We decided to spend a few days of our 3 week vacation to Northern Italy in the Udine area. I wanted to share our experience there since when I was looking for information on this board and others, there was very little. I appreciate those of you who did know the area and provided us with some great recommendations. Highly recommend a visit to this area. In our 3 days we got a glimpse of what seem to be a rather undiscovered region of Italy, undiscovered by Americans that is. Be happy to answer any questions.
We stayed about 10 kilometers outside of Udine in the prosperous little wine town of Buttrio, (Agriturismo Scacciapensierri, room 6). This room was an end unit somewhat away from the major downstairs dining area but over the auxiliary dining room which does fill up on the weekends. The restaurant seemed quite popular. Room 6 has a large comfortable bed, a large bathroom (tub, no shower) and a smallish balcony. As an added benefit, we were able to watch the culminating fireworks of the yearly wine festival from bed. About 100 euros/night.
The Udine area is destination rich. During our stay there we visited Cividale (very nice medieval town w/ some great churches and art galleries), Castelmonte (a tiny medieval town perilously perched on a hilltop), Aquilea (Roman and paleo-Christian mosaics), Gemona (another medieval village with a great church) and Trieste (large city with very strong Austrian/Hapsburg/Viennese coffee shop vibe). All are recommended.
Udine itself, is large, very pleasant university town with great Venetian-style architecture including a hilltop palace (great views!), an arch designed by Palladio on a perfect piazza, great shopping (fashionable and affordable). It has an unusual modern art museum...the most interesting art there are is the pre-modern 19th Century genre paintings of life in the Friuli and the Veneto; the "modern" section has pretty slim pickings - a mediocre Picasso, a pedestrian Morandi, and some so-so de Chiricos. Perhaps best of all, it is "do-able." You can drive wide, well-marked streets directly into town, arrive at an enormous parking lot, park, start walking and be in the old quarter in thirty seconds later. And we accomplished this over a holiday weekend when the town was packed.
Especially enjoyed our morning in Cividale (about 15 kms from Udine) which has a beautiful bridge, Devil's bridge that splits the town in two. It's a stone bridge with 2 arches that appear to be embedded in the rock. The bridge crosses the Natisone River which has an aquamarine color and was very striking. From the bridge there are great views in both directions. Palladio designed the Palazzo dei Provveditori Veneti. Cividale has a nice 15th century gothic cathedral.
The Udine area is also close to the Slovenian border and would lend itself to day trips to Slovenia once they resolve issues surrounding fees to drive on Slovenian roads.
Scacciapensierri had some of the best food we had in the Udine area; we regret only eating there the first night of our three night stay. Dinner was an antipasti of mixed local cheese and salume, lasagna, papparadelle with rabbit ragu and sacher tort, accompanied by the delicious home-made tokai wine. Tokai - not to be confused with its eponymous Hungarian dessert wine - is a specialty of the Friuli region. When we checked out, we bought a bottle of Scacciapensierria tokai and brought it back to the US with us. Scacciapensierri's breakfast includes any uneaten baked desserts from the previous evening. I can honestly say that it is the only place - other than home - where I have had birthday cake for breakfast.
Other food notes:
> Cividale has a couple alleys that sell local cheese, salume and
breads. You can buy a glass of wine and snack in the street. Of
particular note was the great 'gubbino' Easter bread with cinnamon
> Near Trieste we ate dinner at the Trattoria Bella Riva, a waterfront seafood restaurant off the coastal highway into Trieste. You drive down into a little waterfront town then have to hike further
down - about four flights of stairs - to get to the restaurant. Great views. Luscious melone & prosciutto, wonderful fritto misto (mixed
fried seafood), a delicious house malvasia and a so-so spaghetti vongole that had fallen victim to the legendary Northern Italian aversion to garlic. Good tiramasu.
> Vechio Stallo in Udine. It's in just about every piece of literature for Udine. Best restaurant bread of the trip. And some immense portions - an order of polenta with gorgonzola consisted of what appeared to be three or four ladles of polenta with a truly
monumental slab of gorgonzola next to it. The buffalo mozzarella appetizer was superb. The crespele ai funghi was also pretty good. Great house wine.
> San Danielle ham - a local specialty. Our last night in Udine we ate early at a nameless tourist restaurant - the kind with the menu in five languages - on the little stream that flows through town. (The enoteca we'd planned to eat at had been closed w/out notice or explanation.) San Danielle ham came to the rescue, saving some otherwise unremarkable salads.
> Pan Salam in Gemona del Friuli,. The name says
it all. After checking out Gemona's Sunday morning "antica" market - three or four blocks of antique lace, used tablecloths, coins, stamps,
Mussolini photos and Chinese toys, and the town church, we stopped here. Two huge toasted panini. A glass of delightful red wine. All for eight euros.
One last note...Buttrio has a wine festival every year in late April/ early May, to coincide with the holidays of the period (end of World War 2 holiday and International Workers' Day). We didn't partake of too much of the wine festival - there was too many other things we wanted to see and do. Nonetheless, for people with more time, this would be a great opportunity to sample local wine, cheese and honey and meet local people.