Friuli with frills: a weekend tour of Italy’s white wine heartland | Italy vacation


TThe cozy B&B of the Picech family, known simply as Casa Picech, sits at the top of the sleepy wine-growing village of Pradis. It overlooks the historic central European town of Cormons, the unofficial capital of the Collio region in Friuli, where some of Italy’s greatest white wines are made. When I open the wooden shutters of my room, the early morning sun streams in and reveals an idyllic pasture landscape. There is layer after layer of rolling hills, the lower levels covered with a light mist that slowly reveals endless graphic lines of tendrils, the leaves of which glow autumnal red and orange.

The grape harvest here is now coming to an end, and for locals, the main news of this post-lockdown era is that the harvest appears to be the best yet of this century. Another reason to celebrate is that tourism seems to have recovered, attracted by the mix of wine tasting, fine dining, hiking, biking, and festivals that make a fall vacation attractive. Visitors just need to be prepared to show an NHS health passport (or European passport) when eating, drinking, watching a concert or checking into accommodation, and wearing a mask in shops and public transport.

Roberto and Alessia Picech make a big fuss about their guests, starting the evening after check-in when this talented winemaker, whose vineyards surround the B&B, opens their latest crisp whites made from the distinctive native grapes. At breakfast, Alessia then prepares a feast with local specialties: smoked ham and salami from the local artisan prosciutteria D’Osvaldo that can compete with the better-known San Daniele or Parma ham, and delicious organic cheese and yoghurt from nearby Zoff She advises us to visit the farm and dairy. This is not our first stay with the Picech family, and the region was high on the “return to” list when we came out of lockdown in Venice, where we live. So far, a break here hardly feels any different than before the pandemic.

Downstairs in the busy Cormons, the first stop is the pub Tourist office, located on a large piazza lined with stately pastel-colored mansions and a towering church tower with a distinctive green onion dome. The office suggests a number of eco ways to explore without a car. The surrounding hills, vineyards and forests can be easily explored with a rented electric Vespa (€ 60 per day) or e-bike (€ 35 per day) in the Collio trademark bright yellow. And for hikers who set out on the well-marked hiking trails, there is a new initiative from Collio window, Dozens of wooden picnic tables in a huge yellow window frame, each with a spectacular view of the border with neighboring Slovenia, with directions to a nearby winemaker, osteria, artisanal brewery or farm (via a QR barcode on the picnic table ).

The Collio Windows picnic area – every table offers an excellent view. Photo: John Brunton

Next to the tourist office is the legendary Enoteca di Cormonswhere everyone meets – a jam-packed place that I remember with a mix of noisy winemakers tasting each other’s vintages and tourists eager to taste before deciding which wineries to visit. Today, social distancing means far fewer people, the marble-topped bar is unfortunately only taboo with table service, and the remarkable wine list can only be viewed by scanning your smartphone. But our usual waitress Federica is still here, as friendly and helpful as ever. “Lots of tourists have returned here and I find that everyone accepts that they have to follow the new rules so we can all avoid another lockdown,” she says.

Enoteca di Cormons, where everyone meets.
Enoteca di Cormons, a lively meeting place. Photo: John Brunton

The same positive vibe reigns when we sit down for lunch in the nearby one Al Giardinetto, a historic trattoria that has been run by the Zopolatti family for 120 years. It is such a change from the past doom and gloom that Giorgio Zopolatti explains: “We have broken all records since we reopened in June, and I would say that 30% of our guests are new tourists who have never been here; I am sure that they will become loyal new customers. So the future is finally looking very positive. “

The last time I was here, Joe Jackson and his band were sitting at the next table enjoying a feast of Friulian cuisine by Chef Paolo, dishes such as goulash with spinach gnocchi, porcini and scampi soup and a nod to the Habsburg roots of the territory, imperial meat – juicy smoked pork, doused with spicy freshly grated horseradish. Jackson’s band had just finished Cormons Jazz and Wine Festival, a brilliant event that runs from October 21st to 25th and includes not only concert halls but also intimate performances in wineries.

Also around this time, the Roman city of Cividale is transformed into a huge open air Antique market every last Sunday of the month it is teeming with bargains; and near Natisone Valley organizes a gourmet festival dedicated to chestnuts on the weekends (the last one from October 23rd to 24th). During the Canteen Aperte During the weekend of the festival of San Martino (November 6th to 7th), winemakers from all over Friuli open their cantinas to showcase their wines and regional cuisine.

The Aquila del Torre winery
Aquila del Torre winery. Photo: John Brunton

The road from Cormons in the other direction from the Collio and the Slovenian border leads up towards Austria and the Julian Alps, to the Eastern Mountains (Colli Orientali), which are less visited by tourists, where there are some great wines to discover, including powerful red ones Refosco and Pignolo. To get an impression of the different wineries, we visit the The Collio Orientali tasting academy, housed in a majestic 17th century villa, then drive straight to the nearby Cantina Oliviero Visintiniwho produces many of his wines using old methods using terracotta amphorae (wine matured in clay). He recommends that we go down the street for lunch? Osteria Solderwhose garden terrace offers a breathtaking view, perfect for enjoying a plate of steaming pappardelle with a rabbit and sage rag. We finally stop on the drive north Aquila del Torre, the Adlerturm, an idyllic winery B & B with a view of a breathtaking amphitheater of vineyards and mountains.

The young owners Michele and Sarah Ciani are committed environmentalists and suggest hiking and biking tours to discover the biodiversity of their lushly forested property – and we hike through the forest to a highlight for a picnic. Here you can discover the most famous wine of Friuli, the delicious, sweet picolit, whose explosive fruitiness goes perfectly with a creamy local goat cheese. From Aquila del Torre roads lead up to Carnia, the more mountainous part of Friuli, where rolling vineyards are replaced by wilder alpine landscapes as the border with Austria approaches. One for another weekend.

The trip was made available by Turismo Friuli Venezia Giulia. Room at Casa Picech Beginning at 110 €; Room at Aquila del Torre from 105 €


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