Posts Tagged ‘Villa Manin’

Montasio cheeseI had planned on an excursion to Lignano Sabbiadoro, but when I awoke, it was pouring rain—not ideal for a day at the beach. This was probably for the best, I concluded; the town was hosting the European Youth Olympic Festival that week, and it might be wise to avoid the crowds. Instead, I spent a couple hours doing errands in downtown Udine. I took some photos at my favorite cheese shop, La Baita, and then made the rounds of the city’s bakeries, inquiring about some of the desserts that I still had questions about.

Perhaps the greatest success of my morning was at the TIM store, where I needed to resolve once and for all the problems I’d been having with my cell phone. On my most recent trip to Italy—two weeks in Florence and Venice the past December with my mom—I was inexplicably unable to recharge my TIM card. I had tried several branches in both cities, and after hours of waiting in line and much frustration, my account still appeared to be frozen. While I could place and receive calls on my remaining credit, I knew the credit would eventually run out.

Here, in Udine, I was expecting to have to purchase a brand new TIM card. I had nearly completed the process of buying one, when I explained the problem I had had in December. The guy at the counter took a look at the old card; at first it read zero credit, but when he checked the computer, it showed the correct amount of 25 euros. I asked to add 5 euros to it, just to prove that it wouldn’t work—but to my astonishment, it did work this time! To this day, I still don’t know what the problem had been on my previous trip.

When I left the TIM store, rain was coming down in torrents. I stopped by Hotel Principe to pick up my jacket and then crossed the street to the train station. Plan B was to take the train to Codroipo and, hopefully, find my way to Villa Manin, which had been closed when Mike and I paid a visit the previous year. The villa is located in the town of Passariano, about 3 km outside Codroipo. There were supposed to be three buses per day running between the two towns, and with any luck, I’d be able to catch one of them.

First, though, I needed to find some lunch, and I had one restaurant in mind: Osteria Alle Risorgive. Thanks to the street maps that I had printed off the Internet, I was able to find my destination with no problem—and it was open! There was no menu posted outside, but a chalkboard in the entrance advertised salame all’aceto and frico. The waiter gave me a verbal run-down of the daily pastas, but I requested merely those two dishes from the chalkboard. Glancing at my petite figure, he politely warned me that the frico was grande, but I was not going to be intimidated by a large frico.

As I sat waiting for my meal to arrive, I surveyed the restaurant’s rustic interior: white stucco walls, arched doorways, dark wooden ceiling beams, and red-checkered tablecloths. A fogolâr (fireplace) occupied one corner, pots and cooking utensils of iron and copper hanging over the hearth. Around the dining room was an assortment of collectible items, including hand-carved wooden bowls, an old-fashioned wooden radio, and various straw baskets. Outside, the rain was beginning to taper off, though I could still hear the low rumble of thunder in the distance.

My salame all’aceto arrived first: two slices of cured sausage sautéed in vinegar and served atop two squares of crispy, grilled polenta. The frico came next—a better description would have been grandissimo! It was indeed huge, perhaps a pound or more of melted cheese, golden and crisp on the outside, oozing with grease on the inside, and no indication of potato whatsoever, which was very unusual for frico served in the style of a thick pancake like this. Typically, the cheese-only frico is lacy, wafer-thin, and crisp in its entirety (or else porous like a crunchy sea sponge, in the case of the less common frico friabile). I put forth a valiant effort but ultimately made only a dent in the mound of cheese—and even so, ended up with a monster of a stomachache later that afternoon!

On my way to the restaurant, I had not noticed any bus stops, but after my fat-filled lunch, I felt a nice, long walk would help burn off some calories. A bicycle/pedestrian path ran alongside the road, which was lined with nothing but cornfields. Although the rain had stopped completely by now, the air was moist and heavy, the sky filled with dark gray clouds.

Villa ManinThe walk took just over a half hour from Alle Risorgive. Once I reached Villa Manin, I stopped first at the tourist office (at that time, the headquarters of the Agenzia Turismo FVG was located in Piazza Manin) to pick up some brochures. I had already collected so many that I would need to leave them at Hotel Principe until my return in three weeks, when I would ultimately mail them home.

This time Villa Manin was open, and while I knew that the palace was now a contemporary art museum with rotating special exhibits, deep down I somehow still expected a royal palace like Castello di Miramare. The only bit of true baroque grandeur was the Camera di Napoleone—the room Napoleon Bonaparte occupied during his brief stay at Villa Manin—complete with diminutive bed and furnishings. Throughout the rest of the palace, walls decorated in typical 17th-century trompe l’oeil made a sharp contrast to the expressionist and postmodernist works of art on display. It was an odd juxtaposition, to say the least.

Osteria Al Vecchio StalloBack in Udine that evening, I went straight to Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo for dinner. Even though the dining room was empty—save for the elderly signora who was back in her usual corner spot—each table bore a placeholder marked Riservato. Since the reservations were never for any earlier than 8:00pm, and because the staff knew quite well by this point that I wasn’t one to linger over my meals, I was seated at a reserved table. I ordered the braciola di maiale (pork chop) with a side of zucchini trifolati (sautéed zucchini). The pork chop was gigantic, though dangerously pink in parts and so tough that I nearly sprained a finger trying to cut into it. The meal was redeemed, however, by the baby zucchini, which were thinly sliced and deliciously savory.

As I was leaving, I finally got to meet the mysterious third Mancini brother. So far, I had become well acquainted with two of the brothers: Mario (the chef) and Maurizio (who ran the cash register). I knew there was a third brother named Enzo, but I had never seen him until this evening, when he came to dine with his family. Enzo explained that the three brothers had owned Al Vecchio Stallo for about twenty years, although the restaurant’s history dated back more than a century. The brothers were excited to announce that a book was currently being published about the restaurant, and I was pleased to learn that it would be available in time for my fall trip, planned for October 2005.

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cheese at Mondo delle Malghe in OvaroCheck out my latest travel “Highlights” on Afar.com: a festival of cheese and Friuli’s largest palazzo.

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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’Krhaizar 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’Krhaizar, 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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