|This trip starts in Cividale (right), a little-known gem in the eastern foothills of Friuli. An absolutely delightful place to stroll around in, it is one of the best places in all Italy to see evidence of the Lombards, the "barbarian hordes" who ruled here from 568 to 737 AD. In the center of town, near the 14th-century "Devils' Bridge," is the cathedral, a 15th-century Venetian Gothic building that harbors a remarkable silver altarpiece. And try to find time to visit the Christian Museum, if only to see the 8th-century Altar of Ratchis and the octagonal Baptistery of Callisto.||
|The one thing you must do before leaving this enchanting town is follow the signs to the Tempietto Lombardo (also known as the Oratorio di Santa Maria in Valle). This 8th-century masterpiece has beautiful frescoes, columns, and mosaics, leading to an intricately carved stucco arch above which hover a sextet of heavenly saints.|
Driving west on SS54, you'll come to one of Italy's great overlooked art cities, Udine. One can easily spend two days here, starting at the castle, with its Palladio-designed passageway. Often Udine will remind you of Vicenza or Venice, most notably in Piazza della Libertà, where the Loggia del Lionello (right) looks like a mini Doge's Palace and the clocktower is an exact replica of the one in St. Mark's Square. If you have time for only one art gallery in Friuli, it should probably be Udine's Civic Museum, which houses a fine collection of works by Tiepolo, Caravaggio, Carpaccio, Bronzino and others.
|Tearing yourself away from this prosperous provincial capital, drive west on SS464 to Spilimbergo, another amazingly intact medieval town. Here, after passing through a door which originally cut across a triple layer of fortified walls, you'll find an imposing 16th-century castle and an elegant 14th-century village. Many of the homes have frescoed or sculpted façades, and the Gothic cathedral has a lovely romanesque portal.|
From here, take the provincial road north to Pinzano, then head east across the Tagliamento River to the home of fine prosciutto, San Daniele (right). This ochre-hued city has been nicknamed la Siena del Friuli, partly because of the rolling hill country that surrounds it, partly because its citizens supposedly speak the purest form of Friulan dialect, and partly because of its architectural beauty. Plan to relax a while here, long enough to taste the delectable local ham, stroll through the narrow picturesque streets and stop in at the many exquisite churches. In Sant'Antonio Abate, you'll want to see the so-called Pilgrim of San Daniele's frescoes, among the loveliest in Friuli. The 17th-century cathedral is filled with treasures, the Madonna della Fratta has an exquisite marble portal, and the church of San Daniele is a striking sight, its simple whitewashed façade hung halfway up the hillside occupied by the castle's grey stone belltower. Also worth seeing are the fine collection of illuminated manuscripts in the Guarneriana Library, and the Portonat Gate, designed by Palladio.
|As you visit the towns and cities on this itinerary, you'll sometimes see reminders of the devastating earthquake that ripped through the area in 1976. Since that catastrophe, non-Friulan Italians have come to praise the people of this region for their industriousness, evidenced by the almost total reconstruction you'll see today. Gemona (reached by driving north on SS463) was heavily damaged, and here you will encounter some tangible evidence, most notably the ruined castle. What a glorious setting this town has, laid out on a gently sloping plain at the very base of the Julian foothills! The historic center that was reduced to rubble exactly twenty years ago now shines, and it's worth a visit to the 16th-century town hall and the 13th-century Gothic-romanesque cathedral. The unusual statue of St. Christopher that graces its façade is of Nordic manufacture, and the ornate arches outside contrast sharply with the church's somber interior.|
|Gemona is the gateway to the Carnia, a remote mountain area that few Italians and even fewer foreigners ever visit. This, along with its incredible beauty, make it a great place to visit (especially in autumn when its vast sumac bushes are fiery red or, if you're a skier, in winter). Drive north on SS13 and you'll soon reach Venzone, the most tragic victim of the 1976 tremor. So carefully had this fortified town preserved its medieval appearance that it had been designated a national monument; yet in a few swift moments the entire town was razed to the ground. Venzone is worth visiting to see the painstaking efforts locals are making to restore it exactly as it had been for centuries. Pause a while to watch as, stone by stone, the 14th-century double walls, moat and gates are pieced back together. Or see how far they've progressed with the beautiful 15th-century town hall, which had already been razed during World War Two and rebuilt in the '50s.|
|An hour or so in Venzone is bound to restore your faith in the human spirit. From here you are free to strike out into the Carnia, stopping perhaps in Tolmezzo to learn more about the region at the Museo Carnico. If you have time, try to make it to Tarvisio (left). From there it's a hop, skip and a jump into Austria. It was from this picturesque mountain city that the International Jewish Brigade smuggled thousands of Europeans into the Palestine at the end of World War II.|
In Cividale, the Museo Cristiano is in the cathedral. Winter hours: 9:30am-12pm and 3-6pm on week days, 9am-12pm and 3-6pm week ends; summer hours: 9:30am-12pm and 3-7pm week days, 9am-12pm and 3-7pm week ends. No admission charge. On weekend mornings, entrance is through the courtyard behind the belltower.
The Tempietto Lombardo is open daily 10am-1pm and 3:30-5:30 (Oct 1-March 31) and 10am-1pm and 3:30-6:30pm (April 1-September 30).
The Biblioteca Guarneriana is at Via Roma 1 in San Daniele (tel. 0432-957-930). Open Tuesday-Sunday 9am-12pm, but it may be closed for restorations, so we suggest you email them before driving out of your way.
The Museo Carnico is at Piazza Garibaldi 2, Tolmezzo (tel. 0433-487-779, email). Open Tuesday-Sunday 9am-12pm and 2-6pm (April-September), 9am-12pm and 1-5pm (October-March).