To most Americans, Friuli-Venezia Giulia is "that place north of Venice." But times are changing. Friuli has been discovered, and as more intrepid travelers venture into its pre-Alpine hills and Adriatic shore towns, they're discovering one of the most diverse regional cultures (and cuisines) of Italy. Friuli is an amalgam of Italian, Slavic, and Austrian influences, evidenced most dramatically in its cosmopolitan capital, Trieste, but also in evidence in the bucolic wine towns of its pre-Alpine hills.
Friuli is one of the most active regions in the Movimento Turismo del Vino, a tourism promotion initiative with chapters in each of the country's twenty-one regions. This is the group that organizes the annual Cantine Aperte (Open Wineries) day held on the last Sunday of May each year (this year was May 26), during which wineries that might not normally do so open their doors to visitors. At the moment, information about Movimento activities in Friuli can be obtained on the web at www.mtvfriulivg.it, but note that it is only in Italian and German at the moment.
Should you not be in Friuli for Cantine Aperte, a few more tourist-friendly wineries in Friuli-Venezia Giulia include Marco Felluga's Castello di Buttrio (Via Morpugo, 9, Buttrio; 0432-673-015), a renovated castle with a restaurant on-site, and the Conti Formentini property in the heights of San Floriano (Via Oslavia 5, San Floriano; 0481-884-4131), which has a restaurant, agriturismo, and even a golf course. And if you're looking simply for a centrally located place to stay amid Friuli's vineyards, there's the homey Agriturismo Scacciapensieri, nestled in the hills of Buttrio (0432-674-907).
To eat and drink, head for the Enoteca di Cormòns, where a wide variety of Friulian wines and foods can be sampled (and bought) in a sunny osteria. Just outside of Cormòns is one of Friuli's great restaurants, La Subida (011-39-0481-60531), which serves hearty Friulian mountain food and has an extensive Friulian wine list, while right in Cormons is the elegant Al Giardinetto (Via Matteotti, 54-56; 0481-60257), where you'll sample some of the most delicate pasta you've ever eaten. There's also the rustic, Austrian-influenced Al Capello in Udine (Via P. Sarpi, 2, Udine; 0432-504-186), and our friend Valter Scarbolo's raucous La Frasca in Pavia di Udine (Viale Grado, 10, Pavia di Udine; 0432-875-150).
Also not to be missed is a trip to a prosciutificio (prosciutto factory) in the little town of San Daniele, northwest of Udine. San Daniele hams are among the best of Italian prosciutti, and after touring one of the factories there are a number of small osterie in San Daniele where you can sample a wood paddle-full of prosciutto à mano (cut by hand), complimented with a caraffe of tocai friulano. Contact the Consorzio del Prosciutto di San Daniele (tel: 011-39-0432-957-515) for more information.
And should you want to come down from the hills and check out the Adriatic coast, be sure to stop into the resort town of Grado on your way down to Trieste. One of Grado's many great seafood restaurants is De Toni
(Piazza Duca d'Aosta, 37, Grado; 0431-80104), while in Trieste be sure to check out Da Giovanni
(Via San Lazzaro, 14; 040-639-936).
For more on Friulian travel, check out Fred Plotkin's "Italy For The Gourmet Traveler" and the newer "La Terra Fortunata." Fred is a great lover of Friuli and has explored its every nook and cranny.