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Posts Tagged ‘autumn’

1. View the Barcolana sailing regatta

Founded in 1969, the Barcolana sailing regatta takes place in the Gulf of Trieste on the second Sunday in October, beginning near Castello di Miramare and finishing in the waters just off Piazza Unità d’Italia. It is the biggest event of its kind in the Mediterranean and one of the busiest in the world, with over 2,000 yachts taking part in the race. Sailing near Trieste can be especially challenging this time of year, as the strong bora winds can sometimes reach gusts of 100 mph.

The event is typically viewed by several hundred thousand spectators, many of whom watch from Via Napoleonica (a.k.a. Strada Vicentina). Leading from the Opicina obelisk to the town of Prosecco, the shady trail offers sweeping views of the Gulf of Trieste, particularly from the Prosecco side, where the dirt footpath and trees give way to a paved road, flanked by the sea on one side and a massive cliff rising dramatically skyward on the other.

2. Go hiking amidst the brilliant fall foliage of the Val Rosandra

High above Trieste’s coastline is a narrow ribbon of jagged rocks eroded by rain and wind, plunging fearlessly into the sea. Known as the Carso (Italian for “karst”), this landscape of limestone and dolomite conceals an underground world of vast caverns and grottoes, carved by the waters of the Timavo River, which runs below ground for much of its course from Slovenia to the Adriatic Sea.

Above ground on the plateau lie acres of evergreen forests and flower-strewn ravines. The land is peppered with large sinkholes, called “doline,” that have been caused by collapsed cave vaults. Here, the warm sea breeze meets the chilling, northeasterly bora wind, producing a convergence of Mediterranean and Alpine climates. Oak and spruce mingle with citrus and olive trees, while the landscape is blanketed with vineyards. Only one body of water flows above the plateau—the Rosandra Stream. Slicing through the deep gorge of the Val Rosandra near the Carso’s eastern border, these waters once supplied the ancient Roman colony of Tergeste (now Trieste) via a seven-mile-long aqueduct.

The Riserva Naturale della Val Rosandra is an 1800-acre nature reserve located just southeast of Trieste. The park’s hiking paths offer visitors frequent breathtaking vistas, including a 118-foot waterfall, the ruins of the Roman aqueduct, and a stunning panorama of the Gulf of Trieste in the distance. 

3. Explore the nearby Grotta Gigante, the world’s largest tourist cave

Photo credit: Società Alpina delle Giulie

Spacious enough to accommodate Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Grotta Gigante is the largest tourist-accessible cave in the world. In fact, it has made “The Guinness Book of World Records” with its vast dimensions: 351 feet high, 213 feet wide, and 918 feet long. The cavern is located in the Carso, the rocky plateau that separates Trieste’s coastline from neighboring Slovenia, an area rich with caves and underground rivers.

Upon entering the Grotta Gigante, a narrow tunnel opens into the enormous cavern. Five hundred steps descend past walls covered with curtains of stalactites in shades of white, orange, and brown. The cave’s stalagmites are tall and slender with flat tops, the calcite concretions resembling stacks of dishes due to the height from which the water drips. Ruggero Column is the cave’s tallest at 39 feet. Other formations have been given names such as the Gnome, the Pulpit, the Mushroom, the Palm, and the Nymphs’ Palace.

4. Go wine tasting at an osmiza, the Carso’s version of a pop-up tavern

Autumn is grape harvesting season, and what better way to celebrate than by sampling some of Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s renowned wines? Throughout the region, farmhouses periodically open their doors to the public, serving homemade wine and other artisanal products. These temporary roadside taverns are called “frasche” in the greater part of Friuli (to indicate that they are open, a leafy cluster of branches, called “frasca” in Italian, is hung above the door) and “osmize” in the area around Trieste (from “osem,” the Slovene word for eight; when the tradition began, they were only allowed to open eight days each year).

I visited one osmiza called Azienda Agricola Škerk in the town of Prepotto. Inside the courtyard, guests gathered at long, wooden tables to sample the local vintages and feast on homemade cheese and salumi. I tasted the white wines Vitovska and Malvasia and the red Terrano. Because osmize and frasche operate on such an irregular schedule, check local newspapers or websites such as osmize.com for listings of osmize that are open each week.

5. Go for more wine tasting at Enoteca di Cormòns, Friuli’s most famous wine bar

The heart of Friuli’s wine country would have to be the Collio zone. The word “colli,” meaning “hills” in Italian, epitomizes this landscape where the grapes enjoy more sun exposure than in the low-lying plains. Many experts regard the wines from this area to be some of Italy’s best. The Collio lies along the Slovenian border and is primarily famous for its white wines, in particular Friulano (formerly known as Tocai Friulano) and the blend known as Vino della Pace, or “Wine of Peace.” The town of Cormòns is home to one of Friuli’s most noted wine bars, the Enoteca di Cormòns. Also the seat of the Collio’s wine-producing consortium, this bar makes a great place to taste regional wines, cheeses, and salumi, including the locally smoked prosciutto D’Osvaldo.

6. Order the autumn tasting-menu at La Subida in Cormòns

In the heart of the Collio wine zone, surrounded by rolling hills and lush vineyards, is the Michelin-starred Trattoria Al Cacciatore de La Subida (known to locals simply as La Subida). Inspired by the nearby border where Friulian and Slovenian cultures merge, owners Joško and Loredana Sirk serve a variety of traditional dishes, including Friulian frico (crispy fried cheese) and Triestine jota (bean and sauerkraut soup), as well as the Slovenian pastas mlinci and zlikrofi.

The best way to experience this slice of culture is with La Subida’s multi-course tasting menu, which rotates seasonally. In autumn, dishes may include gnocchi di zucca (pumpkin gnocchi) and stewed venison. A fixture on the restaurant’s à la carte menu is what may perhaps be considered their signature dish: stinco di vitello, a melt-in-your-mouth-tender roast veal shank that Joško will carve for you tableside. While their food remains authentic, each dish is refined to an exquisite level through added touches such as fried sage leaves, elderberry flower syrup, and herb-infused sorbets.

7. Attend the Festa della Zucca in Venzone

Every October, the Festa della Zucca takes place in Venzone, a tiny, medieval-walled town in northeastern Italy. Although pumpkins may be the most familiar squash, gourds of all shapes, colors, and sizes are featured in this festival of food, art, music, and dancing. Each year, a contest awards prizes for the largest, heaviest, longest, most beautiful, and most unusual squash. In addition, children participate in a pumpkin-carving contest, while chefs demonstrate their skill in carving intricate floral designs.

The Festa della Zucca not only celebrates the pumpkin, but also transports Venzone back in time. Public squares are illuminated by torches, townspeople dress in medieval costume, and jugglers and fire-eaters perform in the streets. Delegations from Austria, Germany, and Slovenia are presented, and following an ancient Austrian ceremony, the people elect an honorary “Archduke of Pumpkins.” Most importantly, the town’s taverns and restaurants celebrate the squash with special tasting-menus that include dishes such as butternut squash gnocchi, fried cheese and squash pancake, and a wide assortment of pumpkin breads, cakes, and tarts.

8. While in Venzone, visit the mummy exhibit

At the foot of the Carnian Alps lies the medieval-walled town of Venzone. In Roman times, Venzone was an important post along the ancient Via Giulia Augusta, the last bit of civilization before entering the rough territory of Carnia. Although the town was partially rebuilt following the 1976 earthquakes that devastated its Duomo, Venzone retains much of its medieval character. Stark, gray stone buildings and cobbled streets blend with the surrounding rugged mountains to give the town an otherworldly sort of charm.

Across from the pointed campanile of Venzone’s Duomo sits the 13th-century Cappella Cimiteriale di San Michele. This tiny, round crypt houses the result of a peculiar natural phenomenon—corpses mummified by a rare parasitic mold that covered the bodies and blocked decomposition. While the exact age of the mummies has not been determined, the oldest—named Gobbo, meaning “hunchback”—was discovered in 1647 during construction work on the Duomo. Twenty-one mummies were originally uncovered, although only fifteen were salvaged intact from the ruins of the 1976 earthquakes. Five are currently on display, including Gobbo, a mother and daughter, and two noblemen.

9. Tour Castello di Miramare and other historic castles

During the first weekend in October, castles throughout Friuli-Venezia Giulia open their doors to the public. The Conzorzio Castelli, a consortium dedicated to the protection of the region’s historic castles and fortifications, sponsors an event known as Castelli Aperti, where both public and privately-owned castles offer guided tours for visitors. While it would be impractical to visit every single one, there are several standouts that are not to be missed.

Perhaps the most magnificent of Friuli’s castles is Castello di Miramare, situated on a promontory just north of Trieste. The former home of Archduke Maximilian, brother of the Hapsburg emperor Franz Joseph, this starkly whitewashed castle is surrounded by 54 acres of splendidly manicured gardens. Other notable castles in the region include Castello di Duino, also perched on a cliff overlooking the sea, and Castello di Gorizia, an imposing medieval fortress that towers over the eponymous city.

10. Treat yourself to fave dei morti cookies at one of Trieste’s many bakeries

From mid-October through mid-November, bakery shelves throughout Trieste fill with the colorful fave dei morti cookies. Translated literally as “beans of the dead,” fave dei morti are typically prepared to celebrate the Festa degli Ognissanti (All Saints’ Day). While variations of these tiny almond cookies are found in regions throughout Italy, they are especially popular here, where the traditional colors are pink, white, and brown.

One of the city’s oldest bakeries is Pasticceria Penso, founded a century ago by Trieste native Narciso Penso. After his death, the bakery was bought by one of his young employees, Italo Stoppar. Today, it remains a family-run business, with Italo passing on the trade to his two sons, Lorenzo and Antonello. During one of my visits, I was fortunate enough to get to watch the Stoppars prepare a batch of fave dei morti. The brown cookies are, as one might guess, prepared with chocolate and rum, while the pink ones are flavored with rose water and the white ones with Maraschino liqueur.

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