Friuli Venezia Giulia
Photographs, Museums, Seaside, Villages
Italy's northeastern corner is barely mentioned in most guidebooks and rarely visited even by Italians, which makes it a great place for travelers seeking to leave the beaten path. Whether you like snow-capped mountains, warm sandy beaches, lagoons teeming with water birds, remote alpine hamlets, Roman ruins, palatial country villas, rocky coastal cliffs, bustling international seaports or picturesque fishing villages, your tastes will be thoroughly satisfied in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, one of Italy's most versatile regions.
History has marched back and forth across this relatively narrow strip of land. In Roman times it was a vital outpost, with Aquileia serving as a bastion against marauding Gauls. Later, the infamous Huns forced that fortified town's inhabitants to seek refuge by founding the town of Grado on an island in the lagoon, much as the less civilized tribes to the west had built the settlement we now know as Venice. For most of the ensuing centuries, shrewd local leaders managed to keep the region essentially independent.
However, a quick glance at the map shows why the Austrian Hapsburgs fought hard to change that status quo. Once under their dominion, Trieste was declared a free port and quickly became Mitteleuropa's gateway to the East. Immigrants flocked here from all over the Mediterranean, giving Italy's easternmost city a cosmopolitan air matched only by Naples at the time. Today, its spacious boulevards, handsome buildings and vaguely dowdy magnificence make it something of a Vienna-By-The-Sea.
The Hapsburgs ruled here through the 19th century, and all the while the friulani longed to see their region returned to Italy. But that was not to be until after the First World War, and even then it was short-lived, because a significant chunk of the territory to the east and south of Trieste was awarded to the state of Yugoslavia in recognition of its valiant fight against the Nazis in World War II. The region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia was not created until 1963, and many of its towns still bear vivid signs of Austrian and Slavic influence in their lifestyle, folklore and cuisine.