Regions on the border are often the most complex and interesting in terms of gastronomic culture, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia is no exception. A centuries-old history of strife and changing allegiances has resulted in a delicious melting pot that simmers with the flavours and scents of Venice, elsewhere in Italy, Austria and Slovenia. The coffee culture of Trieste is as sophisticated as that found in the old-world cafés of Vienna; dishes such as la jota – a dense and delicious sauerkraut, bean and pork stew – are redolent of Central Europe; pastries and baked goods are Austrian-inspired with an Italian accent; and the wines are simply among the most exciting not just in Italy but in all of Europe.
After World War II, Friuli’s vineyards destroyed once more in fierce fighting, a collective decision was made to concentrate on quality through the cultivation and production of a range of varietal wines from both indigenous single grape varieties (Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, Picolit) as well as international (Sauvignon, Pinot Nero, Cabernet Sauvignon). There is tradition but also innovation, experimentation with unusual blends, natural wine-making and more.
Mountain traditions include the curing of meats in those high, rarified places where the air is dry and clean, perfect for the production of Italy’s sweetest cured ham, prosciutto di San Daniele, as well as mountain cheese-making traditions such as the summer transhumance. Polenta, the staple of the north, is still widely enjoyed here, sometimes cooked outdoors in remote mountain huts. Meanwhile, down on the Adriatic, there is fish and shellfish to enjoy, as well as art and history in towns whose histories pre-date even the Romans.
Gastronomic Friuli is a voyage into flavours from another world, another era, yes, but it is also a pointer to the future: a demonstration of how, out of adversity, an industrious region has learned to embrace European harmony and its past, not least through its richly delicious culinary heritage and history.
Fly at c. 1.45pm from London Gatwick to Venice (British Airways). Drive to Udine for the first of four nights.
Udine, San Daniele del Friuli. In Udine, visit the main piazza with its Gothic and Renaissance loggias, and the cathedral, basically Gothic but much augmented later. Visit and lunch at an artisanal prosciuttificio in San Daniele, home of the lightly salted, sweetest and most delectable of all cured hams. A tasting at a distinguished grappa producer follows. Evening wine tasting given by the lecturer.
North of Udine, Cormons, the Collio. Discover the inner workings of a traditional polenta mill, where grains are still refined according to age-old tradition. Continue on to a superb one-star Michelin restaurant for lunch, and visit their vinegar production. Afternoon wine tasting at one of the most prestigious wineries in the Collio region.
Cividale, Capriva del Friuli. Cividale is a charming town in the hills bordering Slovenia. See some of the town and sample the delicious local cake (gubana) before continuing on to a local dairy farm where everything is produced organically. There is a rustic lunch and cheese tasting here before returning to Udine for some free time. Dinner this evening is at Agli Amici on the outskirts of Udine, which holds two Michelin stars.
La Laguna di Grado. After a brief stop at Palmanova (with its unusual star fort design), today is focused on Friuli’s coast – the captivating lagoon around Grado is a tranquil haven for birds, and dotted with tiny islands where fishermen once lived in traditional straw huts (casoni). Enjoy a simple lunch of the freshest fish before travelling on to Trieste, where the next two nights are spent.
Trieste. When the Austro-Hungarian empire was at its height and Vienna was the coffee drinking capital of Europe, it was through Trieste that coffee beans arrived from around the world. The city developed its own sophisticated coffee culture and today remains a centre of importance for the Italian coffee industry. A tour of some of its historic, old-world cafés is interwoven with the city’s literary and cultural history. Afternoon visit to the headquarters of the world-famous coffee producer Illy, based just outside Trieste.
The Karst. Some of the most interesting and idiosyncratic wine producers in the region are based on the limestone plateau (the ‘Karst’) that runs between Slovenia and the Trieste area. Wine tasting and traditional local snacks (osmizza) before continuing to the airport. Fly from Venice, arriving at London Gatwick at c. 7.00pm.
Wine, food and travel writer. Marc is the author, together with his photographer wife Kim, of some 14 books on wine, food and travel. Titles include The Wine & Food of Europe, The Wine Roads of France, The Wine Roads of Italy, The Food Lover’s Companion France, The Food Lover’s Companion Italy, and The Taste of Britain. He also has his own wine company, importing Italian wines from small family estates. When not on the road, Marc lives on the River Exe in Devon. Twitter: @Marc_Millon
Price, per person
Two sharing: £3,130 or £2,970 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,360 or £3,200 without flights.
By train: London – Paris – Turin – Milan – Venice: c. 13 hours or London – Paris – Venice (overnight): c. 17 hours. Contact us for more information.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 320); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation; breakfasts, 4 lunches and 5 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Astoria Hotel Italia, Udine: a well established 4-star hotel located on one of the principal squares in the centre of town. Hotel Duchi D’Aosta, Trieste: an excellently located 4-star hotel just off the Piazza Unità, with traditional decor.
A good level of fitness is necessary. It should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing. Average distance by coach per day: 59 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.