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Posts Tagged ‘Friuli Venezia Giulia’

Albergo Ristorante SalonIn the hilltop hamlet of Piano d’Arta, on a serene lane lined with shady trees and wisteria blossoms, Albergo Ristorante Salon was long recognized for its innovative local cuisine. When Arta Terme’s thermal baths first opened in the late 19th century, the sudden influx of visitors spawned a proliferation of new restaurants and hotels in the valley. Salon was one of the originals, opened by Osvaldo Salon in 1910—first as an osteria and then expanding a few years later into a small pensione.

It was when Osvaldo passed the business down to his son Bepi, a budding mycologist, that the restaurant saw a significant transformation. In a tourist market where hotel menus typically featured “national” dishes such as spaghetti al ragù, lasagne, and tortellini in brodo, Bepi Salon pioneered the use of local ingredients and regional specialties. With his wife, Fides, commanding the kitchen, the pair introduced guests to such Carnian peasant fare as polenta, frittata, and goulasch.

Through the decades, nearly every ingredient was raised, cultivated, or hand-picked by the Salon family, or at least procured from a local source. From the garden were fresh greens and vegetables; chickens, ducks, and guinea hens were raised in backyard pens; wild game was obtained from local hunters; and trout, fresh from the valley’s river and streams, was purchased weekly and kept live in tanks until ready to cook.

It was Carnia’s abundance of wild edibles, though, that contributed most to the restaurant’s fame. With the sprightly nature of a sbilf, Bepi Salon would rise at the crack of dawn for his daily trek through Carnia’s forests and meadows, returning just hours later bearing baskets of freshly picked mushrooms, herbs, and berries. Signora Fides, drawing inspiration from her mother’s family recipes, would then prepare such creations as mushroom soufflé, risotto with seasonal greens, and crêpes with mushrooms and truffles. Daughter and pastry chef Antonella had a particular flair for incorporating wild strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and currants into her desserts.

Fides and Bepi Salon

Fides and Bepi Salon (photo from Il Mondo di Bepi Salon)

Sadly, Bepi died in 2010, and Fides passed away just three years later. Their daughter Antonella continued running the restaurant for four more years, until its closure in 2017. I feel fortunate not only to have eaten at Salon many times while researching Flavors of Friuli, but also to have had the pleasure of meeting Bepi during my last visit to Arta Terme in 2005.

My first visit was in 2004, when I spent the weekend in Arta Terme for the Festa dell’Asparago di Bosco, del Radicchio di Montagna, e dei Funghi di Primavera. Salon was one of a handful of restaurants offering a special tasting-menu during the festival. There, I enjoyed a seven-course feast of small plates: delicately fried frittelle di erbe (herb fritters), marinated trout with wild fennel and greens, dandelion soup with tiny Montasio cheese puffs, orzotto (barley cooked risotto-style) with morel mushrooms, lasagne with hop shoots and wild asparagus, pheasant breast with marjoram and roasted potatoes, and a wild strawberry spumone for dessert.

cjarsons

My rendition of Salon’s cjarsòns, as published in Flavors in Friuli

A week or so later, after my husband had joined me for a portion of my trip, we spent one night at Albergo Ristorante Salon. That evening at dinner I was thrilled to finally try their cjarsòns, a type of filled pasta native to Carnia. Filled with a sublime combination of apple, pear, and herbs, and tossed with butter, sugar, cinnamon, and ricotta affumicata, they were the perfect balance of sweet, savory, salty, and smoky. After sampling nearly twenty versions of cjarsòns over the years, I can say without a doubt that those at Salon were my absolute favorite.

The following summer, I spent three weeks exploring the villages of Carnia and made Piano d’Arta my home base for a good portion of that time. During my stay, I was fortunate to meet both Bepi and Fides. On one particular evening Bepi sat with me for quite some time, answering questions about his restaurant, his life, and his passion for Carnian cuisine. When I began raving about how amazing their cjarsòns were, he excused himself and returned promptly with a copy of the recipe for me to keep!

Il mondo di Bepi SalonDuring our chat, he mentioned that a book was being published about his restaurant. When I returned to the region later that fall, I searched bookstores everywhere I went, all to no avail. Back at home, I sent several emails inquiring as to where I could purchase the book—to the town’s tourist office, to the publisher, and to the restaurant itself. Months went by with no replies, then out of the blue I received a package in the mail from the tourist office: it was a complimentary copy of the book, Il mondo di Bepi Salon by Sonia Comin and Bepi Pucciarelli. To my further surprise, several months later, I received another package, this time from the publisher, containing two complimentary books: Il mondo di Bepi Salon as well as a coffee-table book I’d been looking for, which I’ll review in my next post.

The book comprises three main sections. The first, titled “Bepi Salon: la sua storia, le sue stagioni,” comprises a brief biography of Bepi and his family, the history and cuisine of the hotel-restaurant, Bepi’s personal philosophy, and a description of his work from season to season. Readers can truly get a glimpse into the man behind the restaurant.

Next is a collection of recipes from Fides and Antonella, including the one for cjarsòns alle erbe that Bepi had given me. The common theme being wild herbs and mushrooms, other recipes include cestino di frico con funghi trifolati misti (fried cheese basket filled with polenta and sautéed mushrooms), risotto alle erbe di stagione (risotto with seasonal herbs and greens), and coscia d’agnello farcita agli asparagi di monte (leg of lamb stuffed with wild asparagus). Three pages are devoted to mushroom-centric dishes such as crostoni con patè di funghi (toasted bread with mushroom purée) and crocchette di funghi misti (mushroom and prosciutto croquettes). Antonella’s desserts include crostata ai frutti di bosco meringata (mixed berry tart with meringue) and bavarese alle fragola (Bavarian cream with strawberries).

The final section, titled “Erbe e funghi di Carnia” and spanning more than half the book, is an extensive list of wild herbs, fruits, and mushrooms that may be found in the surrounding forests and meadows. A full page is devoted to each species, with detailed information on its habitat, season, culinary and therapeutic uses, and more.

Since I have an extra copy of Il mondo di Bepi Salon, I’m holding a giveaway at the end of this month to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the publication of Flavors of Friuli. See my Facebook page for details.

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For my Recipe of the Month, I have chosen Cjalsòns della Valle del Bût (Pasta Filled with Fruit and Herbs), as part of my summer celebration of the 10-year anniversary of Flavors of Friuli. This recipe was adapted from one in the book Il mondo di Bepi Salon, which I’m giving away a copy of at the end of the month. (See my Facebook page for details.) For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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Note: Even though Italy has begun the process of reopening following the coronavirus shutdown, many events, including the festivals listed below, have been cancelled for 2020 as a precaution. Organizers are expecting to resume the events as scheduled in 2021.

1. Attend the Festa del Prosciutto in Sauris

oompah band in SaurisEvery July, visitors gather in the village of Sauris for the Festa del Prosciutto. Located in the remote mountains of Friuli–Venezia Giulia, Sauris consists of two towns: the upper Sauris di Sopra and the lower Sauris di Sotto. Home of the famed Wolf Sauris Prosciutto factory, Sauris di Sotto is naturally the center of the two-weekend-long festival.

Like all villages in the Carnian Alps, Sauris has retained a certain old-world charm, the prominent onion-domed steeple of Chiesa di Sant’Osvaldo towering over a cluster of gabled chalets and rustic farmhouses. Silent and sedate for much of the year, these streets come alive for the festival with rows upon rows of craft tables and food stands. In addition to the requisite prosciutto, visitors may sample tastes of cheese, sausage, frico (cheese and potato pancake), liqueurs made from wild berries, and desserts such as apple strudel and jam tarts. Then, after a long day of eating and shopping, beer-guzzling revelers may dance the night away to the tunes of a strolling oompah band.

2. Go cheese tasting at a malga in the Carnia mountains

Malga PozofEvery summer, throughout the rural hills of Friuli, cows are herded from dairy farms in the valleys to mountain huts called “malghe.” In mid-June, the parade of cattle up into the mountains is a celebrated event, as is the descent each September. All summer long, cows can graze in tranquil Alpine pastures, providing their milk twice a day for the making of “formaggio di malga.”

Malga Pozôf, also known as Casera Marmoreana, is located at the peak of Monte Zoncolan and can be reached by car from Ovaro or by ski lift from Ravascletto. On the day of my visit, the lift was closed for repair, so I geared myself up for a lengthy uphill trek. Beginning in the valley below Ravascletto, I hiked up the grassy, wildflower-strewn ski slope and through pine forests, ultimately emerging at the summit to find cows grazing alongside a dirt road. Following the path a short distance further, I finally reached the malga, whose casual eating area was already buzzing with visitors.

Settling in at a long, wooden picnic table, I treated myself to a plate of assorted cheeses and a slice of blackberry crostata. After my snack, I wandered freely around the property, peeking into the cheese-making rooms where wheels of aging formaggio were stacked to the ceiling. Then, following the aroma of smoke, I discovered the “fogolâr” (fireplace) room, where balls of ricotta rested above the hearth, on their way to becoming “ricotta affumicata” (smoked ricotta), one of Friuli’s most distinctive cheeses.

3. Visit another Carnian malga

Malga PramosioOne of many malghe to also serve as an agriturismo, offering both food and lodging, Malga Pramosio is located near the Austrian border not far from the Creta di Timau peak. While it is accessible by car from the hamlet of Laipacco, I chose instead to hike from the town of Timau, 2,300 feet up a steep mountain path through the beech forest called Bosco Bandito. At the summit, the woods gave way to a rolling, green meadow surrounded by towering granite peaks. Inside the red-roofed, stone malga, a fire roared, filling the entryway with thick smoke. I sat at one of the communal tables and ordered a plate of frico with polenta.

Following my meal, I tagged along with a few other guests for an informal tour of the malga’s cheese-making rooms. Ricotta—made from reheating whey and extracting the curds—was wrapped in cheesecloth and piled onto wooden planks; heavy iron weights sat on top to press out the excess liquid. In the next room, rounds of cheese were soaking in a vat of salted water to make formaggio salato (salted cheese), while many more wheels, in various stages of aging, were stacked high to the ceiling.

4. Attend the Sagra del Magaro festival in Ovaro

formaggio di malgaIn the shadow of Carnia’s Monte Zoncolan, the town of Ovaro hosts the Sagra del Magaro every July as part of the larger Mondo delle Malghe festival (with similar events being held in the towns of Sauris and Prato Carnico). Meaning “world of the malghe,” this summertime festival celebrates the small-scale dairy farms high up in the mountains of northern Italy where cattle spend their summer months. Cheese-tasting is naturally the highlight of the festival: a sampler plate may include formaggio di malga, formaggio salato (salted cheese), formaggio alle erbe (herbed cheese), ricotta (both fresh and smoked), and formadi frant (a golden hued cheese made from mixing cheeses of varying stages of maturation). Other vendors dish up plates of goulasch, sausages, gnocchi di zucca (butternut squash dumplings), frico (cheese and potato pancakes), and cjarsòns (pasta with a sweet-savory filling). In addition, malgari (herdsmen) demonstrate cheese production and take visitors on excursions to nearby malghe.

5. Attend the Festa dei Frutti di Bosco in Forni Avoltri

blueberry jellyrollYet another summertime festival is the Festa dei Frutti di Bosco. Held over two weekends in late July and early August in the village of Forni Avoltri, the festival celebrates the wild berries that are plentiful in the surrounding forested mountains. On the far side of town across the Degano River, carnival rides attract flocks of children and countless craft booths sell everything from jewelry to woodworking to dried flowers. Most enticing, though, is the festival’s elaborate spread of sweets. Food stands serve up crêpes, biscotti, and frittelle (fritters), with the biggest tent of all holding a vast display of berry-themed desserts. There are cakes and pies of all shapes and sizes, from jellyrolls to fruit-studded tarts, all featuring strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and currants. To cap off the festival, a parade takes visitors on a journey back to medieval times. Dressed in velvet gowns and brocade tunics and brandishing faux swords and shields, townspeople march through the streets accompanied by a band of drummers and minstrels.

6. Spend the day sunbathing at Lignano Sabbiadoro’s white-sand beach

Lignano Sabbiadoro beachSituated on a peninsula between the Marano Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea, Lignano Sabbiadoro is one of the most popular beach resorts in northern Italy. Approximately five miles long, the beach is serviced by more than forty bathing houses that rent umbrellas and lounge chairs to vacationing sunbathers. During the peak season of July and August, thousands of those colorful umbrellas dot the soft, golden sand, all lined up in flawless rows. The sapphire blue water is shallow and calm—ideal for swimmers—and the beach is awarded the Bandiera Blu each year for its cleanliness.

For those who prefer activity to languishing in the sun, water sports such as windsurfing and scuba diving are offered as well. With one of the largest marinas in Europe (having over 5,000 berths), Lignano makes an excellent base for sailing, while acres of public parks and pine forests provide shade for a leisurely stroll. In addition, there are golf courses, a zoo with 200 species of animals, a spa, and several water and amusement parks for children and grownups alike. Off the eastern end of the peninsula is the island of Martignano, also known as the “island of seashells.” Lignano Sabbiadoro may be reached by bus from Latisana or, in summertime, by boat from Marano Lagunare.

7. Immerse yourself in nature at one of Marano Lagunare’s protected reserves

Marano Lagunare Riserva NaturaleIn the northernmost lagoons of the Adriatic, marshy coastal wetlands surround the tiny fishing village of Marano Lagunare. Offshore, tiny, thatched fisherman’s huts called casoni are scattered among the reeds and islands. These wetlands are part of two protected nature reserves: Riserva Naturale Valle Canal Novo and Riserva Naturale Foci dello Stella. The latter encompasses over 3,000 acres of canals, mudflats, and sandbanks at the mouth of the Stella River. This area has earned international recognition as a habitat for numerous species of water birds and is accessible through guided boat tours. To the east, adjacent to Marano Lagunare, Valle Canal Novo is the site of a visitor center with plenty of educational and recreational activities. Here, visitors may stroll the long wooden footbridges through marshes and cane thickets, which are home to countless forms of native wildlife.

8. While in Marano Lagunare, enjoy a meal of local seafood at Trattoria Alla Laguna

Trattoria alla Laguna Vedova Raddi Marano LagunareIn the village of Marano Lagunare, houses of robin’s egg blue, salmon pink, and sunflower yellow line the narrow streets. Overlooking the harbor, the rust red Trattoria Alla Laguna (a.k.a. Vedova Raddi) has enjoyed a prime waterfront location since 1939. The owners, Mara and Decio Raddi, are the third generation in this family-run restaurant. Their signature dish, risotto alla Maranese, is prepared with calamari, scampi (langoustines), and local wedge shell clams called “telline.” All seafood is caught fresh daily, including local shellfish such as granseola (spiny spider crab), moleche (tiny soft shell crabs), and canoce (mantis shrimp).

9. Stroll the Rilke path from Duino to Sistiana

Rilke Path Duino“Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?” These were the words of inspiration that, like a voice from the wind, called out to poet Rainer Maria Rilke one stormy day while he was wandering along the sea cliffs near the Castello di Duino. A favorite guest of the Austrian princess Maria von Thurn und Taxis, Rilke often stayed at this castle a short distance northwest of Trieste. It was here that he penned the beginning to his famous “Duino Elegies.” Today, visitors can stroll the same route, called the Sentiero Rilke, or “Rilke Path,” which stretches just over a mile between the fishing village of Duino and the pretty yacht-filled harbor at Sistiana. The path begins at the 15th-century Castello di Duino, perched on a promontory overlooking the ruins of the medieval Castello Vecchio. It then follows the meandering coastline, where evergreen shrubs cling to the rock face and precipitous, white limestone cliffs plunge into the sea. At the end of the rocky trail is Sistiana, where white sailboats rest afloat in the sapphire blue bay. All along the Rilke Path, shady pine forests alternate with breathtaking views, each worthy of a poet’s inspiration.

10. Sample the world-famous prosciutto di San Daniele

Prosciutto di San Daniele at Prosciuttificio Il CamarinSan Daniele del Friuli hosts one of the biggest food festivals in the region, Aria di Festa, with tens of thousands of visitors flocking to the hill town every summer. This festival celebrates the town’s renowned prosciutto, the origin of which dates back to around 400 BC, when the Celts arrived in San Daniele, bringing with them their technique of salt-curing pork. With a lower salt content than many other Italian hams, prosciutto di San Daniele is often described as sweeter and more delicate in flavor. Perhaps this is due to the unique climate where salty Adriatic breezes intermingle with fresh Alpine air.

Of course, it is not necessary to brave the crowds at the festival to enjoy this world-renowned ham, as plates of prosciutto di San Daniele are served in restaurants throughout Friuli. Still, there is no better place to sample this savory treat than at its source. At local San Daniele restaurants such as Antica Osteria Al Ponte and Trattoria Da Catine, you can order not only a platter of prosciutto as an antipasto but also dishes featuring the cured ham, such as the ubiquitous tagliolini al prosciutto. To further your prosciutto experience, visit a prosciuttificio such as Il Camarin or Prosciuttificio Prolongo, where, in addition to prosciutto tastings, you may take a guided tour of their factories.

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breaded eggplant and zucchiniFor my Recipe of the Month, I have chosen Melanzane e Zuchete Apanade (Breaded Eggplant and Zucchini), a dish served in many of Trieste’s buffets. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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During the years I spent traveling in Friuli, doing research for my cookbook Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy, I purchased a number of cookbooks along the way. In this new column, I’m going to share with you my collection of books, starting with my favorite and one of the most exceptional: Via dei Sapori by Walter Filiputti.

I first encountered Via dei Sapori at dinner one summer evening at Ristorante Alla Pace in Sauris di Sotto. After telling the hostess Franca Schneider (who was also chef Andrea’s mother) about my cookbook project, she immediately brought me this gorgeous coffee-table book to peruse during my meal.

The book takes readers on a journey through Friuli-Venezia Giulia, stopping at 20 notable restaurants along the way. I’ve been to four of these featured restaurants: Alla Pace (Sauris), Al Lido (Muggia), All’Androna (Grado), and La Subida (Cormòns). I only wish I’d discovered this book sooner, so that I could have made a point of visiting more of them.

In addition to recounting the history and cuisine of each restaurant, Via dei Sapori provides recipes for some of their signature dishes. A number of these recipes were quite helpful in my process of recipe testing, particularly those for scampi alla busara (langoustines in tomato sauce), gnocchi di susine (plum-filled gnocchi), gnocchi croccanti di Sauris (crispy gnocchi stuffed with prosciutto), stinco di vitello (braised veal shank), patate in tecia (skillet potatoes), and boreto alla Gradese (fish steaks with vinegar).

Even more useful in my research was the book’s focus on the region’s cuisine, with sections on aspects of culinary history such as Carnia’s cramârs (spice merchants), the backstory of typical dishes such as frico and gubana, and spotlights on many local artisans and their products, including prosciutto di San Daniele and Montasio cheese. Being a renowned expert on wine, author Walter Filiputti naturally included extensive sections on the region’s wine zones and varieties.

After having spent several meals at Alla Pace flipping through Via dei Sapori, I determined to buy the book the next chance I got. When my three weeks in Carnia ended, I returned to Udine, the city I’d be using as a home base for the next week. I remembered seeing Via dei Sapori at the Enoteca di Cormòns earlier in my trip, so as soon as my bus arrived in Udine and I’d checked into my hotel, I jumped on the next train to Cormòns. The book was available there in several different languages, and I decided to buy the English translation, Path of Flavours.

Once I got back to my hotel and started reading, I realized that there was clearly an error in the translation of Alla Pace’s recipe for crispy stuffed gnocchi. I had taken notes while at the restaurant—and while sampling the dish itself upon Franca’s recommendation. In the English version, the ingredients for the dough and the filling were obviously switched, but I also saw that there were a couple of ingredients missing. Fortunately, during the final week of my trip, I was able to locate the Italian edition in one of Udine’s bookshops and confirm the recipe in my notes so that I could properly recreate it back home.

Despite that issue, having the English translation made my job much easier, as every other cookbook I purchased was in Italian and required extra effort to translate. But regardless of the language, the scope of the book and the gorgeous full-color photographs make Via dei Sapori possibly the best book on Friulian cuisine ever published!

back cover of Path of Flavours

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herb frittataFor my Recipe of the Month, I have chosen Frittata alle Erbe (Herb Frittata), in honor of the Festa delle Erbe di Primavera, a festival celebrating wild herbs and greens that is held every June in the Carnian town of Forni di Sopra. (This year the festival has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.) For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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Note: After nearly two months of a nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus COVID-19, Italy is finally beginning the process of reopening. However, the festival described in this piece has been cancelled for this year. Organizers are planning to resume the annual event in 2021.

white asparagusOne of the sure signs of spring in Friuli is the appearance of white asparagus. The center of production for this prized vegetable is Tavagnacco, located just north of Udine. It is here that the annual Festa degli Asparagi takes place over three weekends during the months of April and May. Food kiosks offer a wide variety of dishes made with asparagus, including risotto, frittatas, and crespelle (a lasagna-like dish made with crepes), as well as frico (cheese and potato pancake), grilled meats, and numerous desserts. In addition, you can attend wine pairing workshops, browse the Sunday market stalls, and enjoy music and dancing late into the night.

Here are three dishes from Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy that make use of white asparagus: one antipasto, one primo piatto, and one secondo piatto.

Asparagi con Prosciutto
In this appetizer, spears of white asparagus are wrapped with slices of prosciutto di San Daniele, sprinkled with aged Montasio cheese, and baked until the cheese melts. (The recipe is featured this month on my site Flavors-of-Friuli.com.)

 

 

 

Risotto con gli Asparagi
Risotto is common throughout certain parts of Friuli, particularly those areas that once belonged to the Venetian Republic. Like the above antipasto, this springtime risotto also makes use of both white asparagus and prosciutto di San Daniele.

 

 

 

Asparagi con Uova
Eggs and asparagus are a frequent pairing in Friuli. However, the egg salad found in this region is not the creamy mayo-based concoction we Americans are generally used to. Instead, it is typically prepared with a light dressing of vinegar and olive oil and is served alongside spears of white asparagus as a second course.

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For my Recipe of the Month, I have chosen Asparagi con Prosciutto (Asparagus with Prosciutto). Spring is asparagus season in Friuli, and this recipe makes use of the white asparagus from Tavagnacco as well as the famed prosciutto di San Daniele. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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Note: Like much of the world, Italy has been on a nationwide lockdown due to the devastating coronavirus COVID-19. Although the activities and events listed below will almost certainly be closed or cancelled this spring, I’ve decided to go ahead and post this piece to remind us of the abundant beauty of the Friuli region. As new cases of the virus are beginning to slow down, we can look to the future, when life will eventually return to normal, albeit a new normal, and people can once again attend food festivals or concerts, visit places such as the butterfly house or spa, and dine in restaurants throughout the region and beyond. My heart goes out to all who are suffering during this catastrophic time. Andrà tutto bene.

1. See the butterflies at the Casa delle Farfalle in Bordano

Casa delle Farfalle, BordanoThe town of Bordano, located in the foothills of the Carnian Alps, is home to the largest tropical butterfly garden in Europe, the Casa delle Farfalle (open from late March through September). The microclimate of nearby Monte San Simeone has attracted over 650 native species of butterflies—550 of which are nocturnal—making this town the ideal location for entomological studies.

Inside the Casa delle Farfalle, three greenhouses contain over 400 species of butterflies from Africa, the Amazon, and Indo-Australia. The butterflies are free to fly, surrounded by exotic vegetation in a miniature rainforest setting of vines, rare palms, and colorful orchids. The air is damp, filled with the echoes of mist and fluttering wings. Indigenous birds, reptiles, fish, and other insects complete the realistic ecosystem.

2. While in Bordano, stroll the streets decorated with butterfly murals

BordanoBordano pays tribute to its butterflies in yet another way. It began in 1996, after the publication of a book on the region’s native butterflies sparked interest among locals. Building on that idea, Mayor Enore Picco established a mural contest, inviting artists from all over Italy to participate. The instructions were to use buildings throughout Bordano and the neighboring hamlet of Interneppo as a canvas for the artists’ interpretation of the theme “butterflies.” Since the contest’s inception, more than 200 homes and public buildings have been painted with vividly hued, fantastical butterfly murals, transforming the streets into a kaleidoscope of color.

3. Attend the Festa dell’Asparago di Bosco, del Radicchio di Montagna, e dei Funghi di Primavera in Piano d’Arta

Every May, the Festa dell’Asparago di Bosco, del Radicchio di Montagna, e dei Funghi di Primavera is held in the hilltop hamlet of Piano d’Arta in Friuli’s Carnia mountains. Celebrating all the local bounties of spring—wild asparagus, mountain radicchio, and spring mushrooms—the festival’s main event is the Sunday street fair, where the roads are lined with tables displaying all sorts of arts and crafts: hand-knit scarves, copper kitchen utensils, and lavender-scented soap and potpourri. Wildflowers seem to be a particularly common theme, appearing on hand-painted ceramic plates, beaded ornaments, and wooden plaques for the home.

The festival’s food stands are naturally the biggest attraction. To the tunes of a live band, you can indulge in such local specialties as herb fritters, frico (crispy fried cheese), frittatas made with wild asparagus and mushrooms, grilled sausages, and cjarsòns (a sweet, cinnamon-laced filled pasta).

4. Take a spa day at the nearby Terme di Arta thermal baths

In a region scattered with Alpine chalets and onion-domed church steeples, one Japanese-style pagoda stands out as a symbol of health and well-being. Located alongside the Bût River in Arta Terme, the Terme di Arta spa has been attracting guests since the late 1800s. The original structure was destroyed in World War I and later rebuilt in its current style. The thermal baths are fed from the waters of the ancient Pudia Spring and have a high concentration of many minerals, particularly sulfides. Even the Romans, who settled in nearby Zuglio in 52 BC, took advantage of the sulfuric water’s supposed healing properties. In addition to thermal baths, the spa offers a complete menu of mud treatments, facials, and massages, as well as a gym and swimming pool.

5. Attend the Sagra dei Cjalčons in Pontebba

Every year on the last weekend in May, the town of Pontebba—or more precisely the nearby hamlet of Studena Bassa—hosts the Sagra dei Cjalčons, a festival dedicated to the Friulian filled pasta (alternate spellings includecjalsòns” and “cjarzòns”). There are countless varieties of cjalčons, as every town in Friuli’s northern mountains has its own unique recipe. Most combine both sweet and savory flavors, but the version from Pontebba is primarily sweet: sizeable pouches of dough stuffed with a mixture of dried figs and fresh ricotta, and tossed with melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon. While most cjalčons are served as a pasta course, these could just as easily be a dessert. In addition to the food stands, highlights of the festival include a 5km race, wine tasting kiosks, indoor games, and two evenings of music and dancing.

6. Go hiking at the Fusine Lakes

fusine lakesIn Friuli’s northeasternmost corner, near the Austrian and Slovenian borders and just outside the town of Tarvisio, is the Parco Naturale dei Laghi di Fusine, home of two beautiful glacial lakes encircled with hiking trails. The first lake, Lago Inferiore, is larger and surrounded by spruce trees and forested mountains. The higher one, Lago Superiore, is smaller but offers an even more spectacular view of the Giulian Alps. Monte Mangart is the highest mountain here, at 8,782 feet. A short walk along a secluded path through the woods to the far side of Lago Superiore will reward you with an impressive view of Mangart’s snow-covered, rocky peaks towering over the emerald green water of the lake.

7. Sample the region’s white asparagus at Locanda Al Grop in Tavagnacco

white asparagusOne of the sure signs of spring is the appearance of white asparagus on plates throughout Friuli, and there is no better place to sample this prized vegetable than Locanda Al Grop in Tavagnacco, a town located just north of Udine and the center of white asparagus production in the region. The restaurant dates back 500 years, when it was initially run by monks from the adjacent church, Chiesa di Sant’Antonio Abate, for the sale of their wine. In the mid-19th century, Al Grop was taken over by Francesco Del Fabbro and has remained in the family for five generations. Today, owners Silvia and Simona Del Fabbro are well known for their preparation of many traditional Friulian dishes, but they have made white asparagus the restaurant’s specialty. During springtime, you may find the tender ivory stalks smothered in cheese sauce, dressed with creamy egg salad, topped with a mound of prosciutto and ricotta affumicata, or in risotto alongside peas and zucchini blossoms.

Tavagnacco is also home to the Festa degli Asparagi, an annual festival that takes place over three weekends in April and May. Food kiosks offer a wide variety of dishes made with asparagus, including risotto, frittatas, and crespelle (a lasagna-like dish made with crepes), as well as frico, grilled meats, and numerous desserts. In addition, you can attend wine pairing workshops, browse the Sunday market stalls, and enjoy music and dancing late into the night.

8. Attend a springtime music concert at Castello di Miramare

Castello di Miramare, TriesteThe starkly whitewashed Castello di Miramare perches on the tip of a promontory just north of Trieste, its wedding-cake façade glistening against sea and sky. The castle was built for Archduke Maximilian (brother of the Hapsburg emperor Franz Joseph), who lived there with his wife Carlotta until he was tragically executed while stationed in Mexico. Carlotta is said to have gone mad with grief, and the castle has since gained the reputation for cursing anyone who sleeps under its roof. Today, Miramare is open for visitors to explore the couple’s lavish apartments, all featuring the original 19th-century decorations and furnishings.

In the springtime, the castle hosts the music festival “Concerti al Castello,” a series of free concerts featuring classical musicians from all over Italy and beyond. The concerts are held in the Sala del Trono, a splendid Throne Room adorned in red silk. Before the concert, take some time to wander the castle grounds, fifty-four acres of perfectly manicured gardens, complete with statues, ponds, and walking paths.

9. Attend the Festa delle Erbe di Primavera in Forni di Sopra

For two weekends in early June, Forni di Sopra hosts the Festa delle Erbe di Primavera, a festival celebrating the wild mountain herbs of spring. Like other food festivals in the region, the streets are lined with booths selling all sorts of handicrafts, as well as gastronomic stalls that offer dishes made with locally sourced ingredients.

In addition, you may participate in guided excursions through the fields and forests, during which experts will discuss the use of mountain herbs in food and medicine. Back in town, there are a number of scheduled exhibitions and conferences, with topics ranging from the history and tradition of wild herbs to the gathering of wild mushrooms and truffles, as well as cooking workshops, which naturally feature recipes using local plants, flowers, and herbs. For dinner, several of Forni di Sopra’s hotels offer special herb-centric menus that include dishes such as lasagne with dandelion, gnocchi with ricotta and nettles, barley with wild asparagus, frico with chives, and salami with grilled mountain radicchio.

10. Go hiking in the wildflower-strewn mountains of Forni di Sopra

Forni di Sopra sits at the western edge of Carnia, bordering the Dolomite mountain range. Here, the verdant hills and valleys are home to some 3,000 species of wild flora that come alive in the spring and summer, from yellow buttercups to red rhododendrons to purple anemones. From the town, head up into the mountains for a panoramic view of the jagged, gray Dolomites peeking up over the softer peaks of forested mountain.

On both sides of the Tagliamento River there are numerous hiking trails to choose from: easy paths through the woods and meadows bordering the town, to routes of medium difficulty to nearby refuges, to longer excursions for trained hikers into the Parco Naturale delle Dolomiti Friulane.

Across the river from the town is the Centro Sportivo, a large sports complex housing a gym, roller skating rink (ice skating is offered in winter), swimming pool, and spa, along with outdoor courts for tennis, basketball, and soccer. From there, walk a short distance to the south and you will find a lovely park known as the Pineta e Laghetti. Here, you can take a more leisurely stroll around three small lakes shaded by pine forests.

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For my Recipe of the Month, I have chosen Pinza (Easter Bread), just in time for the holiday. While this sweet loaf was originally prepared as a special Easter treat, it may now be found in Trieste’s bakeries year round. In fact, pinza is common throughout Friuli, where it is often referred to as “focaccia”—not to be confused with the flat Ligurian focaccia. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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