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Sauris di SottoOn my first morning in Sauris, I awoke to cloudy skies and a forecast of rain. After a yummy breakfast of muesli and yogurt, I set out to look for a market where I could buy some fruit. It was a habit of mine to always keep a supply of bananas on hand—for a quick breakfast or snack, or if I just felt in need of some fruit. There was only one small market in the village, next door to the only ATM. They had a good selection of groceries—including a cheese and salumi counter, where I would pick up some picnic food on my final morning—and although their fruit selection was limited, I was able to buy my bananas.

Since it was beginning to rain, I decided to spend the rest of the morning indoors working. This was my first trip to bring along my laptop (a slim, 3-lb Sony VAIO—perfect for packing in a small backpack but, unfortunately, now defunct), and so I carried it downstairs to the bar, where I made myself comfortable at a corner table, an ideal place to spread out my work and concentrate. I spent the next two hours transcribing notes and editing text, oblivious to the world around me.

By the time I came to a stopping place, it was time for lunch. I decided to try the dining room at my hotel, Albergo Morgenleit, where, shortly after I sat down, that noisy group of boys from the previous evening descended for their lunch—fortunately for me, they were seated in another room. I ordered only one dish, the gnocchi alle erbe (herb gnocchi), with an insalata mista on the side. To prepare the gnocchi, the cook had dropped spoonfuls of dough directly into the pot of boiling water—a rustic style I found to be quite common in Friuli. These misshapen, green-flecked dumplings were then served with melted butter and ricotta affumicata. While their fresh, grassy flavor was suggestive of the surrounding meadows where wild herbs grew rampant, the gnocchi were sorely in need of a little salt. My mixed salad proved to be equally disappointing, for at the bottom of my bowl, under a pile of radicchio, arugula, shredded carrot, and slices of unripe tomato, lay a plump, partially smushed insect, its little legs still wiggling.

To erase the image of that bug from my mind, I treated myself to a slice of torta di mele for dessert. Similar in texture to the torta di pere I had at Ristorante Kursaal, this cake was without flaw—rich with chunks of sweet-tart apple and garnished with a dusting of powdered sugar.

Sauris di SottoThe morning showers had since let up, so I took advantage of the afternoon lull to go exploring. First, I walked down the hill, past numerous wood-framed houses, some wearing a cloak of drying hay around their upper-floor balconies. At the base of the village, I located the second restaurant from my list, Ristorante Alla Pace, where I would end up eating the rest of my meals in Sauris. Then, I backtracked and walked a little ways up the hill past Prosciuttificio Wolf Sauris, where I found the beginning of a hiking trail at the edge of the forest. Since the sky still threatened rain—and because there was a rather unsavory-looking man ahead on the path who kept glancing back at me with shifty eyes—I decided against an impromtu hike in the woods. (I often found it hard to shake my city street-smarts, even in such idyllic locales.)

Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Sauris di SopraInstead, I hiked a short distance up the highway toward Sauris di Sopra. I didn’t intend on making it all the way; I just wanted to see how far I could get in 15 minutes. When I rounded a curve in the road, the pointy steeple of Chiesa di San Lorenzo came into view, towering over the distant green hils. I decided it was too far to go that afternoon, so I turned back. Along the road, I passed a small cemetary, protected from the highway by a thick, stone wall. Taking a quick stroll through, I noticed that two names were most prominent on the gravestones: Petris and Schneider, names that are both associated with the town’s prosciutto factory.

Ristorante Alla PaceFor dinner that evening, I was excited to finally try Ristorante Alla Pace. The hostess was Franca Schneider, a warm, motherly sort who made me feel right at home. To start, she served two complimentary antipasti: a parchment-thin frico croccante (crispy fried cheese) in the shape of a bowl and a zucchini blossom stuffed with ricotta and garnished with tomatoes.

Naturally, I had to try their cjalsòns, which were made with pasta so paper-thin and delicate that they appeared pale green from the herbed ricotta filling. With a scalloped edge, these half-moons made an elegant presentation, served in a spiral pattern on the plate, with a topping of finely grated ricotta affumicata and poppy seeds.

Next, I ordered the gulasch (Hungarian-style beef stew) with a side of pan-fried potatoes. While I could detect the paprika and red wine in the sauce, Signora Franca assured me that there were no tomatoes—and so my gulasch quandary was destined to linger on for another few months.

As I savored my glass of red wine, I spoke with Signora Franca at great length about my cookbook project. After discussing my list of recipes, particularly the ones I was still uncertain about, she brought me a huge coffee-table book called Friuli: Via dei Sapori to browse through. A gorgeous, full-color compendium of Friulian cuisine—with profiles of many local restaurants, including Alla Pace—it would eventually become my absolute favorite in my growing collection of Friuli books!

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Chiesa di Sant'Osvaldo in Sauris di SottoThe day I had been waiting for was finally here! I would be leaving Udine for a three-week stay in the mountains of Carnia. I had hotel reservations in five of the major villages and had worked the timing to coincide with several local food festivals. First on my agenda was Sauris. In May 2004, Mike and I had spent the night there, at a quaint hotel in the hamlet of Lateis. This time I would be staying in Sauris di Sotto, where the Festa del Prosciutto was being held over a period of two weekends.

From Udine, I needed to take three buses to get to Sauris. With fairly tight connections in Tolmezzo and Ampezzo, I left early so that I would have plenty of options in case one of my buses was running late. I would soon learn that Friulian buses are some of the most reliable in Italy; even connections that seemed too close for comfort ended up working out, since the connecting bus often waited for the first bus to arrive before departing. The schedule was like a well-oiled machine.

The first leg of my journey went off without a hitch. I boarded the double-decker bus, sitting on the upper level for the best views, and precisely 50 minutes later arrived in Tolmezzo. There, I had a comfortable 10-minute wait for the next bus to Ampezzo. This bus was a regular-sized coach, and we were required to put our luggage in the compartments underneath. This was a nerve-racking proposition, because now I not only had to watch the street signs vigilantly to make sure I didn’t miss my stop, but I also had to make sure the driver didn’t pull away before letting me retrieve my suitcase.

Along the way to Ampezzo, the bus picked up two large groups of children. The first was a group of at least forty grade-school kids; the second group was slightly older, likely a sports team as they were carrying bags of athletic gear. The bus was now packed beyond capacity. Boys were crammed into the aisle, laughing and shouting at the top of their lungs, as kids of that age will do. I could barely see out the window and was growing even more nervous that I’d miss my stop.

Presently, we came upon yet a third group of kids, just as large as the first two. There was obviously no room left, so the driver got out to do some negotiating with the chaperones. The minutes ticked by, and I became worried that I’d miss my connection. Without a clue what was happening, I then watched as one group of kids began filing off the bus, while the waiting group piled on. Just as jam-packed as before, the bus finally took off. Luckily, I managed to ring the bell in time, for I was the only one getting off the bus in Ampezzo. All the kids on the bus, it turned out, were continuing on to Forni di Sopra.

Sauris di SottoRight on schedule, the bus to Sauris pulled up, and to my suprise, it was already full. On the bus were the same kids that had gotten off the earlier bus to make room for the group going to Forni di Sopra. The first driver had called the driver of the Sauris bus and asked him to make an out-of-the-way trip to pick up this group. While this was far more accommodating than I would expect from any driver in the U.S., it meant that I had to squeeze myself onto a standing-room-only bus with my suitcase. This bus didn’t have a luggage compartment underneath, but luckily there was a free seat behind the driver—no one could sit there, because there were cases of water bottles stacked in front of it, but it was just the place for my bag—and one of the children generously gave me his seat next to it. In addition to the kids that had been on my original bus, there was yet another group, even larger than the first three, going to Lateis.

The road to Sauris was long and steep, with nearly continuous hairpin turns the entire way. As we began the winding ascent, the schoolkids began getting carsick left and right. The chaperone nearest me handed out plastic bags and guided the sickest kids toward the front of the bus. One poor child threw up right next to me; he partially missed the bag and got vomit all over himself. It was a relief when we arrived at Lateis and the carsick group could get off.

Albergo MorgenleitIt was then just a short ride back down the hill from Lateis and up again toward Sauris di Sotto. Although I immediately recognized the town when we arrived, I still needed to ask someone on the street to point me in the direction of my hotel, Albergo Morgenleit. My room there turned out to be fairly spacious and comfortable, with a large bed and a desk where I could work. I was to stay here five nights and would have plenty of extra time for writing. The only view was through a couple of small windows, looking out toward the Prosciuttificio Wolf Sauris. When I checked in, the hotel was fully booked with yet another group of kids; I was told they were leaving in a few days and that I could move to a terrace room across the hall if I wanted. Looking back, I wish I had taken the hotel up on its offer, but once I got settled in, I felt it was a chore to have to move.

After unpacking my bags and organizing my notes on Sauris, I headed out to find some lunch. The mountain air was cool and a little breezy—much nicer than I had expected and a huge relief to get away from the sweltering heat of Udine. The pace of life seemed much more tranquil, too, despite the incessant hammering as tents for the weekend’s festival were being erected.

There were only two restaurants on my list for Sauris di Sotto, and since one of them was closed that day, I ended up at Ristorante Kursaal, where chef Daniele Cortiula—protégé of the late Carnian chef Gianni Cosetti—had made it his mission to continue the legacy of Carnian cuisine. The restaurant was split into two levels, with a casual osteria downstairs and a more elegant dining room with a prix fixe menu upstairs. Both rooms were empty, and so I seated myself at a table downstairs.

I began my meal with the cialzòns (alternate spellings include cjarsòns and cjalsòns), which were filled with fresh ricotta, raisins, and herbs. Drowning in a pool of melted butter, they were topped not with the usual ricotta affumicata but with shavings of aged Montasio cheese.

It was here that I began to question the pronunciation of this dish. Until this point, I had always heard it pronounced with an English “ch” sound, as in chawl-ZOHNZ or chahr-ZOHNZ. At Kursaal, however, the waitress pronounced the word with a hard “k”: kee-awl-ZOHNZ. Over the next several years, I continued to be perplexed over the true pronunciation of the word, having heard as many disparate pronunciations as there are spellings. I finally concluded that the true Furlan pronunciation begins with a “k” sound, despite several variations in endings (-ZOHNZ; -CHOHNZ; -SHOHNZ), and that the “ch” variation that I had previously heard may in fact be simply an Italianization; since there is no letter “j” in the Italian alphabet, it may be that the letters “cja” were spoken as “cia,” which are pronounced in English as cha.

Next, I ordered the frico, which was quite possibly the best I had ever had. Served with grilled polenta, the frico was formed into a six-inch pancake. The outside was crisp and golden, while the inside had the velvety softness of mashed potatoes, with just enough cheese to melt in your mouth but not so much that it oozed grease. Cortiula also tossed bits of diced speck into the mix for added flavor.

For dessert, I indulged in a slice of torta di pere e noci: a light, crumbly square of yellow cake, baked with chopped walnuts and a slice of pear set into the top. The cake was served with a sprinkle of powdered sugar and a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

After lunch, I mustered enough courage to go meet Cortiula. I was a tad nervous, for I had made an embarrassing blunder in an email to him earlier that year. I was writing to inform him of my cookbook project and upcoming visit; somehow I got my vowels mixed up and addressed him as the female “Daniela” rather than the male “Daniele.” I made no mention of my error and couldn’t tell if he remembered, but still I felt that his reception was a bit chilly. Nevertheless, he agreed to prepare a couple of Carnian dishes for me that evening.

Prosciuttificio Wolf SaurisIn the meantime, I took a long stroll to explore the village. First, I headed to the Prosciuttificio Wolf Sauris, a barn-like factory that has been producing its special brand of smoked prosciutto since 1862. A tour bus sat outside waiting for a group of older folk to finish their guided visit. Upon inquiring, I was told that they only offer guided tours to large groups; however, there was a group scheduled for Friday at 3:30pm, and I was invited to tag along.

Next, I discovered the Tessitura Artigiana di Sauris, a shop specializing in traditional Carnian textiles. I selected and purchased four handwoven placemats—which I would later use as props when photographing my recipes—and then paid a visit to the onion-domed Chiesa di Sant’Osvaldo.

At the tourist office, I saw a flyer advertising an excursion to two local malghe, or “dairy farms,” high up in the mountains above Sauris di Sopra. The hike was scheduled for Saturday and would take six hours round-trip, with the closest malga being about an hour and a half away. I wasn’t sure I’d be up for a six-hour hike, but I thought perhaps, one of these days, I could undertake the hike to the first malga on my own.

For dinner, I returned to Ristorante Kursaal, which was still surprisingly empty. The first dish Cortiula prepared for me was toç in braide: a bowl of soupy polenta topped with a sauce of thinned ricotta, a pile of sautéed mushrooms, and a drizzle of toasted cornmeal in browned butter. Next came a plate of blècs: buckwheat pasta cut into triangles and topped with sautéed mushrooms and grated Montasio. Depending on the season, the thick, chewy pasta can be served with any number of toppings, from meat to vegetables to cheese.

As I ate, the waitresses intermittently passed through the dining room but seemed to avoid making eye contact with me. All of our exchanges were short and terse, even though I expressed a genuine interest in the preparation of the two dishes. Were the women merely tired and bored, or were they being intentionally brusque? This was quite unlike my typical experience here; most of the time, I had found Friulians to be exceptionally gracious. While the meal more than satisfied my hunger—it helped me to further appreciate the region’s history by experiencing its traditional cucina povera (cooking of the poor)—I was beginning to feel a dissatisfaction creep up on me. With the staff treating me so coldly and the room still devoid of other diners, I felt lonelier than I had in many years.

Back at Hotel Morgenleit, instead of retiring directly to my room as usual, I wandered around the halls and stumbled by chance upon a game room. While browsing the bookshelves—being particularly intrigued by a cookbook entitled Cucina & Vini Friulani nel Mondo—the room was suddenly stormed by a couple dozen screaming young boys. Although I yearned for company, this was not the company I desired, so I borrowed the book and fled to my room for the night.

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Flavors of FriuliIt was June 2004 when Mike and I returned to San Francisco. I had over a year to prepare for my next trip, which would take me once again throughout Friuli–Venezia Giulia. Since Udine made a convenient home base for me to explore the region, I planned two separate weeks there, bookending a three-week journey through Carnia. Two of my main objectives were to visit at least one malga and to attend several more food festivals, so I arranged to travel to Carnia’s major villages—Sauris, Arta Terme, Ravascletto, Forni di Sopra, and Forni Avoltri—all by bus. During my time in Udine, I would take day trips to now-familiar towns such as Cormòns, Cividale, and San Daniele, as well as new ones like Marano Lagunare, Bordano, and Maniago. I would tour three prosciutto factories, climb two mountains, and panic during one very frustrating train strike that stranded me in Venzone. Please join me in the weeks and months to come, as I continue chronicling my Friulian adventures.

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Hotel Pa'KhraizarI awoke early to the sound of a light rain pattering against our windows. It was the perfect day to sleep in, yet Mike and I had plans to leave Sauris and drive eastward toward the town of Arta Terme. For once, I had not made a hotel reservation for the night, so we needed to find a place to stay.

Our breakfast at Hotel Pa’Khraizar was the most memorable of any I’ve ever had in Italy. Instead of the all-too-common packaged toast and dry, tasteless rolls that are typically accompanied by those tiny, plastic packets of jam, we were served a basket of soft, warm, freshly-baked rolls along with the most delicious condiments ever: three small dishes of homemade preserves—orange marmalade and cherry and strawberry jams—as well as pots of honey and freshly churned butter. In addition, there was plenty of the thin European-style yogurt that I love, most likely made from the milk of local cows (and especially delicious with a swirl of strawberry jam).

LateisMid-morning we began the tortuous drive down from the hamlet of Lateis, back through the spooky, cave-like tunnels toward Ampezzo. Originally, we had planned on driving west to Forni di Sopra, but with the rain, we realized there wouldn’t be such a great view of the Dolomites. (The following summer, I would return to Carnia and visit Forni di Sopra, along with several other towns.) So instead, we headed east to Villa Santina, where we took the road north through the Val Degano.

Even though Mike was getting used to driving a stick-shift, we still had this anxiety (mostly unfounded) over parking the car, for fear we might not get it started again. Therefore, we didn’t make as many stops along the way as I would have liked. We did pull over in Ovaro, though, when I spotted a bakery and wanted to look again for esse di Raveo. The town of Raveo, after which these “S”-shaped cookies were named, was in this same valley, although we had passed the turn-off a few minutes earlier. Unfortunately, this bakery only sold the cookies in large tubs, which I passed up in hopes of finding individual cookies elsewhere.

Albergo Ristorante BellavistaWe continued north to Comeglians, when we turned eastward into the Valcalda. We stopped in Ravascletto for lunch at the Albergo Ristorante Bellavista. Since it was still May and not yet peak summer season, the restaurant was empty. Instead of being seated in the dining room, we were served at one of the casual tables in the front room. Given how much we had been eating as of late, we opted for only a single course. The restaurant offered two types of cjarsòns—savory with herbs and sweet with raisins—and we ordered a plate of each. Neither one was particularly memorable.

Matteo MaieronFrom Ravascletto, we headed east and then south toward Arta Terme. Earlier on the trip, I had enjoyed my meal at Albergo Ristorante Salon and was disappointed that their famous cjarsòns were not on the menu due to the weekend’s food festival (and special tasting-menu). In hopes of another chance to try them, we made Salon our next stop. Like at Bellavista, there were few guests, so we had no trouble booking a room. Matteo Maieron, who was the waiter at my tasting-menu lunch, remembered me and greeted us both with youthful enthusiasm.

Our room was a triple with a large, red-tiled bathroom and a pleasant view of the hills behind the hotel. After a brief rest, we drove to Tolmezzo, ten minutes further south, and paid a visit to the Museo Carnico delle Arti Popolari. This ethnographic museum contained a collection of all aspects of Carnian life and culture—thirty rooms full of clothing, cookware, furniture, musical instruments, masks, and portraits. Afterward, we scoped out another bakery in our search for a snack of esse di Raveo. Apparently, the cookies were not sold individually anywhere, so we purchased a plastic tub of them for the road. As we drove back toward Arta Terme in the late afternoon, nibbling on the crisp, sweet cookies, we could see the fog curling in through the valley like tendrils of smoke.

Albergo Ristorante SalonDinner at Ristorante Salon that evening was one I will never forget. Ever since my first bite of cjarsòns several years earlier, I had become obsessed with the dish, trying it at every possible opportunity. In fact, I had already sampled two different versions at lunch this very day. But it was the reputation of Salon’s cjarsòns that led me to visit their restaurant in the first place, and I was not to be disappointed this time. After sampling nearly twenty versions over the years, these were—and still are—my absolute favorite. 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.

Fortunately, Mike and I both began with the cjarsòns, because the rest of the meal was acutely anticlimactic. For my second course, I ordered the pheasant breast, which came with French fries and salad. The pheasant was gray and bland, not nearly as tasty as the one prepared two weeks earlier as part of the tasting menu. The salad was deftly prepared to order by Matteo, who assembled the garden-fresh ingredients from a table-side rolling cart; however, the French fries were nothing but a cop-out on the part of the kitchen staff. Mike’s entrée was no more appealing: thin slices of overcooked roast beef, which also came with French fries and salad. The meal was redeemed only slightly by a slice of warm apple strudel for our dessert.

cjarsonsThe memory of those cjarsòns drew me back to Salon repeatedly the following summer. Here is my adaptation of the recipe given to me by owner Bepi Salon:

Pasta Dough:
1 cup semolina flour
1/4 cup boiling water, plus extra as needed
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, boiling water, and olive oil. Transfer the dough to a clean surface; knead until the flour is fully incorporated and the mixture becomes smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (If the dough is too dry or crumbly, lightly moisten your fingers with water during kneading until you reach the desired texture.) Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

Filling:
1 white potato (about 8 ounces), peeled and quartered
1/4 cup finely crushed biscotti
1/4 cup grated apple
1/4 cup grated pear
3 tablespoons grated ricotta affumicata
2 tablespoons dried currants
2 tablespoons apricot jam
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram

1. Place the potato in a medium pot filled with water; bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the potato and place in a medium bowl; mash well. Cool to room temperature. Stir in the crushed biscotti, apple, pear, ricotta affumicata, currants, apricot jam, sugar, lemon peel, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and salt.

2. Melt 1 teaspoon butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the parsley, basil, mint, and marjoram; cook and stir until wilted, about 1 minute. Stir into the potato mixture. Refrigerate for 1 hour, or until ready to use.

To prepare:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup grated ricotta affumicata
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Working in batches, feed the dough through the rollers of a pasta machine until very thin (setting #7 on most machines). Cut out 3-inch circles from the dough. Place 1 teaspoon filling on each circle. Moisten the edges with water and fold in half to make a semi-circle, sealing the edges tightly. Pinch the sealed edge into four points.

2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Working in batches, place the cjarsòns in the water; cook until they rise to the surface, about 1–2 minutes. Drain.

3. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat; remove from heat. Stir in the ricotta affumicata, sugar, and cinnamon; add the cjarsòns and toss to coat with butter.

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Villa ManinThis 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.

Villa ManinWhen 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.

Spilimbergo's Palazzo ErcoleNext, 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).

Chiesa di San Daniele in CastelloHaving 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”).

Hotel Pa'KhraizarOnce 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.

Sauris di SopraAfter 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!

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prosciutto di SaurisCheck out my new travel “Highlights” on Afar.com: a prosciutto festival in Sauris and Muggia’s disgruntled winged lion of Saint Mark.

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