There was a chill in the air as I left Hotel Principe the next morning and crossed the street once again to the train station. Fortunately, this time, there were no strikes, and I was able to take the train to Cividale del Friuli. Located about ten miles northeast of Udine, Cividale is a delightful town straddling the banks of the Natisone River.
The train ride was only about 20 minutes, and so I arrived in Cividale by 9:00am. The town center was just a short walk from the train station, and I headed first to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Cividale was founded by Julius Caesar in 50 BC and was one of the region’s principal towns during several centuries of Roman rule. During the 6th century AD, the town was occupied by the Lombards, who had arrived from across central Europe on a fierce conquering spree. The museum contains relics from both Roman and Lombard civilizations, including a coin collection, eating utensils, swords and other weaponry, ivory ornaments, gold brooches, jeweled necklaces, and most famously, the sarcophagus of Cividale’s first duke, Gisulfo.
Next I visited the 8th-century Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta. This stark church houses the Museo Cristiano, whose most notable treasures are the altar of the Lombard duke Ratchis and the octagonal baptistery built for Patriarch Callisto.
My next destination was the Ipogeo Celtico, an underground series of caves that may once have been used for burial purposes. My guidebook had instructed to request the key at the nearby Bar All’Ipogeo. The key would then unlock an unmarked door around the corner. It was pitch black inside, and the light switch was not working. I returned to the bar for help, and the owner came with me to flip the breaker switch back on. The lights came on to reveal a set of steep stairs leading down into a dark cavern. As I descended, the sound of dripping water echoed against the rough, stone walls.
Back above ground, I took some time to wander through Cividale’s narrow cobblestone streets before proceeding to the next sights on my agenda. The sky was gray and cloudy, and the smell of burning wood hung in the air. Following the street signs (which were written in both Italian and Furlan, Friuli’s native language), I made my way along ancient winding alleys until I reached the Tempietto Longobardo. Perched on a cliff above the emerald green Natisone River, this temple is Cividale’s most significant Lombard monument. Inside the tiny church were faded frescoes, intricately carved wooden choir stalls, and six female saints in high relief poised above a grapevine-motif arch.
From the Tempietto, I walked to the Ponte del Diavolo. This “Devil’s Bridge” was named after a popular legend in which the townspeople of Cividale made a pact with the Devil. The Devil agreed to build the bridge overnight in exchange for the first soul to cross it. The next day, however, the townspeople outwitted the Devil by sending across a cat instead of a human.
The narrow bridge allowed only one lane of traffic, and pedestrians had to squeeze through on the side. To the immediate left after crossing the bridge was the Belvedere Panoramico with scenic views of the town’s church towers across the river. A set of dilapidated, mossy steps led down to a sandy bank along the water.
I accomplished all this in 3-1/2 hours, and it was time for lunch. I crossed back over the bridge and found myself at Osteria Alla Terrazza. With my glass of Tocai wine, the waitress served a complimentary slice of bruschetta topped with prosciutto and gorgonzola. I ordered the cjarsons alle erbe, tiny pasta half-moons that were filled with aromatic herbs, biscotti, apples, cinnamon, and cherry preserves, and then topped with melted butter, fresh sage, and smoked ricotta cheese. A ring of prosciutto encircled the plate as garnish. For dessert, I enjoyed a plate of struki (rectangular, bite-size turnovers filled with dried fruit and nuts) accompanied by a glass of honey-colored Picolit, the region’s widely acclaimed—though unfortunately low-yielding—dessert wine.
On my way back to the train station, I stopped at a bakery to buy a gubana, Friuli’s signature pastry. There are two types of gubana, and this one was the yeast dough variety, filled with dried fruit, nuts, and spices—it would make a nice treat back in my hotel room! Here is my version of the recipe:
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup grappa or rum
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds
3/4 cup finely crushed biscotti or amaretti cookies
1/2 cup diced candied orange peel
1/4 cup pine nuts
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1. Place the raisins in a large bowl; add the grappa and let soak for 30 minutes.
2. Finely grind the walnuts and almonds in a food processor; add to the bowl of raisins. Stir in the crushed biscotti, candied orange peel, pine nuts, melted butter, sugar, cinnamon, and egg.
3-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast, divided
1/3 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup warm water (100° to 110°F), divided
2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced and softened
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• • •
1 teaspoon sugar
1. In a small bowl, dissolve 2 teaspoons yeast and a pinch of sugar in 1/4 cup warm water. Let rest until foamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup flour. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.
2. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Stir in 1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, the egg, and egg yolk. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.
3. In a small bowl, dissolve the remaining 1-1/2 teaspoons yeast and a pinch of sugar in the remaining 1/4 cup warm water. Let rest until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add to the bowl of risen dough, along with the remaining flour and sugar, butter, salt, and vanilla extract; mix well. Using a mixer with a dough hook attachment, knead for 10 minutes. (It may be necessary to occasionally scrape the ball of dough off the hook.) Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface; knead briefly by hand. (The dough should be smooth and elastic.) Form the dough into a ball; cover loosely with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise for 1-1/2 hours.
4. Preheat oven to 350°F, placing a pan filled with water on the bottom rack to create steam. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a 14- by 20-inch rectangle. Spread the filling over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border on all but one short side. (The filling will be sparse in places; just cover the dough as evenly as possible.) Starting with one long side, roll up jelly roll style. Place the roll seam-side down on a sheet of parchment paper. Beginning with the end that has the filling spread to the edge, form the roll into a spiral. Transfer the spiral, along with the parchment paper, to a baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise for 30 minutes.
5. Sprinkle the top of the spiral with 1 teaspoon sugar. Bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes.