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Off the Path Itineraries - Friuli Venezia Giulia

July 2021

Since the Covid19 pandemic is not over, we still must keep distancing, so this year, for our summer holidays, we have chosen to visit one of the lesser visited regions of Italy, Friuli Venezia Giulia.

Located in the north-east of the italian peninsula and ranked fifteenth out of twenty in 2018, it would rank lower positions if it weren’t for the Austrians and Germans who flock to the beaches of Lignano Sabbiadoro and Grado in the summer.

Our itinerary includes four nights in Pasiano di Pordenone, four nights in Aquileia and two nights in Mestre.

Day 1 | Arrival at Villa Luppis, trip to the village of Passariano and visit of venetian inspired Villa Manin

For the first few nights we have chosen to stay at Villa Luppis, an elegant historic residence surrounded by a nice garden, rebuilt in 1500 on the ruins of a former convent dating back to the 11th century.

Villa Luppis giardino
Villa Luppis
Villa Luppis cortile
Villa Luppis
Villa Luppis

To start we visit Villa Manin. Surrounded by an 18 hectares park, it is the largest of the venetian-inspired villas in the region, it was the Doge’s seat and hosted Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797.

Villa Manin
Villa Manin

A few steps from Villa Manin, at Osteria da Buie, we taste some Friulian dishes such as frico, a kind of omelette made with cheese and potatoes and sarde in saor, large sardines sautéed in a pan with a sauce made with onions and vinegar then seasoned with raisins and pine nuts.

In the evening there is an important event, the European Football Championship semi-final, so we stay in the hotel and watch the match.


Day 2 | Trip to Pozze Smeraldine, one of the most beautiful places in Italy for swimming, evening in the village of Sacile also known as Little Venice

When travelling in the Friulian Dolomites Park area in summer, a swim in Pozze Smeraldine is a must, as it is  considered to be one of the ten most beautiful places in Italy for swimming.

From the village of Tramonti di Sopra there is a path that enters the Park. Here the water of Meduna river collects in pools and the white rocks create an intense emerald reflection. 

Pozze Smeraldine Friuli
Pozze Smeraldine, Parco delle Dolomiti Friulane
Pozze Smeraldine Friuli
Meduna River, Friulan Dolomites Park

The hotel staff advises us to go to Sacile for dinner. At S’ Ciaus they make pizzas using different doughs (traditional, spelled, wholemeal spelled), they are really excellent, the dough is light, crunchy and digestible.

Sacile is a village that stands on two islands along the Livenza river,  with noble palaces from the Venetian period overlooking the river banks. It is also known as Little Venice or the Garden of Serenissima.

Sacile Friuli
Sacile sul Livenza, Wikimedia Commons

Day 3 | Rafting on Tagliamento river and dinner at the family run restaurant Al Vecjo Traghet in San Daniele area

In the afternoon we are going rafting. We set off towards San Daniele del Friuli, in the province of Udine.

The rafting course stretches for about ten kilometers on Tagliamento, the last remaining example in Europe of a river that has not been man-made or regimented, its intertwined branches transform from month to month with each flood, making the descents always different. It is a soft rafting that favours the nature and landscape elements. Alessandro, our guide, explains every detail of the surrounding environment by telling its history,  characteristics and facts.

Fiume Tagliamento
Fiume Tagliamento, Wikimedia Commons

On arrival we dine at Al Vecjo Traghet. This family-run restaurant offers typical Friulian cuisine, using local organic products.

We are in the ​​San Daniele ham production area, an Italian gastronomic excellence, the result of a tradition that goes back to the 11th century BC and is strongly linked to the place where it is aged: a small hill town with a special location, crossed by the north-east winds that blow from the Carnic Alps to the Adriatic.

Not only the ham but all the cured meats and cheeses produced in this area are absolutely exceptional.


salumi friuliani

Day 4 | Visit to the cellars and wine tasting at Castello di Spessa, visit to the town of Gorizia

We leave Villa Luppis and the province of Pordenone. Along the way, we stop in Capriva del Friuli, in the Collio area, where  some of the best white wines in the world and full-bodied red wines are produced. Here the mountains and the sea are close together, this absolutely unique microclimate, in terms of ventilation and temperature range, and the “ponka“, the characteristic Collio soil, create the ideal conditions for growing vines.

We visit Castello di Spessa’s cellars, a golf wine resort surrounded by 30 hectares of vineyards. The tasting takes place in the superb gardens with a winemaker and is accompanied by local cold cuts and cheeses. We taste the typical white wines of this area: Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon.


Castello di Spessa
Castello di Spessa
Cantine Castello di Spessa
Castello di Spessa cellars
Cantine Castello di Spessa
Castello di Spessa cellars

A city that must be visited in Friuli is Gorizia, just ten kilometers away.

A border town, Gorizia‘s history is troubled. Until World War I it belonged to the Habsburg Empire, then it passed to Italy but at the end of World War II, Istria and a large part of Venezia Giulia were ceded to Yugoslavia and Gorizia was divided in two by a wall that divided it from the Slovenian side.

Piazza della Transalpina is the city’s emblem. For decades it was physically divided in two by the wall which was only torn down in 2004 and now a plaque remembers the demarcation stones of each state’s border.

Gorizia cippo di demarcazione
Gorizia cippo di demarcazione 2

The piazza is very impressive, with Nova Gorica’s train station on one side. The line dividing Slovenian and Italian territory is drawn on the ground, so you can stand with one foot in Italy and the other one in Slovenia.

Stazione di Nova Gorica
Nova Gorica Station in Slovenian territory, Wikimedia Commons
Piazza della Transalpina Gorizia resti del muro
Remains of the wall in Piazza della Transalpina Gorizia
Piazza della Transalpina Gorizia un piede in Italia l'altro in Slovenia
Piazza della Transalpina Gorizia one foot in Italy the other in Slovenia

Day 5 |  A bike ride to Grado, also know as the island of the sun

For our stay in the Udine province we have chosen Agriturismo Ai Due Leoni, an excellent apartment complex with a nice garden and a swimming pool, just 7 km from Aquileia.

The agriturismo is located along a cycle path that crosses the Grado lagoon and has bicycles at the guests’ disposal.

Once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Grado was much loved by the Habsburg aristocracy who used to go there for the marine thermal baths. Today Grado is an elegant seaside town with a charming venetian style historic center. It is known as the island of the sun, because its three kilometers long beach, facing south, is never in the shade.

Agriturismo ai Due Leoni
Agriturismo Ai Due Leoni, Aquileia
Laguna di Grado
Grado lagoon
Grado glimpses

Day 6 | Visit to Basilica of Aquileia and excursion to Isola della Cona, one of Italy’s best areas for birdwatching

The Basilica of Aquileia was rebuilt 4 times over the centuries with a Romanesque-Gothic style. The floor consists of a wonderful polychrome mosaic from the 4th century, the largest early Christian mosaic in the Western world (760 m²). Over a thousand years of historical and artistic events are enclosed between the floor and the ceiling.

Basilica di Aquileia navata centrale
Basilica of Aquileia central nave, Wikimedia Commons
Cesto di lumache mosaico pavimentale della Basilica di Aquileia
Basket of snails - floor mosaic of the Basilica of Aquileia
Basilica di Aquileia
Basilica of Aquileia

A paradise for nature and ornithology lovers certainly is the nearby Isola della Cona, in the Foce dell’Isonzo Nature Reserve, known for being the best area in Italy for birdwatching. The integrity of the area is entrusted to the animals themselves, such as the Camargue horses that live free in the Reserve and help control the vegetation’s development.

Cavalli Camargue Isola della Cona Friuli
Camargue horses in Isola della Cona
Birdwatching Isola della Cona Friuli
Birdwatching Isola della Cona

Day 7 | Visit to Miramare Castle and the city of Trieste

Italy is the 2021 European Football Championship winner. Our journey to discover Friuli continues with renewed enthusiasm.

A bridge between central and southern Europe, a fusion of Mediterranean and Slavic culture, Trieste is the Central European city par excellence.

The magnificent Miramare Castle, overlooking the sea, is a remarkable sight when arriving in Trieste along the coastal road. Built in the mid-nineteenth century as a residence for Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Habsburg, later Emperor of Mexico, and for his wife Charlotte of Belgium, the castle is surrounded by a large park that descends with wide steps towards the sea and houses a great variety of plants, many of which were chosen by the archduke himself during his trips around the world. The castle still has the original furnishings. The ground floor was intended as the residence of Emperor Maximilian I and his wife Charlotte, while the upper floor was, in the early 1930s, used as the residence of Duke Amedeo d’Aosta, who lived there for about seven years and renewed the rooms’ furnishing according to the style of the time.

Unfortunately a sad fate unites those who lived in Miramare: Maximilian of Habsburg left to take the imperial crown of Mexico and died there, while Amedeo left for the Ethiopian Empire of which he was viceroy and died while in prison.

Trieste Castello di Miramare
Miramare Castle, Trieste Wikimedia Commons
Trieste Castello di Miramare
Maximilian of Habsburg's studio
Trieste Castello di Miramare
the decor still prefectly preserved
Castello di Miramare Trieste
Miramare Castle gardens

In Trieste we stroll along the streets of the historic centre and the most representative sites of the city.

Beautiful Piazza Unità d’Italia where events have taken place throughout history that determined the city’s inhabitants destinies and beyond: in 1914, the boat decorated in mourning landed on the quay of this square carrying the bodies of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia meaning the end of an era. On the same soil, in 1918, crowds cheeringly awaited the beginning of a new age, with the arrival of Italy’s destroyer Audace.

We have dinner on the seafront at Marinato Trieste, an excellent restaurant where you can eat fresh fish at a reasonable price.

Piazza Unità d'Italia Trieste
Piazza Unità d'Italia Trieste, Wikimedia Commons

Day 8 | Stop in the village of Lignano Sabbiadoro and arrival in the city of Mestre

We leave Aquileia. We will spend the last two days of our holiday in Venice. After a quick stop in Lignano Sabbiadoro we head towards Mestre where we have booked two nights at Staycity Mestre, a comfortable hotel with rooms equipped with a kitchenette.

Day 9 | Walk around Rialto, lunch at Ai Do Mori, walk around St. Mark’s square, and aperitivo at Campo S. Rocco

To get around Venice, we buy the VeneziaUnica card so we can use all means of transport, including the vaporettos. A few steps away from the hotel a bus stops which goes to Piazzale Roma in 10/15 minutes.

It’s quite an unusual Venice this year. There are no tourists’ crowds near Piazza San Marco. In this month of July 2021, according to estimates, there is 30% less tourists, it seems to me much more.

Enjoying Venice like this will probably never happen again.

Piazza San Marco Luglio 2021
July 2021 Piazza San Marco
Venezia gondole

For lunch we go to the historic Cantina Do Mori, in San Polo area. Founded around 1462 as a wine production cellar, in the last century, when taverns became a social phenomenon, the restaurant business began based on glasses of wine, ombras in Venetian, to be accompanied with cicheti, small portions of typical Venetian dishes to be eaten standing up. The restaurant honors tradition without giving into modernity’s compromises, it offers local wines and seasonal homemade cicheti.

Cantina Do' Mori Venezia
Cicheti at cantina Do' Mori Venice

In the afternoon I finally go to visit the city’s emblem, St Mark’s Basilica, a must see on a trip to Venice. This extraordinary masterpiece attracts millions of visitors every year and the last time I was here the line was so long that I had to give up.

Built on a cross plan, the Basilica is surmounted by 5 round domes. For more than 500 years the doges enlarged and enriched the Basilica with treasures looted during the Crusades in the Middle East, especially in Constantinople.

The amazing facade has two levels of 5 arches with a Gothic crown and is decorated with mosaics. You cannot take photos or videos in the Basilica but inside the effect is amazing, walls and ceilings are covered with gold mosaics and the floor is made of polychrome mosaic.

On one side of the altar is the “Pala d’Oro” a masterpiece in gold, enamel and precious stones. At the end of the right transept is St Mark’s treasure, result of the sacking of Constantinople dating back to the IV Crusade.

From the museum you can go up to the loggia where the doges used to look out during state ceremonies.

In the evening I meet my friends at Caffè San Rocco for a spicy aperitivo created for us by an extravagant bartender named Arian.

Basilica di San Marco
St. Mark's Basilica
Veduta dalla Basilica di San Marco
St Mark's Basilica, view from the Loggia

Day 10 | Walk around Cannaregio and the Venetian Ghetto, trip to Murano island with glass blowing demonstration, visit of Fondaco dei Tedeschi, dinner at Pontini’s

Today’s itinerary will touch some lesser visited spots.

Cannaregio, the district where Venice’s Ghetto is located, the oldest ghetto in the world. In medieval times, this was the area of ​​the city where the public foundries were concentrated and in 1516 it was destined to be a mandatory residence for Jews.

The narrow streets and bridges leading to Ghetto were once closed by gates supervised by guards: Jews could not enter or leave from dusk to dawn and could not live anywhere else. Thus, as children were born and exiles arrived, the inhabitants were forced to build in height, in fact Ghetto’s houses are among the highest in Venice.

On the advice of historic Panificio Volpe‘s clerks, a bakery that sells traditional Jewish products, we book a table for dinner at Pontini‘s, on the Cannaregio canal, a trattoria that is very popular with Venetians.

Campo de Gheto Novo Venezia
Campo de Ghetto Novo
Campo de Ghetto Novo Venezia
Campo de Ghetto Novo
Cannaregio venezia
Cannaregio glimpses
Cannaregio venezia
Cannaregio glimpses

Even though our plans were different, we suddenly decide to jump on a ferry to Murano which is approaching right now. The island of Murano is world known for its long tradition of glass-making and  you can watch glass masters at work. 

Murano’s glassmaking history contributes to its uniqueness. The high-quality materials used result in the creation of some of the most elegantly designed and expertly made glass throughout Western Europe.

For lunch we go to Osteria Ai Cacciatori, one of Muranesi’s favorite meeting places. It started in the 1950s and since then it has always remained a meeting place for glass masters, workers, fishermen and hunters. Here tourists mix with the elderly who come to play cards.

Murano scorci
Murano glimpses

Back in Venice we go to Fondaco dei Tedeschi, ancient landing place for ships coming from northern markets, a building, next to Rialto Bridge, where merchants from central Europe, generically called Germans, were locked up at night since the 13th century.

The inside of the building has been completely renovated and houses luxury shops. Upon reservation, you can access the roof and enjoy an incredible view of the city.

Terrazza del Fondaco dei Tedeschi Venezia
View from Fondaco dei Tedeschi's roof
Fondaco dei Tedeschi Venezia
Fondaco dei Tedeschi Venice

For dinner we are back at Cannaregio, where we taste Pontini‘s exceptional traditional fish dishes such as baccalà and spaghetti with cuttlefish ink.

baccalà alla veneta
Different types of Baccalà
spaghetti al nero di seppia
Spaghetti with cuttlefish ink

Continuing along the canal’s bank we arrive at Fondamente Nove, an Istrian stone walkway that runs along the northern part of the city, where you can see ancient warehouses, public houses and noble residences.

In summer Fondamente Nove are a privileged spot to stay until late at night.

Thus ends our long journey in Friuli Venezia Giulia and Venice, happy to have discovered a region that made me fall in love and new corners of the most beautiful city in the world.

Fondamente Nove Venezia
Fondamente Nove glimpses
Fondamente Nove Venezia
Fondamente Nove
bambine a Cannaregio
Vittoria, Greta, Benedetta, 2021