Indulge in a food- and wine-soaked weekend in Italy’s off-the-beaten path wine region
Words and photos by Michelle Lyn
A mere 90 minutes beyond the gilded luster of Venice lies a melting pot of culture and gastronomy ripe for discovery. Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the northeasternmost region of Italy that shares a border with Austria and Slovenia, is a gastronomic gem that produces much of the country’s highly-sought wine, cheese and prosciutto. Friuli, as the area is more commonly called by locals, is easily explored by car and serves as the perfect destination to wine and dine the days away. Towns are close together and each offers a unique experience that represents the diversity of the region.
Upon touch down at Venice Marco Polo Airport, pick up a sporty Fiat rental to complement your quintessential Italian road trip. Head straight out of town and take the Autostrada A4, toward Palmanova. Stop at the first Autogrill you see for an espresso and a handful of Pocket Coffee (espresso-filled Italian chocolates) to stash in the car for later. The first stop on your Friulian getaway is in the province of Udine. A concentric city built in the shape of a star, Palmanova was designed to be a Venetian military station on the eastern frontier as protection from the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 16th century. Get your bearings in the center of town. The main plaza is a large circle with a handful of roads extending outward to the main gates of the city. The quaint town is small and proud of its history, as evidenced by star-shape emblems on everything from chocolate truffles to books to holiday ornaments. Visitors are welcomed with open arms, as they are few and far between. Brush up on a few Italian phrases if you can, but if not, a smile and the mention of where you’re from will surely elicit a warm welcome and invitation to eat or drink. Caffetteria Torinese, right on the main plaza, is a lovely place to sample decadent pastries. Nonna Pallina is the patisserie where you’ll want to pick up chocolate truffles to bring home as gifts.
Next, follow your GPS to the town of Cormòns in the province of Gorizia to visit one of the oldest prosciutto making families in Italy. The D’Osvaldo family has been curing and smoking their hams since 1940, and the youngest member of the clan, Andrea, welcomes guests into the family estate. He articulately shares the history of the family business, started by his grandfather. In Italy, the two most widely known prosciuttos are prosciutto di Parma and prosciutto di San Daniele; but in Friuli, prosciutto D’Osvaldo reigns supreme. After showing visitors the curing room and the smoke house, Andrea gingerly slices some of the most delicate, melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto you can possibly imagine, best enjoyed with a glass of the family’s locally-made white wine. A few kilometers away, the Zoff family is producing quality cheeses from their farm boasting organic, grass fed red-spotted cows. A peek into the cheese storage room offers a colorful look at and insightful lesson on why moldy cheese is a good thing.
With your appetite starting to grow, La Frasca in Lauzacco is the next destination. A rustic trattoria owned by Valter Scarbolo, a local vintner, it just the place to indulge in a sumptuous 12-course lunch paired with Scarbolo’s namesake wines. Allow yourself several hours to enjoy the experience, as true Italians do, living in the moment, taking time to connect with loved ones over food and wine. Be sure to try the grilled Venison, the pasta San Daniele, and Frico—a deceptively simple Friulian specialty (fried Montasio cheese) but decidedly worth every calorie. Moving on to Cividale del Friuli, check into Orsone, a boutique luxury property conceived by mother-son restaurateurs Lidia and Joe Bastianich. Close to their heart (and across the street from their family home and winery), Orsone is elegant and cozy, offering the perfect respite in an idyllic setting. Take time to explore the town-park outside the city center and walk over the Ponte del Diavolo (the Devil’s Bridge) that crosses the Natisone River, forming a picturesque ravine as you enter the town. Then head toward Cafe del Corso to rub elbows with locals over an Aperol spritz, the popular Italian aperitivo. Dinner back at Orsone is elegant and comfortable, especially if seated by the roaring fireplace. An international staff offers a perfectly choreographed service, expertly pairing Bastianich wines with each course. Best of all is pacing yourself to enjoy the ambience late into the night, especially since you need only to walk upstairs to settle in for the night.
For a change of scenery, La Subida is the perfect antidote. Deep in the hills of Cormòns, in an area dubbed the Collio, La Subida is a pastoral, family-run eco-resort that boasts a humble, Michelin-starred restaurant among cabins in the forest. Owned and operated by the amiable Sirk family, La Subida offers an experience akin to visiting relatives who take good care of you from the moment you arrive. La Subida’s rustic wooden cabins feature modern amenities and bring the outdoors in with floor-to-ceiling windows. Dinner at the onsite trattoria is a must, as the family makes most selections from scratch and offers an exceptional presentation of regional cuisine. Very near the border of Slovenia, this country-chic property is rich in culture, design and nature.
Finally, no visit to Friuli is complete without a visit to Venica & Venica, the sprawling estate in Dolegna del Collio that is part winery, part B&B, and part Venica family home. More than 80 years ago, the family began growing vines and over the generations discovered a way to tap into the natural biodiversity of their crops, creating balance and a unique character in their notably complex wines. Giampaolo Venica represents the brand globally, introducing Friulian wines, while also acting as an expert ambassador for the region, which won’t remain under the radar much longer.
Rooted in Italian, Slovenian and Austrian history, Friuli-Venezia Giulia is truly unique when it comes to culture, geography and cuisine. It is Italy less-traveled for the masses, but for food and wine connoisseurs, and those in the know (which now includes you), it is the country’s best-kept secret—yours to decide if you want to keep or share.