This was the day Mike and I began our road trip through Friuli. We got an early start and managed to make it out of Udine, albeit getting a little lost trying to find the highway. Our final destination was Sauris, where we had reservations for the night, although I had planned for us to make several stops en route: Villa Manin, Spilimbergo, and San Daniele del Friuli.
Driving southwest, we took a slight detour through Codroipo and the nearby town of Passariano, where we had hoped to visit Friuli’s largest palazzo. Villa Manin was originally the summer residence of Ludovico Manin, the last doge of Venice, and during the 1797 signing of the Treaty of Campoformido, which ceded much of northern Italy to Austria, this palace was briefly home to Napoleon Bonaparte. Today, Villa Manin is currently used for rotating exhibitions of contemporary art.
When we arrived, I was immediately struck by the enormity of the palace’s courtyard and its semicircular colonnade, which was modeled after Rome’s Piazza San Pietro. The doors were wide open, so we wandered in, looking around for the biglietteria. Within moments, though, we were accosted by the staff and asked to leave. Apparently, the museum was closed for the installation of a new exhibit. This was disappointing, but I determined to return the following year.
Next, we headed north to the town of Spilimbergo, which lay on the other side of the Tagliamento River. We stayed only long enough to stroll through the cobblestone streets of the town center and find the Palazzo Ercole (also known as the Casa Dipinta), whose 16th-century frescoes illustrate the mythical life of Hercules. Once again, I resolved to return on my next visit, when I would have more time to explore.
As it was nearing lunchtime, we crossed back over the Tagliamento River and drove north to San Daniele del Friuli. After Mike succeeded in parallel parking our tiny Fiat in an especially tight spot on one of the town’s steep hills, we took a quick, self-guided tour of the Duomo di San Michele Arcangelo and the Chiesa di Sant’Antonio Abate. The latter, one of my personal favorites, is often called the “Sistine Chapel of Friuli” for its vividly colored fresco cycle by Renaissance artist Martino da Udine (a.k.a. Pellegrino da San Daniele).
Having read about the prevalence of trout in Friuli’s rivers, I was curious to sample the smoked trout made by Friultrota, a San Daniele company. We found a package of trota affumicata in a local gourmet food store and took it up the hill to the castello for a pre-lunch snack. In the shady grove outside Chiesa di San Daniele in Castello, we sat on a park bench overlooking the expansive countryside, its rolling hills mottled with shades of sepia, olive, and chestnut. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the trout had both the appearance and flavor of smoked salmon. (Later, I concluded that it was trota salmonata, which has the same rosy flesh as salmon.)
For lunch, we ate at Antica Osteria Al Ponte. Since it seemed negligent to order any other antipasto while in San Daniele, we started with a huge platter of prosciutto di San Daniele. Next, I had spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and mozzarella, while Mike had tagliatelle al prosciutto in cream sauce. For dessert, we shared the tortino di pere—a warm cornmeal cake baked with chunks of pear and drizzled with caramel sauce, the plate sprinkled with powdered sugar and cocoa in a template that read “Al Ponte.”
From San Daniele, we headed further north into Carnia. The drive to Sauris—which took another hour and a half—turned out to be one of the most hair-raising of my life. While Mike found the ride somewhat of a thrill, I was terrified by the constant blind hairpin turns, which were far too narrow for the breadth of two cars. It appeared to me that no one else seemed to mind, as all the other cars kept racing around the bend toward us at breakneck speed. I did, however, enjoy the long, dark tunnel carved into the mountainside (which we jokingly referred to as the “bat cave”).
Once we arrived, I could finally breathe a little easier. Our hotel was located in the hamlet of Lateis—on an entirely separate hill from Sauris proper. With a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains, Hotel Pa’Khraizar was without a doubt the quaintest hotel I had ever stayed in. The small room was made entirely of pine—walls, floor, ceiling, door, and furniture—with fluffy pillows gracing the tall bed, which sagged dreadfully in the middle. Though minimally decorated, the tiled bathroom was surprisingly spacious given the diminutive size of the room. Through a pair of small picture windows, we could see out over the verdant hills, strewn with yellow and purple wildflowers, although the view was gradually becoming obscured by a bank of wispy fog rolling in through the valley below.
After settling in, we drove down the hill and took a walk along the turquoise Lago di Sauris before driving up to the towns of Sauris di Sotto and Sauris di Sopra. In the upper town, we parked the car and ventured out into a grassy field, the skyline dominated by a not-so-distant ridge of snow-capped peaks. There, in the middle of the meadow, I had a moment straight out of “The Sound of Music,” arms wide open and twirling with joy like Julie Andrews.
By the time we returned to Hotel Pa’Khraizar, it had started to rain. We took a cozy late afternoon nap and then went downstairs for dinner. We began our meal with a platter of prosciutto di Sauris, which had a subtle smokiness in comparison to the prosciutto we had tasted earlier in San Daniele. Next, I ordered the cjalsòns, which were filled with herbs and raisins, while Mike had more tagliatelle, this time prepared with sausage and leeks. To finish, I had the goulasch con polenta (still no tomatoes—I was beginning to wonder if they were ever used in the dish after all), and Mike had cold, sliced roast beef served with mushrooms and arugula. Our meal was, of course, accompanied by a generous quantity of house red wine!