a botanical garden with panoramic sea views. The 14th century Castello Di Duino is 12 km from Trieste. The Castello di San Giusto in Piazza della Cattedrale 3 was constructed on the ruins of the Roman town of Tergeste and now contains the Civic Museum. Strolling the ramparts gifts the walker with a panorama of the city of Trieste, its hills and the sea.
Like Venice's Piazza San Marco, the city's Piazza Dell'Unita d'Ialia is open to the sea. Always changing, it now consists of architecture from the late 19 through early 20 century, as well as many sidewalk cafés. The balcony of the Palazzo Comunale is notable for its use by Mussolini in 1983 to declare laws depriving Italian Jews of most of their rights.
Eat! Up in the old city, Antipastoteca di Mare takes the less inexpensive fish and accompanies them with salad, polenta and the house wine for cheap. Try the fish soup. Meat lovers might try a "buffet" like Buffet da Pepi on Via Cassa di Risparmio 3, an Austro-Hungarian tradition, a hole in the wall that is dedicated to pork dishes with sauerkraut and a mug of beer.
Trieste as well as Pordenone are notable for their Christmas Markets.
Around the turn of the 20th century Austro-Hungarian aristocrats started building elegant mansions in Gorizia. Around the same time they developed the port of Grado as a spa resort. It's all so serene these days that it's hard to imagine that some of the most bitter battles of WWI took place here (you can check it out by visiting the Museo della Grade Guerra, the museum of the big war in Borgo Castello, 13, free on the first Sunday of the month).
Transalpina Square divides Gorizia and the town of Nova Gorica in Slovenia. You can walk across it without producing a passport.
The changing border has created a unique Friulian-Slovenian cuisine in Gorizia. Local fine wines are designated DOC Collio and DOC Isonzo. The very scenic wine road stretches from Gorizia to Dolegna.
Gorizia Castle is an Italian fort dating from 1146 that dominates the hill overlooking the city. Today the castle hosts the Museum of the Middle Ages of Gorizia. The castle is shown in the picture below.
The province of Udine is the largest in Friuli Venezia Giulia. The capital, Udine, offers the wanderer its Piazza Libertà, considered "the most beautiful Venetian square on the mainland". It's like an open-air lounge in some respects. For views, head up the hill to the castle. For wine, head to any of the many osterie serving the local vino by the goblet. You'll notice many folks sitting down for un taj di chel bon, a good glass of wine with friends.
Evidence of culture past and present isn't hidden in Udine. Here are a few museums and exhibits you can visit:
Of these, perhaps the last one on the list needs some explanation. L'Offensiva di Carta documents "The Great War: an illustrated journey through time, from the Luxardo Collection to modern-day comics".
Throughout the blood soaked, muddy war of 1914 -1918, a parallel war was being waged, a war of words and powerful images. This exhibition documents that war, drawing on the unique heritage of the Luxardo Collection, which owes its name to the doctor from San Daniele del Friuli who, in the immediate aftermath of the war, gathered over 5600 files of magazines and monographs from the period. ~ L'OFFENSIVA DI CARTA (The Paper Offensive)
Information on events and exhibitions going on can be found in the excellent website of the Civic Museum Udine.
San Daniele is known for a prosciutto, Prosciutto San Daniele and celebrates ham in a festival held on the last weekend in June. The town is not shy about telling you how to cook with their prosciutto, they run an online magazine in English with a heap of ideas and recipes.
San Daniele Lodging
This elegant town, set amidst gently rolling hills, is the birthplace of the best prosciutto in Italy, thus, best prosciutto on earth! Get there the last weekend in June for the Aria di Festa, when prosciutto is celebrated, with tours to meet culinary artisans, feasting, music, and activities for the kiddies. Highlights of the historical center are the awe-inspiring Renaissance chapel inside the Chiesa di San Antonio Abate, (aka The Sistine Chapel of Friuli), and the Cathedral of San Michele Arcangelo.
Grado is technically an island in a lagoon; the name derives from "gradus" meaning a port of call. It was once a sleepy fishing port featuring a small and interesting Venetian-style medieval center with many churches, a few of them palaeo-Christian with excellent mosaics. Today the little port city has blossomed into a prime beach destination in summer.
Restaurants and bars are numerous in Grado--and all we've tried have served excellent seafood. Boreto is the traditional seafood dish here, various fish served with polenta in a vinegar and garlic sauce.
Feeling a bit run down? You might visit the health spa called Grado Marine Spa which has been marinating folks in the healing waters since the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire.
An intersting boat trip takes you through the lagoon to the Barbana Sanctuary. The original church was erected in 582. During the season there's a restaurant as part of the complex. Buy your round-trip ticket from the kiosk in Grado where you'll see the ferry.
If you like to think of the evolution of time keeping devices or you're just into sundials and clocks, you will have to make a stop at Italy's "sundial city" of Aiello del Friuli near Palmanova on the map, north of Grado. A short drive away is the village of Pesariis, called Il paese degli Orologi, the town of clocks.
The airport shown on the map is Aeroporto FVG (Friuli Venezia Giulia) or Trieste Airport. In the past has been called Ronchi dei-Legionari. It is located 40 km from Trieste and Udine, 15 km from Gorizia, 50 km from Pordenone. The closest lodging to the airport is at Ronchi dei Legionari (3 km from the airport) or in Monfalcone (5 km from the airport).