It was merely by chance that my first three trips to Friuli took place in February, and so my initial impressions of the region remained a bit clouded by the cold, gray, dreary weather. Yet I remember being thrilled by the view from my hotel window of majestic, snow-capped peaks in the distance. Years later, having visited Friuli during each of the four seasons, I am still the most enthralled with its landscape—from wildflower-strewn fields to rolling hills blanketed with vineyards to steep cliffs that plunge dramatically into the sea.
My first trip, however, was brief, and I only had a couple of days to explore. In Udine, I simply wandered through the old streets of the city center, ducking into churches whenever possible to get momentarily out of the cold. I had not yet studied any history of the region, but the Venetian influence in the central Piazza della Libertà was obvious. The blue- and gold-faced clock tower bore a resemblance to the one in Venice’s Piazza San Marco; the pink- and white- striped Loggia del Lionello was a small-scale version of Venice’s Palazzo Ducale; and I spotted three winged lions of St. Mark guarding over the piazza.
Passing under Palladio’s Arco Bollani, I hiked up the winding cobblestone path to castello hill. In addition to the massive castle (which houses a complex of several civic museums) and the tiny Chiesa di Santa Maria in Castello (Udine’s oldest), the hill offered sweeping views of Udine and those snowy mountains to the north.
When I awoke on my final morning in Udine, it was pouring rain. I lay under the warm covers contemplating the luxury of staying in bed all day. But then I remembered Steno advising me to visit Trieste, the capital of the region. I doubted that I would ever return to this far corner of Italy, so I dragged myself out of bed and scrambled to catch the next train.
Despite the incessant rain, I gave myself a cursory walking tour of the city. I strolled past the Canal Grande and the Serbian Orthodox church of San Spiridione, then through the expansive Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia lined by stately government buildings and facing the stormy Adriatic Sea. From there I climbed the steep hill to the Cattedrale di San Giusto and Castello di San Giusto, where I rambled around the castle’s ramparts for a bird’s eye view of the city.
Back down the hill, I decided to catch the bus to Castello di Miramare. I hadn’t yet had any lunch, so I grabbed a quick sandwich to eat on the way. What a relief to sit down, dry off, and tuck into the warm rosemary focaccia crisped on the griddle, with perfectly melted mozzarella, salty prosciutto, and fresh tomato inside.
The bus hugged the coastline for the 20-minute ride. I got off at Grignano, a charming harbor just below the Castello di Miramare, which perches on a promontory overlooking the sea. Since it was still raining, I didn’t get to wander through the park’s fifty-four acres of manicured gardens, but I truly enjoyed touring the castle’s lavish apartments. I was particularly entranced by the views of dark, churning waves out the ornately draped windows and momentarily lost myself in the fantasy of 19th-century life.
Soon, I was back in San Francisco, but those initial memories chose to linger. I had not planned on ever returning to Friuli, but year after year, something kept drawing me back.