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Posts Tagged ‘Grado’

1. Ski the slopes of Monte Santo di Lussari

Among the towering, snow-capped peaks of Italy’s Giulian Alps, Monte Santo di Lussari stands out like a precious gem. Near the 5,870-foot summit, a pristine 14th-century sanctuary looks out over the forested valleys below. Legend says that in 1360 a shepherd knelt to pray atop this mountain and discovered hidden in the brush a wooden statue of the Madonna and Child. The patriarch of Aquileia soon ordered a small chapel built on that very spot. For centuries, vast numbers of pilgrims from neighboring countries have journeyed to this religious site. Today, the telecabina, or “ski lift,” carries passengers from the village of Camporosso at its base to Borgo Lussari at the summit.

2. Enjoy a plate of hot, steaming goulasch at Albergo Ristorante Rododendro

During ski season, the few taverns and restaurants on Monte Santo di Lussari are always teeming with guests. Even if you’re not a skier, take the telecabina to the top, where you can tuck into a warm meal at one of the village’s rustic taverns or simply admire the snowy panoramic views across the Valcanale and Tarvisio basin. If you can get a table in the rustic dining room of Albergo Ristorante Rododendro, you’ll have a wide selection of traditional Friulian dishes, including orzo e fagioli (bean and barley soup), gnocchi di pane (bread dumplings), frico con polenta (cheese and potato pancake with polenta), cervo in salmì (venison stew), and goulasch (Hungarian-style beef stew). Dessert offerings include strudel di mele (apple strudel), torta ai frutti di bosco (wild berry cake), and sachertorte (chocolate cake with apricot jam and ganache).

3. Attend the Krampus festivities in Tarvisio

In Central European folklore, the Krampus is a half-goat, half-demon character that is something of an anti-Santa Claus, in that he punishes children who have misbehaved rather than giving them presents. Many regions, including the Alpine towns of northern Italy, hold festivities dedicated to both Krampus and St. Nicholas.

Tarvisio is the site of one of these events. Every year on December 5, people dress up as Krampus—a costume consisting of goat or sheep fur and a wooden devil mask with horns—and roam the streets carrying torches, ringing cowbells, and searching for “bad” children. They are accompanied by St. Nicholas, who rides in a cart pulled by several Krampus. The parade concludes with St. Nicholas subduing the Krampus (representing the triumph of good over evil) and handing out small gifts and candies to the children.

4. Browse the stalls at Udine’s Mercatino di Natale

Every December, Udine’s Piazza della Libertà gets decked out for the holidays, as the Torre dell’Orologio (clock tower), Tempietto di San Giovanni, and arches of the Porticato are all strung with glistening lights. Underneath the pink- and white-striped Loggia del Lionello, a brass band plays Christmas carols, the festive notes luring shoppers to the city’s annual Christmas market.

In the center of the raised piazza towers a giant Christmas tree surrounded by several dozen market stands. These red, white-roofed stalls sit in rows along a grid of green carpet and display a variety of trinkets and edible treats. Here, you may browse homemade jams and honey, as well as handcrafted items such as candles, tree ornaments, and soaps. Local bakeries showcase regional desserts alongside stalls featuring foods imported from other regions. As the sun sets, shoppers can nibble on roasted chestnuts or samples of crostini with prosciutto di San Daniele, accompanied by a warm cup of vin brulé (mulled wine).

5. While in Udine, enjoy a traditional Friulian meal at Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo

It was at Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo that I fell in love with the cuisine of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. One of the Udine’s oldest, the restaurant is housed in a 17th-century building that once served as a stable and rest stop for deliverymen. Amid the atmosphere of an old-world tavern—wood-beamed ceilings, hardwood floors, red-checked tablecloths, and walls cluttered with colorful paintings, newspaper clippings, period photographs of Udine, and memorabilia of all sorts—chef Mario serves up hearty portions of local dishes such as cjalsòns (herb-filled pasta topped with cinnamon and smoked ricotta), gnocchi di susine (potato dumplings stuffed with plums), baccalà (salt cod stew), sarde in saor (marinated sardines), cevapcici (Slavic grilled sausages), salame all’aceto (salami cooked in vinegar), and brovada (pickled turnips). In true Friulian style, most second courses are served with polenta. For dessert, order the gubana—a spiral cake filled with dried fruit, nuts, and spices.

6. Warm up with an Illy espresso or hot chocolate in one of Trieste’s Viennese-style coffee houses

While they truly love wine and beer, Triestini are even more notorious as coffee drinkers. Claimed by many to be the world’s best coffee, Illycaffè got its start in Trieste in the early 1900s. Of the 6 million cups of Illy espresso or cappuccino that are enjoyed daily around the globe, a good number are imbibed at home in Trieste’s old-time cafés. The legendary ones—Caffè San Marco, Caffè Tommaseo, Caffè degli Specchi, and Caffè Tergesteo—date from the 19th to the early 20th century. Authors James Joyce, Sigmund Freud, Italo Svevo, and Umberto Saba were known to be regulars.

7. Indulge in a putizza from one of Trieste’s historic bakeries

Photo courtesy of Pasticceria Penso

One of several desserts considered native to Trieste, putizza is a rich spiral cake filled with dried fruit, chocolate, nuts, and spices. Like Friulian gubana, a similar spiral pastry, it was originally baked only for the Christmas and Easter holidays but is now available year round. For a taste of the city’s best putizza, I recommend visiting one of the century-old bakeries such as Pasticceria Penso or Pasticceria Bomboniera. Both prepare an excellent putizza, though there is one slight difference I noticed in sampling the two. Penso melts the chocolate for their filling, while Bomboniera leaves the chocolate in large chunks. Taste them both to decide your favorite!

8. Take advantage of the off-season with a crowd-free stroll in the seaside town of Grado

Located on an island and adjacent peninsula in the marshy lagoon off Friuli, Grado was once a fishing village but is now a popular destination for beachgoers. Though lacking the pristine, white sand of nearby Lignano Sabbiadoro, crowds still flock to Grado’s beaches and spas during the summer season. In winter, however, the town takes on an entirely different character, with the winding alleys of the medieval centro storico largely devoid of tourists. An expansive seaside promenade that curves around the town center makes for a relaxing afternoon stroll, as do the boat-lined canals that run through the harbor.

9. While in Grado, sample the town’s signature dish, boreto alla Gradese

When dining in Grado, don’t miss the town’s best known dish, boreto all Gradese. Also called boreto alla graesana in local dialect (and not to be confused with the soup called brodeto), boreto alla Gradese is a selection of small fish steaks cooked with garlic and vinegar and served with white polenta. Many restaurants in Grado offer the dish on their menu, but one of the more elegant is Tavernetta All’Androna, run by the brothers Attias and Allan Tarlao.

10. Attend the quirky Carnevale Muggesano

Photo courtesy of Associazione delle Compagnie del Carnevale Muggesano

In contrast to the elegant, baroque images evoked by the nearby Carnevale di Venezia, Muggia celebrates the absurd and bizarre with townspeople dressed in quirky garb such as cartoon characters, farm animals, and platters of food. Among the whimsical costumes, however, you will rarely see a masked face. Contrary to the practice of other Carnevale celebrations where anonymity is sacred, the people of Muggia have elected to keep their identities exposed.

Carnevale Muggesano began after World War II, when a group of friends dressed up as gauchos and marched through the streets playing music. As they repeated this annual affair, dressed next as gypsies and later as Apache Indians, the procession grew with more and more people joining in the merriment. Soon a few rival groups had formed, each costumed in its own fantastical theme. By 1954, the parade had blossomed into an official event.

The week of festivities opens with the “Dance of the Vegetables,” when representatives of each group perform for the public. This is followed by the “megafrittata,” a culinary ritual that begins with townspeople traipsing door to door begging for eggs. The eggs are then used to make what is possibly the world’s largest frittata, cooked in a giant 13-foot-wide frying pan. On Ash Wednesday, to mark the final day of the celebration, the groups perform a tragicomedy ritual: following a solemn funeral procession, townspeople throw a lifelike “corpse” of the Carnevale king into the sea.

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boreto alla gradeseFor my Recipe-of-the-Month, I have chosen Boreto alla Gradese (Grado-Style Fish Steaks with Vinegar). As Italians flock to the seaside during the Ferragosto holiday this month, many Friulians will be visiting Grado, one of Friuli’s most popular beach resorts. Not to be confused with the seafood soup “brodeto,” this fish dish from Grado is prepared with garlic and vinegar and traditionally served with white polenta. For my recipe, visit Flavors-of-Friuli.com.

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GradoAs scorching as the weather had been the past few days, it was growing hotter and hotter still. RAI news was reporting a heat wave throughout much of Europe, with some of the worst areas being in Italy. It was a combination of the stifling heat and my seemingly never-ending jet lag that kept me awake until the early morning hours. After only a few restless hours of sleep, I awoke just before my alarm was set to go off. I took a cool shower, ate a hasty breakfast of yogurt, orange juice, and a banana, and departed for Udine’s autostazione (bus terminal), which was located practically next door to Hotel Principe.

I was headed for Grado, a former fishing village and now a popular beach resort. The bus was filled to capacity with locals, everyone off to spend a Sunday at the beach. The ride took about an hour, passing through vineyards and fields of corn and sunflowers, as well as the towns Palmanova and Aquileia.

GradoAs I expected, Grado’s beaches were packed. A rainbow of umbrellas dotted the longest sandy strip, while wooden piers extended far out into the sapphire blue sea. Along the numerous rocky areas that lined the island, families spread out their beach towels for sunbathing, the water beyond filled with bronze-skinned children splashing and bobbing in the calm waves. I wished desperately that I could have gone swimming myself, but not only did I not bring a swimsuit but I was always paranoid about leaving my valuables unattended on the shore. This was one of the downsides I often encountered traveling alone.

GradoI consoled myself with a reminder that I was not on vacation but had a very specific purpose. My goal in Grado was to find another restaurant in which to try the town’s signature dish, boreto alla Gradese. I even had a particular restaurant in mind, one that was listed in a brochure of the region’s top 20 restaurants: Tavernetta All’Androna. But despite my typical over-preparedness, I had forgotten to put the address in my backpack. I wandered through the narrow, winding alleys of the town’s centro storico, searching up and down every single street, but simply couldn’t find it. I had finally resigned myself to choosing someplace else, when I suddenly, unexpectedly stumbled upon All’Androna.

For three generations, the Tarlao family has run All’Androna, serving local seafood in an elegant dining room with dark wooden banquettes and white linens. The prices were fairly high, so I ordered only one dish, the boreto alla Gradese. A selection of fish steaks—today they served orata (sea bream), anguilla (eel), and asià (dogfish)—was cooked with garlic and vinegar, the sauce reduced to a thick broth, and served with two slices of grilled white polenta. The orata was bony, but the eel was especially moist and flavorful.

When traveling, I mainly spoke Italian, even though it was often apparent that English was my native language. It must have been obvious to the waiter at All’Androna, because he spoke only in English to me. My engagement ring must not have been as obvious, however, since he flirted with me the entire time, elaborating on how I had the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen.

PalmanovaAfter lunch, I caught my return bus, deciding to make a brief stop on the way back in Palmanova. The town’s unusual layout may be best appreciated in aerial photos: originally a military fortress, it is bordered by a massive stone wall and moat in the shape of a nine-pointed star. In the central, hexagonal Piazza Grande, palm trees allude to the town’s name. From there, streets branch out like spokes on a wheel, while other streets surround the piazza in concentric rings. Houses—plain and square, some colorful but most brown and beige—resemble barracks and add to the town’s military character.

As it was mid-afternoon, the streets were deserted, save for a swarm of flies that seemed to follow me everywhere I went. The pavement was dry and dusty, the air oppressive from the sweltering heat. I longed for shade but was determined to see as much of the town as possible before the next bus arrived.

PalmanovaPalmanova is home to a military museum, but of course it was closed like everything else at that time of day. I was hoping to pay a visit, not so much to see the museum itself but to have access to the fortress walls, where there was a path that encircled the entire town. At the entrance to the museum, there was a locked gate that led to the walls beyond. Inspecting it a little closer, I found a small gap next to the fence. Glancing over my shoulder to make sure no one was watching, I sneaked through the opening and crept up the steep slope to a lookout area that was presumably on museum property. I walked a short ways along the path, but the view out over the flat countryside was uninspiring. I didn’t dare trespass too far, so before long I snuck back down the hill and out onto the street again, just in time before I saw a group of official-looking men turn the corner in my direction.

Back in Udine, I tried unsuccessfully to stay awake. This was always my most difficult time of day, when I was exhausted from a full day of exploring, and all I wanted to do was to crawl into bed and go to sleep. But after a brief yet refreshing nap, I was ready to head out for dinner. I was armed with my list of restaurants I hadn’t yet tried, but the first one I passed was closed, as was my second choice. And my third. And fourth. As much as I loved Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo, I didn’t want to eat there every night—so I settled on a place I’d been to only a couple of times before: Osteria Alla Ghiacciaia. The restaurant is situated on a canal, with an outdoor seating area shaded by willow trees. Just like the previous evening, however, I chose to sit indoors. There would be air conditioning, fewer mosquitoes, and no smoke to contend with. (Italy had passed an anti-smoking law earlier that year, which made my dining experiences infinitely more pleasurable. There was, unfortunately for me, no law prohibiting smoking at outdoor tables.)

Of course, the downside to sitting alone indoors was that I might easily be forgotten. It should have been a signal when no one noticed me waiting to be seated; after several minutes of being ignored, I approached the counter and asked if I could have a table. It took another ten minutes to be handed a menu, then another ten minutes for the waitress to take my order. I was surprised when my meal arrived quickly: a plate of frico con polenta and a mixed salad. The frico was a thin pancake of potato and cheese, crispy on the outside and soft like mashed potatoes on the inside. Though it needed a little salt, I liked the sweetness from the addition of caramelized onions. The polenta was grilled, which I much prefer over the standard mush. (Creamy polenta can be delicious when fresh—steaming hot, comfortingly soft, sweet with corn flavor—but it congeals when cool, and this is how many restaurants serve it.)

After dinner, I took a long, circuitous stroll back to Hotel Principe. If it weren’t for the dark, indigo sky and closed storefronts, I might have thought it was daytime. The streets were overflowing with people—groups of teenagers laughing and shouting, elderly couples walking arm-in-arm, even parents with children whose bedtime it was long past—all out enjoying the relative coolness of the night air. I wondered how many of them had spent the day at the beach—even Grado perhaps.

boreto alla gradeseHere is my recipe for boreto alla Gradese, adapted from the one at Tavernetta All’Androna. The fish is traditionally served with white polenta.

2 pounds assorted fish steaks (such as eel, turbot, bass, or monkfish), cut 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly crushed
1/2 cup fish stock or clam juice
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Sprinkle the fish steaks with salt and black pepper.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic cloves; cook until golden brown, about 5–6 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic. Place the fish steaks in the skillet; cook until golden brown, about 4–5 minutes on each side. Add the fish stock and vinegar; cook until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork, about 8–12 minutes longer. Divide the fish steaks among serving plates.

3. Increase heat to medium-high; cook the sauce until thick and reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Spoon the sauce over the fish steaks; sprinkle liberally with freshly ground black pepper.

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Once again, in my efforts to see as much as possible in two weeks, my plan was to visit two cities in one day. I left my hotel in Udine and walked next door to the bus station, where I promptly departed for Aquileia. An hour later, I arrived at the stop on the dusty highway across from the renowned Basilica.

Founded as a Roman colony in AD 181, Aquileia was once the fourth largest city in ancient Rome. Theodore, one of Aquileia’s first bishops, built the city’s Basilica Patriarcale in 313, paving the floor with a decorative carpet of mosaics. The church was remodeled by Patriarch Poppone in 1031, and so these intricate works of art became concealed for nearly a millennium. At the beginning of the 20th century, the ancient mosaic pavement was discovered below the nave floor and is thought to be the earliest surviving remnant of any Christian church.

The designs incorporate both Christian and pagan symbols, including animals, birds, trees, flowers, and geometric patterns. Panels represent allegorical scenes, such as the cock fighting the tortoise, as well as portraits of religious figures. The biblical story of Jonah and the Whale is illustrated with numerous sea creatures, its fish motif alluding to the city’s proximity to the Adriatic Sea.

In addition to the mosaics carpeting the Basilica’s floor, others had been discovered around the bell tower and are on display in the Cripta degli Scavi. The second crypt, Cripta degli Freschi, contains colorful 12th-century Byzantine-style frescoes.

From the Basilica, I walked along the river, past fields of Roman ruins, to the Museo Paleocristiano where I admired yet another display of mosaics. On my way back, I passed the Roman forum and the mausoleum, taking a detour to the ancient cemetery. My last stop in Aquileia was the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, but I unfortunately had to rush through the museum in less than 20 minutes so that I could catch the next bus to Grado. Still, I managed to view numerous Roman relics, including portrait busts, funerary carvings, household items, glassware, bronze objects, amber and precious stones, and a large collection of coins.

The bus deposited me on the island city of Grado, located across a lengthy bridge, just 15 minutes south of Aquileia. Since it was the middle of winter, and there were few tourists in this beach resort, I could find only two restaurants open. I chose Trattoria De Toni and ordered for my lunch Grado’s signature dish, boreto alla Gradese. That particular day, the kitchen used steaks of sea bass and halibut, which were cooked in a sauce of garlic and vinegar. In the typical tradition, the fish was served with white polenta. I asked the waiter for the recipe and was promptly handed a printed copy on the restaurant’s letterhead—it seemed that they must receive plenty of requests.

Like Aquileia, Grado was built around its Roman ruins, and areas of mosaics and ancient stone seemed to pop up in all sorts of unexpected places. For example, as I left De Toni, I noticed some excavations under glass right in the middle of the floor. From the restaurant, I took a stroll along Grado’s beachfront promenade, which was naturally deserted, save for a few elderly signore bundled up in fur coats. Then I circled back to the old city center to see the 6th-century Basilica di Sant’Eufemia. Finally, before heading back to the bus station, I crossed the bridge to the tiny Isola della Schiusa, where fisherman were anchoring their boats along the wide canal.

Back in Udine for dinner, I decided to try Osteria Alla Ghiacciaia, located alongside the canal on Via Zanon. Inside the smoke-filled room, locals gathered at the bar drinking wine and engaging in raucous banter. The waitress offered me a seat in their “non-smoking” section, a small, semi-secluded room off to the side. There, I capped off my day with a hearty bowl of orzo e fagioli (bean and barley soup); a plate of grilled eggplant, zucchini, red peppers, tomato, and radicchio; and an assortment of regional cheeses.

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