by Susan Van Allen
1. San Daniele del Friuli: This elegant town, set amidst gently rolling hills, is the birthplace of the best prosciutto in Italy, thus, best prosciutto on earth! Get there the last weekend in June for the Aria di Festa, when prosciutto is celebrated, with tours to meet culinary artisans, feasting, music, and activities for the kiddies. Highlights of the historical center are the awe-inspiring Renaissance chapel inside the Chiesa di San Antonio Abate, (aka The Sistine Chapel of Friuli), and the Cathedral of San Michele Arcangelo.
2. Trieste: The region’s capital is a stunning Adriatic seaport, retaining its grand atmosphere from when it was a major player during Hapsburg Empire days. As you wander, slip into the Caffe Pasticceria Pirona (established 1900), where James Joyce hung out when he lived here and began to write Ulysses. And be sure to head to the nearby Neo-Gothic Castello di Miramare, a masterpiece set on a seaside peninsula, surrounded by gorgeously landscaped gardens.
3. Udine: Rising on a hilltop in the middle of the region, Udine is the Città di Tiepolo, where the 18th century master painter adorned the Duomo and Archbishop’s Palace with fabulous frescos. Enjoy blending in with the local university crowd at a Piazza Matteotti bar, for a Tajut=wine aperitivo with snacks of prosciutto, Montasio cheese, and frico=a traditional fried cake of potatoes and cheese.
4. Forni di Sopra: This is the highest ski destination in the region’s Carnia Alps, beloved by European tourists. It’s also popular with hikers in warmer months, when the mountains and valleys burst into bloom with 3000 species of wildflowers. Adjacent to the village is the Park of the Dolomites, that’s great for family trips—offering guided adventures to explore the flora and fauna of the territory.
5. Cividale del Friuli: A perfect side-trip from Udine (9 miles), this medieval village with its landmark 15th century Devil’s Bridge, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The major attraction is the Tempietto Longobardo, built in the High Middle Ages, with stunning sculptures, and adjoining garden to take in lovely river views. It’s an ideal spot to wander quiet cobblestoned vias and dip into quaint eateries, where you may enjoy cialcions, a pasta stuffed with potatoes and herbs.
6. Aquileia: Layers of fascinating history are to be discovered in this gem of a spot, which was a powerful port town during Roman Empire days. Most beautiful are 4th century Roman-Christian mosaic floors in the Basilica, and you can have an adventurous time discovering the town’s ongoing archaeological digs, including the remains of a forum near the River Natiso port.
7. Gorizia: Set on Italy’s northeast border, this is a unique destination to experience both Gorizia and its adjoining town, Nova Goriza, in Slovenia. Ristorantes feature distinctive Italian-Slovenian menu choices, (such as buckwheat ravioli), and fine white wines. A central medieval castle is the town’s blockbuster attraction, with stupendous views of the hills. Fanning out from there you can enjoy a wonderful international caffè scene and a Museum of Fashion and Clothing, displaying jewels, silks, and lace made locally from the 18th to 20th centuries.
8. Pordenone: A jewel in the region’s west, this town is a combo of gracious Gothic and Renaissance historic center, bordered by younger treasures, such as the 18th century Galvani Park. Here you’ll find a rose garden (MIRA-Itinerary Museum of Ancient Roses), with 185 species and a historical-educational walk to guide you through the history of the flower. The Galvani villa has become PArCo: Armando Pizzinato Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery, displaying a prestigious collection of Italian and international artists. Every October the town hosts the world’s largest Silent Film Festival, that includes pianists and orchestras from all over the world providing accompaniment.
9. Grado: This lagoon island has grown from a sleepy fishing port to a primo European beach holiday destination. Its small medieval historic center has a Venetian atmosphere, with a mix of humble fisherman’s homes, impressive churches, canals, and quiet alleyways. Extending out from there are fancy seaside promenades, golf clubs, and fully-equipped beach clubs, with spas, tennis courts, children’s playgrounds, and pools.
10. Cormons: This charming village is capital of the critically acclaimed Collio Hills wine region, and where “The Wine of Peace” was created in 1983, by combining 855 vine varieties from all over the world to produce a vintage which symbolizes the union of nations. Join the locals at the Enoteca Regionale di Cormons, a bar where many of the region’s winemakers are featured, to get an overview of the area’s impressive offerings, along with delicious snacks of salamis and cheeses. Or come in October for the Jazz and Wine Festival, when musical events and tastings are held in historical villas.
Susan Van Allen is the author of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, and also leads Golden Weeks in Italy: For Women Only, small group tours. More info: www.susanvanallen.com