Finding Friuli

Indulge in a food- and wine-soaked weekend in Italy’s off-the-beaten path wine region

 

Words and photos by Michelle Lyn

  View of Cividalle del Friuli and Natisone Rive

View of Cividalle del Friuli and Natisone Rive

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.

  Antipasti at La Frasca

Antipasti at La Frasca

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. 

  The barn suite at La Subida

The barn suite at La Subida

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. 

 

  Wine cellar at Venica & Venica

Wine cellar at Venica & Venica

  Grounds at Venica & Venica

Grounds at Venica & Venica

Amazing Australia

Take an upscale excursion rich in experiences to the Land Down Under

 

Written by Jenny Peters

  Photo courtesy of Tourism Queensland

Photo courtesy of Tourism Queensland

NEW SOUTH WHALES

Start in Sydney, one of the planet’s most visually spectacular cities. This vibrant place has its must-see stops, especially for the first timer. Ascend the steps of the Sydney Opera House (take in a show there, too); wander through the Botanical Gardens and gaze at the huge sulfur-crested cockatoos, ibis and rainbow lorikeets; and climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Stay at the Four Seasons Hotel near Circular Quay with its spectacular views of the city’s celebrated harbor, or choose the ultra-chic QT Sydney, an edgy and fun boutique hotel in the center of town.

  Vivid Sydney’s annual Fall light-as-art display is breathtakingly beautiful. Photo courtesy of Vivid Sydney

Vivid Sydney’s annual Fall light-as-art display is breathtakingly beautiful. Photo courtesy of Vivid Sydney

For a wonderful day, head to Coogee Beach, then hike the spectacular four-mile cliff-top walk to Bondi Beach for swimming, surfing, sunning, and shopping. Keep walking into Watson’s Bay to try Moreton Bay Bugs (picture a less attractive lobster) and other local seafood delights at Doyles on the Beach, a restaurant that dates to 1885, then ride the ferry back across the gorgeous harbor to Circular Quay at the city’s heart. 

Stop by Chippendale and Barangaroo, the up-and-coming neighborhoods that are taking Sydney by storm. Visit the famed White Rabbit Gallery and other newer galleries that have made Chippendale the place to be, and take in the historical Aboriginal roots of Barangaroo inside The Cutaway, the area’s massive cultural space and market area. Be certain to eat at Cirrus, where the world-class seafood will tantalize your taste buds. If planning a trip to Sydney in June, when it’s their winter, experience the incredible annual light installation-projections called Vivid, an electric art festival that’s a fantastic sight to see.

Find more art further north in New South Wales; Byron Bay and Tweed Heads are favorite getaway spots for both locals and tourists. Tweed Regional Gallery boasts a fascinating permanent exhibit on famed Australian artist Margaret Olley, as well as beautiful rotating displays and a bucolic setting. Nearby, Byron Bay has it all for a perfect holiday, including luxurious places to stay—Elements of Byron, with its freestanding modern villas, lavish pool and serene private beach is one of the newest choices—along with chic shops, plenty of water sports and an iconic lighthouse with expansive views. Farm-to-table eateries abound in this laid-back region, with Mavis’s Kitchen, Paper Daisy, Three Blue Ducks on the Farm and Harvest Café all worth seeking out for their fine fare.

QUEENSLAND

You could spend months in the vast state of Queensland, moving from one striking landscape to another, but practically speaking, taking in the southern part of the state (Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Surfer’s Paradise) then flying to the far north (Cairns, Port Douglas, the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest) is the best way to see the highlights of this sunny, warm and unique region. 

Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat is the gem of the south, a luxury wellness-spa destination tucked up in the highlands above the Gold Coast. Thoughtfully designed to elevate getting away from it all to a whole new level, this is the place to decompress at your own pace. You’ll know you’ve arrived as you wend up the mountain and spot the koala and wallaby crossing signs; it’s wild up here, and you never know what you’ll encounter on a hike into the bush (as Aussies call the woods). Gwinganna’s gorgeous world-class spa (with 33 treatment rooms) is an integral part of the retreat experience, which emphasizes the Aboriginal idea of Dreamtime—stopping to rest, relax and be pampered. Digital detoxing is another focus, so be ready to do without phones, computers and televisions while visiting. 

  Gwinganna sunrise pool. Photo courtesy of Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat

Gwinganna sunrise pool. Photo courtesy of Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat

Come down from the Gwinganna state of bliss to surf along the Gold Coast, where the breaks are legendary (it isn’t called “Surfer’s Paradise” for nothing). With names like The Superbank, Burleigh Heads, Mermaid and The Spit, there’s plenty of waves to go around here. Think Miami Beach, but with great surf. If you’d rather feed wild dolphins and swim with sea turtles and dugongs, go straight to Brisbane, where Moreton Island’s Tangalooma Resort offers these incredible experiences. Every night, a family of 12 wild dolphins arrive, looking for a dinnertime snack. It’s quite a rush to feed one, then watch him swim off into the Coral Sea.

Even more of a rush comes in Far North Queensland, where two stunning World Heritage sites await. Fly to Cairns, the jumping off point for the first of these sites, the Great Barrier Reef, and get ready to swim with sharks—species that don’t bite humans, of course—as well as stingrays, moray eels, sea turtles, manta rays and much more. Make your home base the lovely Thala Beach Nature Reserve with a villa in the midst of the beachfront forest, then choose a day trip (it takes two to three hours to get out to the reef) on one of the luxurious Quicksilver Cruises departing from Port Douglas or Cairns. Scuba divers will adore going all in with Reef Encounter’s liveaboard ship—head out for three full days on the water, dive four times a day, and wine and dine too. (Choose the “Top Deck” package and be pampered every step of the way.) The Great Barrier Reef is truly is a breathtaking place for divers and snorkelers to experience. 

The second World Heritage site in the area is Daintree National Park, the world’s oldest rainforest, where crocodiles still swim free, rare species thrive and wild landscapes abound. Take a guided tour to the park, including Mossman Gorge and the wild beach at Cape Tribulation to the far north, with a river trip for croc spotting. A helicopter ride is an incredible way to see this part of the world, too.

VICTORIA

No visit to the eastern coast of Australia is complete without a stop in the state of Victoria to see Melbourne (arguably the country’s most sophisticated city) and beyond. Make the legendary Langham Hotel home base for its top-notch service, famous afternoon tea and incredible buffet at Melba Restaurant (where locals seem to outnumber tourists). It’s in the heart of town, making for an easy stroll to the National Gallery of Victoria, the massive Royal Botanical Gardens, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel and the countless coffee shops, secret bars and fabulous restaurants that make this such a vibrant city.

Melbourne has embraced street art like no other place in the world, especially in the narrow laneways and arcades that date back to Victorian times and have emerged as the cultural meeting places of those in-the-know. Visit Hosier Lane, where graffiti artists are encouraged to paint on all the walls, then check out ACDC Lane, and begin to look for the clandestine bars and restaurants dotting the Central Business District. For inside info, pick up a Luckie Guide card deck (Eats or Bars), with 52 curated places that you might never find otherwise. Some of the hottest places (like Eau de Vie or Bar Americano) don’t even have signs, but they’re packed and have a seriously cool vibe. Two favorites for food are the Arbory Bar & Eatery, along the river, and Cumulus, Inc., one of the many sophisticated choices on Flinders Lane.

Before finishing up this extensive tour of Australia’s east coast, take a day to travel to another of the Land Down Under’s natural wonders: the Great Ocean Road and the Twelve Apostles, alluring limestone rock formations rising out of the Southern Ocean. Book a bespoke trip with Melbourne Private Tours and make plenty of stops along the way, with the chance to see koalas in the wild, whales and dolphins in the water, waterfalls, famous surf breaks and beautiful beaches. Grab a seat for a 15-minute ride with 12 Apostles Helicopters for a breathtaking view of these natural treasures.

When your eastern Australia trip is in your memory bank, just think: There’s much more to see in three other states (Western Australia, South Australia, and the Northern Territory) and Tasmania. A truly wondrous thought for a continent equally so. 

  The fantastic Great Barrier Reef is one of the 19 UNESCO World Heritage sites located in Australia. Photo courtesy of Tourism Queensland

The fantastic Great Barrier Reef is one of the 19 UNESCO World Heritage sites located in Australia. Photo courtesy of Tourism Queensland

Paradise Discovered

The one and only trip you need to take this year is to the Maldives

 

Written by Michelle Lyn        Photos courtesy of One&Only Reethi Rah

 

Elusively located in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives (pronounced mall-deeves) is synonymous with romance, often reserved for once-in-a-lifetime trips like honeymoons. The island nation consists of nearly 1,200 islands with white-sand beaches that taper off into the clearest aquamarine water imaginable. Southwest of India, a visit to the Maldives requires a trek halfway around the world, but Cathay Pacific offers a comfortable route from LAX with only one stop in Hong Kong. With a premium economy class that rivals that of a business class cabin on other airlines, the 14-hour flight to Asia passes swiftly, leaving a less daunting six-hour final leg from Hong Kong to Malé. 

Despite its reputation as an adult getaway, several resorts expertly balance luxury and romance with a family-friendly ambience. The One&Only Reethi Rah is one of these properties. Upon arriving at Malé International Airport, the resort’s yacht is waiting to whisk guests off to their private island. Maldivians are naturally warm and affectionate, so don’t be surprised if staff members pick up your children and carry them onboard, repeating a mantra to relax and enjoy. A 45-minute ride on the yacht’s upper deck provides a stunning vantage point when pulling into the resort’s harbor, where staff members waving from the dock offer a regal welcome.

The humidity is the first to greet you, but it’s no matter as a cool wet towel quickly appears alongside a refreshing glass of lemongrass juice from the butler assigned to anticipate and attend to your every need during your stay. A personal mobile phone enables guests to call their butlers at any time, for anything. While the island of Reethi Rah is only a few miles long, golf carts shuttle guests to and fro at their behest. The all-villa resort features accommodations on the beach or over the water, with villas spread throughout the property. Bicycles are available at all villas (complete with children’s seats, if necessary), in addition to beach bags and flip-flops for each guest. 

  One&Only Reethi Rah Beach Villa with pool

One&Only Reethi Rah Beach Villa with pool

After settling in, a quick stroll over to Reethi restaurant reveals a stunning buffet in an enclosed, refrigerated glass room, and a superfood bar that whips up exotic combinations guaranteed to provide multiple internal and external health benefits. Tables on the stilted deck offer unrestricted views of palm trees and still, cerulean blue water as far as the eye can see. There are several other restaurants, all equally unique, but with a wide range of cuisines. Tapasake serves Japanese food while guests marvel at sharks swimming below them; Fanditha is a Moroccan oasis, complete with pillows and futons on the beach to enjoy sundowner drinks; and The Chef’s Garden is an organic garden oasis where dining takes place among orchids in the greenhouse while live music plays in the courtyard.

Spending days lounging on picture-perfect beaches is blissful, but there is no shortage of activities available to while away the time either. If traveling with kids in tow, they will eagerly look forward to visiting the KidsOnly club, where staff is maternal and caring. The club has a pint-sized pool and waterslide, with plenty of room to roam under the shade of palm trees. It also offers various excursions, so one day the kids might be making sushi and the next day cruising around the island pretending to be pirates.

If craving peace and relaxation, head straight to the spa, where you can meditate in the gardens, practice yoga in an overwater pavilion or indulge in an Ayurvedic spa treatment. Men can take advantage of barber services and treat themselves to some masculine pampering as well.

  One&Only Reethi Rah Spa Watsu Pool

One&Only Reethi Rah Spa Watsu Pool

One would be remiss to travel all the way to the Maldives and not connect with the local sea life. An onsite marine biology team provides excursions to Turtle Reef, where they explain environmental changes to the reef that can be seen while snorkeling with sea turtles. With the nation being an average of just four feet above sea level, it is very possible that the islands might be submerged in the not so distant future, so all the more reason to visit soon. 

The concept of a disappearing island materializes with the Sunset Sandbar Experience, where a handful of guests are taken out to the middle of the ocean. There, just before sunset, a tiny sandbar emerges and an evening picnic is set up. Before dinner, snorkel or explore the tiny patch of land covered in coral and baby bird eggs.

Perhaps one of the most thoughtful services provided by the One&Only team is a personal photography session with a photographer who will cart guests around to the most picturesque spots on the island to capture sunset shots that make for lifetime keepsakes.

When the time to depart sadly comes, a large portion of the team congregates at the dock for pictures and hugs goodbye, and before long, your yacht disappears into the sea, heading back to the airport. While the journey to arrive in the Maldives may be a long one, it is but a distant memory as you reflect on what is sure to be the most magical of vacations. 

  One&Only Reethi Rah Fanditha Cabanas

One&Only Reethi Rah Fanditha Cabanas

Bathing Beauty

Taking the waters in Turkish hammams and discovering bliss in Istanbul

Written by Jenny Peters

  The tranquil swimming pool at the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus. Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus

The tranquil swimming pool at the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus. Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus

When it comes to wellness, the Turks really know what they are doing. It’s an easy conclusion to come to once you take in your first hammam in one of Istanbul’s famed Turkish baths. It’s an all-encompassing bathing experience that includes heat, body scrubbing and foam soaping that’s been a part of the country’s culture for almost a thousand years—with those living between the Black Sea and the Aegean/Mediterranean Seas having always embraced the celebrated ritual.

In Istanbul, which straddles both Europe and Asia, the hammam has been a fixture of life since the city—then called Constantinople—was under Roman control.  That was during the 3rd century, when the tradition of installing elaborate baths in homes began. Later, at the height of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire in the 1600s, historians estimate that there were well over 200 public hammams in Istanbul alone.

Today, Istanbul is still a center of healthy living, with many centuries-old, traditional public hammams dotting its neighborhoods, as well as gorgeous and luxurious newer ones located in some of the city’s world-class hotel spas. Add to these options the Richmond Nua Wellness Spa—a spectacular destination spa not far from the city—and the choices for visitors on a wellness journey to Turkey are slightly overwhelming. 

The constant at every place offering a hammam ritual is that it is always done in a warm, marble room with plenty of marble sinks and water spigots. This has not much changed over the last millennium, propelling the idea that the Turks’ specific bathing system holds the secret to maintaining a healthy life, with its benefits ranging from boosting the immune system, reducing stress and detoxifying the body, to deeply cleansing and exfoliating the skin and improving its texture.

At public hammams, like the Sultanahmet Hammam (just blocks from the Hagia Sophia) or the Cemberlitas Hamami (near the Grand Bazaar), guests often perform much of the bathing ritual themselves, moving from the steam room to a heated marble space, where they will bathe using increasingly warm water. Then an attendant armed with a kese, a special natural-fiber glove designed to exfoliate the skin and increase its circulation, comes to give you a full-body scrub. Once that step is completed, the hammam continues as you lay on the marble slab while a foam bubble bath envelops your body. Finally, the attendant splashes you with ever-cooler buckets of water to complete the ritual, which is usually priced around 40 euros (approximately $43 USD).

For a more individual and luxurious hammam experience, the five-star spa at the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus creates unforgettable and very private signature treatments known as “Hammam Moments.” Beginning with a visit to the sauna and steam room to soften the skin, a spa therapist leads you to one of the hotel’s three dimly lit marble Turkish bath treatment rooms. After lying on the heated marble slab in the center of the room, a feeling of womb-like serenity descends as you are doused with progressively warmer water. 

  The beautiful Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus overlooks the famed strait that straddles Europe and Asia

The beautiful Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus overlooks the famed strait that straddles Europe and Asia

Then starts the scrubbing, with the aforementioned kese, followed by those indulgent foamy bubbles. Adding a deep-tissue massage to create a “Spa Journey” guarantees that by trip’s end, your legs will feel like rubber and your body will be so tranquil that you’ll barely be able to wander into the exotically luxurious relaxation room for a sip of Rize Turkish tea, served traditionally in a small tulip-shaped glass.

Over at the St. Regis Istanbul’s Iridium Spa, located in the chic Nisantasi district, hammam treatments can also include mud body masks or replenishing hair treatments. While at the famed, Old-World Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah, visitors can stay in the same room where writer Agatha Christie reportedly penned Murder on the Orient Express, visit the Ataturk Museum (which is located in the suite inside the hotel where the founder of modern Turkey lived), dine on delectable Turkish fare and enjoy a hammam treatment to boot.

  St. Regis Instanbul's Iridium Spa

St. Regis Instanbul's Iridium Spa

For the ultimate Turkish wellness experience, take a two-hour ride outside of Istanbul to Sapanca Lake, where the world-renowned Richmond Nua Wellness Spa awaits. Here, at Turkey’s only destination spa, their dedication to wellness knows no limits. (In fact, this is the place where the idea for Global Wellness Day—a celebration of living well involving over 100 nations—originated in 2012.) 

   Richmond Nua Wellness Spa

 Richmond Nua Wellness Spa

At Richmond Nua, which looks out over a bucolic lake surrounded by mountains, guests can take a dip in the lake, use SUP boards, go sailing, hike into the hills or simply lounge by the large swimming pool. There’s even skiing nearby in winter. But most come for the spa itself, a place with so many options it takes a guidebook to do it right. 

Entering the massive spa, with pocket guide in hand, freshly showered guests take an individual journey through a series of spa therapies. It begins with soaks in the large Salt Jacuzzi, alternated with dips in the freshwater Jet Pool. Then it’s on to the second-level treatment rooms, beginning with the Laconium, where dry heat radiates from the walls, benches and floors, stimulating the body’s circulation and strengthening the immune system. Next comes a rest on heated ceramic beds in the Tepidarium; a visit to the super-warm, music-filled dry Herbal Steam Bath; and yet more rest, this time in the Water Bed room, where you don headphones and float on a heated water-bed lounger while drifting away to music. And that’s just halfway through this singular spa trip. Following, guests will proceed to the 40C Osman Steam Bath, into the Day Dream relaxation room, then on to the hot 40C Salt Inhalation Steam Bath and the cool (and spectacular) Aqua Cave for a chilly splash. Finally, a respite in the Loft Sauna reheats things, with the Ice Grotto finishing off the personal, self-paced ritual. Mix in a treatment, be it a traditional hammam Turkish bath/scrub, a bespoke facial or perhaps a magnesium massage (choosing a different option each day of your stay), and by the time you tear yourself away from Richmond Nua, you’ll feel incredibly healthy (while also plotting a return here). 

  The Osman steam bath at the elegant Richmond Nua Wellness Spa

The Osman steam bath at the elegant Richmond Nua Wellness Spa

Each hammam experience in and around Istanbul has its own unique qualities, but all share the inherent bliss that comes from indulging in this age-old ritual. One that’s truly timeless, and definitely worth the trip. 

Photos courtesy Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus; The St. Regis Istanbul Hotel; and the Richmond Nua Wellness Spa