As we prepare to say arrivederci (for now) to Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and wander off to some new region (stay tuned to see which one!), it’s hard to sum up this extraordinary puzzle piece in the far upper right corner of Italy’s unsurpassed diversity. The word that keeps coming to me—in spite of the dramatic mountain valleys, the awe-inspiring caves, the fog and wind and snow, the rugged seaside cliffs—is “gentle.” Photographs probably can’t convey the lasting impression our time in FVG imparted, but the shots here are an attempt to capture some sense of what makes this region of Italy so disarming, approachable, and winning.
Perhaps it was the gentle, warm, thoughtful hospitality of our Friuli hosts, Carlo and Federika, but from the moment we awoke in their charming agriturismo, with the roosters crowing, the pigs snuffling, the geese honking, and the giant fruit tree commanding their courtyard in full bloom, we knew we had left far behind the sophistication and urbanity of nearby Venice, but not lost a thing. The offerings in this part of Italy are closely tied to the unrivaled but accessible beauty of nature, and the unbroken symbiosis of the people here to their land. Native birds have a sanctuary; foreign butterflies are celebrated and admired in their temperature-controlled housing; lakes gleam with shades of blue that can put a smile on any face and perhaps a tear in many eyes. Towns nestled among towering peaks offer the same winding streets and ancient stone buildings as other Italian towns—and even their unassuming but magnificent local restaurants to guard and offer local food traditions—but here with a backdrop that suddenly snaps their stones into dialog with mountain vistas on a scale only nature can offer.
A gentle land, a diverse land, a quiet land. Friuli does not proffer the glitz and glamor that Italy has set the standard for worldwide, but it speaks in its own way of something enduring in the Italian character—an innocence, an appreciation for what is real, lasting, natural, simple; it is the opposite of hypocrisy or putting on a show. Whether discovering at the end of a long, winding dirt road a small inn that prides itself on a wine list that would put most big-city cellars to shame, with unforgettable food to match; or driving among the gentle hills and valleys to sample San Daniele ham or Colli del Friuli wines, Friuli is a place to discover, not a place that will dazzle or overwhelm. Whether or not we ever go back to Friuli-Venezia Giulia, we will never forget it, and we will always treasure the simple, gentle memories it lent us. But there is no question that we will be back, to delve even deeper into its gentle, quiet, unrivaled charms.