Our Italian Region of the Year: Friuli Venezia Giulia
It’s official! Travel + Leisure has proclaimed Italy its Destination of the Year for 2021. “A new Italian renaissance is waiting in the wings,” writes the magazine, and a dose of that irrepressible Italian spirit is just what we all need to fight the Pandemic Blues.
Among those suffering from “Italy deprivation” is our own Beth Rubin. The founder and president of Olive Tree Escapes once made Travel + Leisure’s prestigious A-List of top agents and tour operators herself for 2014 and 2015. Beth is well known in the travel industry for leaving no avenue unexplored in creating the best possible Italian vacation for her clients. In light of T+L’s choice for destination of the year, Beth shares a pick of her own for Italian region of the year, and it may not be one you’ve heard of…
Friuli Venezia Giulia, Hidden in Plain Sight
“One of my favorite regions of Italy is Friuli Venezia Giulia; it’s most definitely a ‘hidden gem’,” Beth says. “Hidden so much so that most Americans have never heard of it. Located next door to Venice, but a million miles away as far as tourists are concerned.”
Friuli is steeped in history. The region offers so much: charming small towns and tasty food that has influences from the Austro-Hungarian empire. You’ll also find some amazing wines (“heavy on the whites, but a couple of good reds, too”).
Because this area is off the beaten path, Beth recommends it to people who have previously traveled to Italy. “Here they can spend some time really digging in, without the crowds of tourists,” she observes.
So Many Things to See & Do!
There are the Julian Alps for those who need mountains, and the southern part of the region faces the Adriatic Sea, for those who require water. Friuli borders on Slovenia to the east, and is very close to the Croatian region of Istria, as well.
Some of the things Beth loves most about Friuli are “discovering craft breweries, visiting a school for mosaic making in Spilimbergo, and being simply awestruck by the Roman ruins in Aquileia and the Tiepolo frescoes in Udine.”
And don’t forget the ham! The debate between the better-known prosciutto di Parma and that made in the hill town of San Daniele still rages on. Beth remarks that she prefers the sweeter prosciutto from San Daniele; Parma ham is saltier.
Don’t Miss the Seaport City of Trieste
Trieste alone is worth several days’ visit, Beth declares. The characteristic mixture of languages, peoples and religions in this cosmopolitan city is the strongest expression of Friuli’s dual Central European and Mediterranean souls.
Nicknamed “Vienna by the sea,” Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI designated it a free port in 1719. Trieste is still the largest commercial port in Italy, a multi-ethnic melting pot with one of the highest living standards among Italian cities. A richly decorated synagogue is testament to Trieste’s once significant Jewish community. Beth reminds us that “the only death camp from the Holocaust in Italy” was located here, too.
Stroll through imposing squares like the Piazza Unità d’Italia, especially stunning at night. Or indulge in Old World coffee culture at one of the city’s many literary cafés. The headquarters of Illy Caffe is here, with their very own University of Caffè!
Trieste has so much to offer, as does the entire Friuli Venezia Giulia region. Will 2021 be the year that you visit? With the vaccine now a reality, the stage is set for international travel’s return. Let’s hope so!