Posts Tagged ‘Tarvisio’

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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Monte Santo di LussariOur room at Albergo Salon was quiet and comfortable; I slept soundly all night, but in the morning there was no hot water, and so I was forced to begin the day with a cold shower. Happily, the breakfast downstairs—a platter of prosciutto and warm croissants filled with apricot jam—redeemed my mood. As we pulled out of our parking spot and slowly headed down the road from Piano d’Arta, we were accosted by several workmen frantically waving their arms at us. My immediate thought was that we were driving the wrong way down a one-way street. But finally, after a good deal of gesturing and pointing, we realized that we had left the plastic tub of esse di Raveo cookies sitting on the roof of the car!

Our destination was the area in northeast Friuli called Tarvisiano, nestled in the Giulian Alps and bordering Austria. Just before we reached the town of Tarvisio, where we had reservations for the night, Mike and I made a stop at Camporosso. Back in February, I had walked to Camporosso all the way from Tarvisio, the fields then blanketed with snow, to take the telecabina to the summit of Monte Santo di Lussari. The sky had been crystal clear, affording the most magnificent views of the surrounding mountains. Ski season had been in full swing, and so I joined the crowds at the top watching skiers glide down the steep slopes.

Monte Santo di LussariNow it was May, with far fewer visitors, and although the air was slightly warmer, there was still a great deal of snow covering the ground. Unlike my previous visit, the sky was gray and foreboding, with dark clouds threatening still more rain. A cold, brisk wind whipped through my hair as Mike and I hiked up the small hill behind the sanctuary. Once again, I felt as if I were standing on top of the world.

After making the long descent down the mountain inside the enclosed ski lift, we drove on to Tarvisio and checked into the Hotel Valle Verde. Presently, we walked the short distance into town and enjoyed a tasty lunch at Ristorante Gasthaus Tschurwald. To begin, we shared two antipasti: a plate of prosciutto di Sauris and a sampler of four cheeses served with mostarda di frutta (much like a chutney, this one made with pear). Next, I ordered a steaming bowl of orzo e fagioli (bean and barley soup), while Mike had gnocchi di patate alla Carnica (potato gnocchi served with melted butter, pancetta, and ricotta affumicata).

Laghi di FusineIn the afternoon, we drove to the Parco Naturale dei Laghi di Fusine. Inside the park, there were two lakes. The first one, Lago Inferiore, was larger and surrounded by pine trees and forested mountains. The higher one, Lago Superiore, was smaller but offered an even more spectacular vista. We hiked halfway around the lake, along a secluded path through the woods; on the other side, our reward was a view of Monte Mangart’s snow-covered, rocky peaks towering over the emerald green water.

Worn out from our trek, we rested in our room until 8:00pm. The hotel’s restaurant was scheduled to open then, and I was looking forward to trying some of their Friulian specialties. To our dismay, when we showed up at the dining room, we found the restaurant closed due to a 300-person wedding party being catered at a nearby villa. We had no choice but to walk back into town, where we spent the next hour scoping out all possibilities. Most restaurants were either too busy (given the late hour) or closed (it was in between the peak seasons of winter and summer). Another we had to pass up because of the dog and cat prowling around the dining area—I have a severe cat allergy. All that were left were a handful of pizzerie. After wandering through the entire town and exhausting all other options, we settled on the final pizzeria we came across, Ristorante Duemila. I ordered a pizza with asparagus, and Mike chose one with prosciutto di San Daniele. The pizzas were perfectly fine, but as always, I felt somewhat let down whenever I was unable to cross off any of the Friulian dishes on my research list. Fortunately, we took it all in stride and consoled ourselves with a sufficient quantity of house red wine!

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frittelleCheck out my new travel “Highlights” on Afar.com: two Alpine lakes and a food festival celebrating wild asparagus, mountain radicchio, and spring mushrooms.

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Early one winter morning, I took the train from Udine to the town of Tarvisio in the mountains of northern Friuli. The sky was clear, and for most of the way, the tracks ran parallel to the autostrada. As we approached the Alps, we passed through the area called Alto Friuli, with the little town of Gemona del Friuli, nestled in the foothills of Monte Chiampon, and then Venzone, a quaint village surrounded by a medieval stone wall. Both towns had been severely damaged in the 1976 earthquake. After passing through a long tunnel, we emerged in Pontebba, where the ground was now blanketed with snow. Another tunnel led to Ugovizza Valbruna—and more snow—and still another tunnel to Tarvisio, where the train pulled into its final stop.

The Tarvisio Boscoverde station was actually located some distance outside the town, but there was a connecting bus waiting to pick up passengers at the station. I didn’t know this, so I leisurely made my way to the restroom, thinking I had all the time in the world. By chance, I happened to follow two middle-aged women out of the station to where the bus was just starting its engine. We barely made it! If I had missed the bus, it would have been a long walk into town.

Having arrived in Tarvisio, I stopped briefly at the tourist office to inquire about the Sagra dei Cjalsòns, which I was hoping to attend in May of that same year. From there, I walked and walked along the highway—past the Valle Verde hotel and ski resort, past endless snow-covered fields—until, over an hour later, I reached the town of Camporosso.

In Camporosso, I rode the telecabina (ski lift) to the summit of Monte Santo di Lussari. It was prime ski season, and the slopes were crowded with skiers. Not a skier myself, I took a walk up to the lookout point above the lift platform. The path was icy, and I had to hold tight to the railing to keep from slipping—although once I did manage to end up knee deep in a snow bank. The view of the surrounding Giulian Alps was simply breathtaking—in every direction, craggy peaks capped with snow stood out against the crisp, blue sky.

On the opposite side of the summit was the mini village Borgo Lussari, where the tiny Santuario di Monte Lussari poked its steeple out from amid the snow-covered rooftops like a fairytale church. 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.

Mass was being held in the sanctuary, so I didn’t enter. Instead, I surveyed the village for places to eat. There were only three restaurants to choose from. I decided on Albergo Ristorante Rododendro, where I warmed up inside their rustic chalet-style dining room and tucked into a hearty plate of goulasch con polenta. It was the perfect meal for a chilly day on a mountaintop!

The telecabina ride down the mountain was a bit harrowing when the cables suddenly jerked to a stop, leaving our compartment swinging dizzily from side to side. Of course, I made it safely to the bottom, and I immediately headed back to Tarvisio. The return trip took less than an hour—I must have stopped an awful lot for photos on the way that morning—but when I reached Tarvisio, everything was closed for the afternoon. I found the bus stop and sat and waited…and waited…and waited.

Finally when the tourist office reopened, I went in to inquire about the bus schedule. Apparently, I was waiting at the wrong stop, but I hadn’t missed the bus for there were only two per day, morning and afternoon, scheduled to coincide with the train to Udine.

I eventually found the proper bus stop (on a street parallel to the one the bus had dropped me off on that morning), but still had a long time to wait. The bus was late and was packed with British schoolgirls on some kind of sporting meet. The two women I had followed to the bus earlier were on the bus now returning to the train station. The three of us had a bit of a panic trying to catch our train. There were no signs announcing which track our train was on, and because the bus was late, we had no time to spare. In the sottopassaggio (underground passageway), the three of us ran up and down the stairs, checking each platform for our train. There were only two trains sitting in the station, and so when we found the platform for the first one, one of the women ran ahead to ask the conductor. Luckily this was our train, and it took off as soon as we boarded.

It was nearly time for dinner when I arrived back in Udine. I returned to my old stand-by, Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo, where I ordered the cjalsòns once again. I noted that, while still delicious, they were not as sweet as some of the other versions I had recently tried. For my second course, I had the stinco di maiale, a gigantic braised pork shank served with polenta. While I would never consider the food at Al Vecchio Stallo elegant or chic, portions are always substantial and thoroughly satisfying!

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