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Piazza della Libertà, Udine

The original winged lion was an ancient bronze sculpture brought to Venice in the 12th century. Sitting atop one of two columns in Piazza San Marco, the lion eventually came to represent Saint Mark, the city’s patron saint, and has been the symbol of Venice ever since.

As the Middle Ages drew to an end, two competing powers were emerging, the Venetian Republic and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This brought forth yet another period of unrest in Friuli, when cities were forced to align with one of the two sides. In 1382, when Venetian forces threatened to occupy the entire coastline, Trieste turned to Hapsburg Austria for protection. Nevertheless, Venice went on a vast conquering spree, taking control of Udine, Pordenone, and Gorizia, as well as considerable territory beyond.

To demonstrate allegiance to their new rulers, cities often erected statues of the winged lion of Saint Mark. The following are four notable locations in Friuli where the lion makes an appearance.

Piazza della Libertà, Udine

It is no coincidence that Udine’s Piazza della Libertà bears a striking resemblance to Piazza San Marco in Venice. Along with most of Friuli and parts of Venezia Giulia, Udine was conquered by the Venetians in 1420 and remained under their rule for over 300 years. In the center of the square, the winged lion perches atop one of two columns, similar to those that defend the seaward rim of Piazza San Marco.

On one side, the Loggia del Lionello appears at first glance to be a small-scale version of Venice’s Palazzo Ducale, with its pink and white stripes and trilobed, arched windows. Lining the elevated portion of the piazza is the Porticato di San Giovanni, a long stretch of arcades in the center of which nestles Udine’s most recognizable monument, the Torre dell’Orologio (clock tower). Inspired by the zodiac signs on Venice’s famous clock, a golden sun radiates from a brilliant blue clock face. Two bronze moors strike the hour above the clock, while the winged lion makes another appearance below.

Yet a third winged lion stands guard over the Arco Bollani. Designed by the architect Palladio, this arch leads to a neat cobblestone path that winds up the hill to Udine’s castello, now a massive museum complex.

Palazzo Comunale, Venzone

The charming medieval-walled town of Venzone, situated at the base of the Carnian Alps, was one of many to be occupied by the Venetians in 1420. The Palazzo Comunale (town hall) had just finished construction a decade earlier, and its corner tower was soon adorned with the winged lion of Saint Mark. It should be noted as well that the tower bears a 24-hour clock similar to the one in Venice’s Piazza San Marco and with a central sun like the Torre dell’Orologio in Udine. The building also features several Venetian-Gothic trilobed, arched windows. Like most buildings in Venzone, the town hall was badly damaged in the earthquakes of 1976, but it was eventually reconstructed in its original style.

Palazzo dei Rettori, Muggia

The only town on the Istrian peninsula to remain within the Italian border, Muggia sports a distinct Venetian style that is punctuated by a quirky character all of its own. The central focus of town is Piazza Marconi and its two architectural landmarks: the Duomo dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, with its striking Venetian-Gothic trilobed façade, and the Palazzo dei Rettori, currently home to Muggia’s town hall. On the orange and yellow palazzo, a stone relief of the winged lion of Saint Mark reveals a clue to Muggia’s long tradition of humor and satire. Look closely at the lion’s face—the sense of disgust is apparent as he sticks out his tongue at the town’s former rulers.

Castello di Gorizia

For four centuries, beginning in the Middle Ages, Gorizia was home to a powerful dynasty. From their hilltop castle, the Counts of Gorizia ruled a territory that extended from Tyrol to Croatia. In the early 16th century, the city was one of many occupied by the Republic of Venice. Although Gorizia was acquired by Austria’s Hapsburg monarchy after only a couple of years, a winged lion stands guard at the entrance to the fortified castle as a reminder of Venice’s brief rule.

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When traveling in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, I typically made either Udine or Trieste my home base for much of the time. And whenever I was staying in these cities, I always made a point to take a day trip into Venezia. Several of my trips took place in February, and each time they just happened to coincide with Carnevale. Then there was the year my husband and I planned a few days in Venezia specifically for Carnevale. Since we had found a quaint hotel on a quiet canal in the Dorsoduro, we were able to avoid much of the chaos. These are some of my favorite photos from those trips.

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In centuries past, the people of central and northern Friuli-Venezia Giulia were typically poor and often plagued by famine. This was especially true during the long, brutal winters in the Carnia mountains, when snow would barricade the few existing roads, leaving families to fend for themselves. Until modern times, most Friulians were farmers. Their cuisine was a diet of poverty, consisting primarily of hearty grains and vegetables, particularly those with a long shelf life like potatoes. Beans, barley, and corn could easily be dried for lengthy storage. Turnips and cabbage were preserved through fermentation to make, respectively, brovada and sauerkraut. All of these foods are still an important part of the region’s cuisine today.

In contrast, Trieste, having long been the chief port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was an exotic crossroads of culture, with influences from around the world helping to shape its cuisine. While the foods of poverty remain dietary staples for many families here, it is the abundance of fresh seafood that best defines Triestine cooking.

The following are five of FVG’s most well-known soups:

Jota (also spelled “iota”) is considered to be one of Trieste’s native dishes. The main ingredients are beans, potatoes, and sauerkraut. A similar soup is made in Carnia using brovada (pickled turnips) in place of the sauerkraut.

 

 

 

Minestra di Bobici is prepared with beans, potatoes, and corn. Originally a specialty of the Istrian peninsula, this tasty soup is now popular in Trieste (where “bobici” is dialect for corn) as well as in the villages of the Carso. The sweet corn and salty pancetta provide lots of flavor, making this one of my all-time favorite soups.

 

 

Orzo e Fagioli is a hearty soup made with barley and beans. You’ll find the dish throughout Friuli, where it is perfect for a cold winter’s evening.

 

 

 

 

Paparòt is made with spinach and cornmeal. It is typical of central Friuli’s home cooking, especially in the province of Pordenone.

 

 

 

 

Brodeto alla Triestina is virtually indistinguishable from the numerous varieties of zuppa di pesce (fish soup) found throughout the Mediterranean, including Livorno’s cacciucco, Ancona’s brodetto, and Marseille’s bouillabaisse.

 

 

 

Recipes for all five of these soups can be found in my cookbook Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy.

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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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This article was originally published in 2013 on TravelLady.com.

Tucked away between mountains and sea in Italy’s northeast corner is the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Known for its unique fusion of cuisines that blends Austro-Hungarian, Slavic, Venetian, and Roman influences, Friuli offers a variety of irresistible flavors. From goulasch to gubana, there is something to entice everyone’s palate, and wine connoisseurs will be particularly delighted with the wines in this off-the-beaten-path destination.

The Collio and Colli Orientali del Friuli constitute the heart of Friuli’s wine country. These two wine zones, which are sometimes referred to collectively as the Collio Goriziano, are reminiscent of Tuscany’s rolling hills or California’s lush Napa Valley. The word colli, meaning “hills,” epitomizes this landscape where the grapes have more sun exposure than in the low-lying plains. Though the centrally located Grave del Friuli zone is the region’s largest wine producer—chiefly of Merlot—the wines from the Collio and Colli Orientali are regarded to be Friuli’s best. In fact, most experts agree that the white wines from this region are the most superb in all of Italy.

The Collio lies in Gorizia province, along the Slovenian border and separated from the Colli Orientali by the Judrio River. This zone is most famous for its white wines, Tocai Friulano in particular. Although this grape is not believed to be native to Friuli, it has been produced there for centuries. In 2005, the European Union delivered an unpopular verdict regarding the name Tocai: of the three European wines having a historical claim on the name—Tocai Friulano, Tokai-Pinot Gris from France, and Hungarian Tokaj—only the Hungarian wine would be allowed to continue using its name. Despite much local protest, Tocai Friulano is now officially called merely Friulano.

Also popular are Collio’s white wine blends, which usually contain at least two of the following: Tocai, Malvasia Istriana, and Ribolla Gialla, as well as occasionally Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco, or Pinot Grigio. Perhaps the Collio’s most famous blend is the Vino della Pace, which is produced from 540 grape varieties selected from every continent. This “wine of peace” is bottled and sent to political and religious leaders around the world.

The town of Cormòns is home to one of the region’s most noted wine bars, the Enoteca di Cormòns. Also the seat of the Collio’s wine-producing consortium, this bar makes a great place to taste regional wines along with the locally smoked prosciutto D’Osvaldo. Every September, Cormòns hosts the Festa Provinciale dell’Uva, a wine festival featuring music, theater, and cultural events, along with the obligatory wine tasting.

The Colli Orientali lies to the north of the Collio in Udine province and also borders on Slovenia. Many native grapes are grown here, including the reds Refosco, Schioppettino, and Pignolo, and whites Ribolla Gialla, Verduzzo, and Picolit. While the versatile and abundant Verduzzo grapes can be vinified as either a dry or sweet wine, Picolit is one of the rarest and most precious dessert wines ever made.

Produced exclusively in the Valli del Natisone near the town of Cividale, Picolit is believed to have been cultivated since Roman times. A fragile and high maintenance variety, the grapevine is extremely low yielding due to a condition called “floral abortion,” where many buds die before maturing into grapes. With a golden color, honeyed fragrance, and subtle hints of almond, dried fruit, and spice, Picolit is what Italian experts call a “meditation wine,” meaning that it is best savored on its own without any food.

During the 18th century, winemaker Count Fabio Asquini of Fagagna developed an unrivaled appreciation for Picolit. With the idea that a diminutive package would increase the wine’s appeal, he commissioned special half-size bottles from the glassblowers in Murano. These he then exported to Venice where Picolit soon became the drink of choice for Doge Manin and his court. Asquini proved himself to be a marketing genius, able to manipulate the laws of supply and demand to his advantage. He had held back part of his inventory, thus creating the illusion of limited supply. Then, when reports of this magnificent wine reached Vienna, he was able to ship some to the emperor. Before long, Asquini was sending Picolit to the king of France, the tsar of Russia, and even the pope, but following Asquini’s death, Picolit nearly disappeared from production.

An epidemic of the phylloxera fungus ravished vineyards throughout 19th-century Europe. Then, after winemakers had successfully replanted, the two world wars caused even further devastation. Several grapes were facing extinction when they were rescued during the 1970s. A scholar named Walter Filiputti found two surviving vines of Pignolo in an abbey in Rosazzo and was able to nurse them back to health, while winemaker Paolo Rapuzzi did the same for the failing Schioppettino grape.

During these periods of revival, Friulians replanted not only native grapes—as did most of Europe—but foreign varieties as well. With a long history of intermingling cultures and openness to foreigners, it was only natural that Friuli be one of the first regions in the world to do so. During the late 19th century, Friuli became the first region in Italy to produce Merlot and was among the first to have Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Traminer. Today, these non-natives are produced as 100 percent varietal wines, as well as mixed in Friuli’s popular blends.

Although the Collio and Colli Orientali wines are more widely recognized, the Carso wine zone must not be overlooked. High above the coastline in the province of Trieste, this narrow ribbon of limestone and dolomite produces such notable reds as Terrano and Refosco di San Dorligo, as well as the white wines Malvasia Istriana and Vitovska. The tiny Carso town of Prosecco has given its name to the native grape Glera di Prosecco, which is thought to be the source of the famed sparkling wine produced today throughout the Veneto.

For a taste of Carso wine, drive along what tourism officials have dubbed the “Terrano Wine Road,” from Opicina to Sistiana. Throughout the countryside, farmhouses open their doors to the public for wine tasting and the sale of other artisanal products. Called osmizze (or osmize) these temporary roadside taverns are indicated by a frasca—a leafy cluster of branches hung above the door. Tables are set up inside the courtyard—traditional Carsic homes had stone walls built around a central courtyard as protection from the fierce bora winds—and villagers gather to sample the local vintage and feast on homemade cheese and salumi. The custom began in 1784 with an imperial decree that allowed peasants to sell their excess wine and produce in an unlicensed restaurant for eight days each year; the word osmizza is thus derived from the Slovene word osem, meaning “eight.”

Whether you travel to Friuli solely as an oenophile or happen to stumble upon the region as an unexpected surprise, you will surely be enchanted by the beauty of its landscape, charmed by the warmth of its people—and seduced by the magic of its food and wine.

IF YOU GO:
Enoteca di Cormòns
Piazza XXIV Maggio, 21
34071 Cormòns (GO)
Italy
+39 (0481) 630371
http://www.enoteca-cormons.it/

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For the past couple weeks, I’ve been working on redesigning BalanceontheBall.com, the website for my first book, Balance on the Ball: Exercises Inspired by the Teachings of Joseph Pilates. I’m relaunching the site on a new platform and am excited that it now features an e-commerce page where you can purchase both of my books, Flavors of Friuli and Balance on the Ball. To celebrate the relaunch, I’m offering this 40% off coupon, valid through the end of November.

To order, click this link https://balanceontheball.com/order/ and use the code LAUNCH40BL at checkout. Thanks for shopping!

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1. View the Barcolana sailing regatta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Società Alpina delle Giulie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Attend the Festa della Zucca in Venzone

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

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

8. While in Venzone, visit the mummy exhibit

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

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

9. Tour Castello di Miramare and other historic castles

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

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

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

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

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

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