Summer in Friuli: Top 10 Things to Do
Note: Even though Italy has begun the process of reopening following the coronavirus shutdown, many events, including the festivals listed below, have been cancelled for 2020 as a precaution. Organizers are expecting to resume the events as scheduled in 2021.
1. Attend the Festa del Prosciutto in Sauris
Every July, visitors gather in the village of Sauris for the Festa del Prosciutto. Located in the remote mountains of Friuli–Venezia Giulia, Sauris consists of two towns: the upper Sauris di Sopra and the lower Sauris di Sotto. Home of the famed Wolf Sauris Prosciutto factory, Sauris di Sotto is naturally the center of the two-weekend-long festival.
Like all villages in the Carnian Alps, Sauris has retained a certain old-world charm, the prominent onion-domed steeple of Chiesa di Sant’Osvaldo towering over a cluster of gabled chalets and rustic farmhouses. Silent and sedate for much of the year, these streets come alive for the festival with rows upon rows of craft tables and food stands. In addition to the requisite prosciutto, visitors may sample tastes of cheese, sausage, frico (cheese and potato pancake), liqueurs made from wild berries, and desserts such as apple strudel and jam tarts. Then, after a long day of eating and shopping, beer-guzzling revelers may dance the night away to the tunes of a strolling oompah band.
2. Go cheese tasting at a malga in the Carnia mountains
Every summer, throughout the rural hills of Friuli, cows are herded from dairy farms in the valleys to mountain huts called “malghe.” In mid-June, the parade of cattle up into the mountains is a celebrated event, as is the descent each September. All summer long, cows can graze in tranquil Alpine pastures, providing their milk twice a day for the making of “formaggio di malga.”
Malga Pozôf, also known as Casera Marmoreana, is located at the peak of Monte Zoncolan and can be reached by car from Ovaro or by ski lift from Ravascletto. On the day of my visit, the lift was closed for repair, so I geared myself up for a lengthy uphill trek. Beginning in the valley below Ravascletto, I hiked up the grassy, wildflower-strewn ski slope and through pine forests, ultimately emerging at the summit to find cows grazing alongside a dirt road. Following the path a short distance further, I finally reached the malga, whose casual eating area was already buzzing with visitors.
Settling in at a long, wooden picnic table, I treated myself to a plate of assorted cheeses and a slice of blackberry crostata. After my snack, I wandered freely around the property, peeking into the cheese-making rooms where wheels of aging formaggio were stacked to the ceiling. Then, following the aroma of smoke, I discovered the “fogolâr” (fireplace) room, where balls of ricotta rested above the hearth, on their way to becoming “ricotta affumicata” (smoked ricotta), one of Friuli’s most distinctive cheeses.
3. Visit another Carnian malga
One of many malghe to also serve as an agriturismo, offering both food and lodging, Malga Pramosio is located near the Austrian border not far from the Creta di Timau peak. While it is accessible by car from the hamlet of Laipacco, I chose instead to hike from the town of Timau, 2,300 feet up a steep mountain path through the beech forest called Bosco Bandito. At the summit, the woods gave way to a rolling, green meadow surrounded by towering granite peaks. Inside the red-roofed, stone malga, a fire roared, filling the entryway with thick smoke. I sat at one of the communal tables and ordered a plate of frico with polenta.
Following my meal, I tagged along with a few other guests for an informal tour of the malga’s cheese-making rooms. Ricotta—made from reheating whey and extracting the curds—was wrapped in cheesecloth and piled onto wooden planks; heavy iron weights sat on top to press out the excess liquid. In the next room, rounds of cheese were soaking in a vat of salted water to make formaggio salato (salted cheese), while many more wheels, in various stages of aging, were stacked high to the ceiling.
4. Attend the Sagra del Magaro festival in Ovaro
In the shadow of Carnia’s Monte Zoncolan, the town of Ovaro hosts the Sagra del Magaro every July as part of the larger Mondo delle Malghe festival (with similar events being held in the towns of Sauris and Prato Carnico). Meaning “world of the malghe,” this summertime festival celebrates the small-scale dairy farms high up in the mountains of northern Italy where cattle spend their summer months. Cheese-tasting is naturally the highlight of the festival: a sampler plate may include formaggio di malga, formaggio salato (salted cheese), formaggio alle erbe (herbed cheese), ricotta (both fresh and smoked), and formadi frant (a golden hued cheese made from mixing cheeses of varying stages of maturation). Other vendors dish up plates of goulasch, sausages, gnocchi di zucca (butternut squash dumplings), frico (cheese and potato pancakes), and cjarsòns (pasta with a sweet-savory filling). In addition, malgari (herdsmen) demonstrate cheese production and take visitors on excursions to nearby malghe.
5. Attend the Festa dei Frutti di Bosco in Forni Avoltri
Yet another summertime festival is the Festa dei Frutti di Bosco. Held over two weekends in late July and early August in the village of Forni Avoltri, the festival celebrates the wild berries that are plentiful in the surrounding forested mountains. On the far side of town across the Degano River, carnival rides attract flocks of children and countless craft booths sell everything from jewelry to woodworking to dried flowers. Most enticing, though, is the festival’s elaborate spread of sweets. Food stands serve up crêpes, biscotti, and frittelle (fritters), with the biggest tent of all holding a vast display of berry-themed desserts. There are cakes and pies of all shapes and sizes, from jellyrolls to fruit-studded tarts, all featuring strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and currants. To cap off the festival, a parade takes visitors on a journey back to medieval times. Dressed in velvet gowns and brocade tunics and brandishing faux swords and shields, townspeople march through the streets accompanied by a band of drummers and minstrels.
6. Spend the day sunbathing at Lignano Sabbiadoro’s white-sand beach
Situated on a peninsula between the Marano Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea, Lignano Sabbiadoro is one of the most popular beach resorts in northern Italy. Approximately five miles long, the beach is serviced by more than forty bathing houses that rent umbrellas and lounge chairs to vacationing sunbathers. During the peak season of July and August, thousands of those colorful umbrellas dot the soft, golden sand, all lined up in flawless rows. The sapphire blue water is shallow and calm—ideal for swimmers—and the beach is awarded the Bandiera Blu each year for its cleanliness.
For those who prefer activity to languishing in the sun, water sports such as windsurfing and scuba diving are offered as well. With one of the largest marinas in Europe (having over 5,000 berths), Lignano makes an excellent base for sailing, while acres of public parks and pine forests provide shade for a leisurely stroll. In addition, there are golf courses, a zoo with 200 species of animals, a spa, and several water and amusement parks for children and grownups alike. Off the eastern end of the peninsula is the island of Martignano, also known as the “island of seashells.” Lignano Sabbiadoro may be reached by bus from Latisana or, in summertime, by boat from Marano Lagunare.
7. Immerse yourself in nature at one of Marano Lagunare’s protected reserves
In the northernmost lagoons of the Adriatic, marshy coastal wetlands surround the tiny fishing village of Marano Lagunare. Offshore, tiny, thatched fisherman’s huts called casoni are scattered among the reeds and islands. These wetlands are part of two protected nature reserves: Riserva Naturale Valle Canal Novo and Riserva Naturale Foci dello Stella. The latter encompasses over 3,000 acres of canals, mudflats, and sandbanks at the mouth of the Stella River. This area has earned international recognition as a habitat for numerous species of water birds and is accessible through guided boat tours. To the east, adjacent to Marano Lagunare, Valle Canal Novo is the site of a visitor center with plenty of educational and recreational activities. Here, visitors may stroll the long wooden footbridges through marshes and cane thickets, which are home to countless forms of native wildlife.
8. While in Marano Lagunare, enjoy a meal of local seafood at Trattoria Alla Laguna
In the village of Marano Lagunare, houses of robin’s egg blue, salmon pink, and sunflower yellow line the narrow streets. Overlooking the harbor, the rust red Trattoria Alla Laguna (a.k.a. Vedova Raddi) has enjoyed a prime waterfront location since 1939. The owners, Mara and Decio Raddi, are the third generation in this family-run restaurant. Their signature dish, risotto alla Maranese, is prepared with calamari, scampi (langoustines), and local wedge shell clams called “telline.” All seafood is caught fresh daily, including local shellfish such as granseola (spiny spider crab), moleche (tiny soft shell crabs), and canoce (mantis shrimp).
9. Stroll the Rilke path from Duino to Sistiana
“Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?” These were the words of inspiration that, like a voice from the wind, called out to poet Rainer Maria Rilke one stormy day while he was wandering along the sea cliffs near the Castello di Duino. A favorite guest of the Austrian princess Maria von Thurn und Taxis, Rilke often stayed at this castle a short distance northwest of Trieste. It was here that he penned the beginning to his famous “Duino Elegies.” Today, visitors can stroll the same route, called the Sentiero Rilke, or “Rilke Path,” which stretches just over a mile between the fishing village of Duino and the pretty yacht-filled harbor at Sistiana. The path begins at the 15th-century Castello di Duino, perched on a promontory overlooking the ruins of the medieval Castello Vecchio. It then follows the meandering coastline, where evergreen shrubs cling to the rock face and precipitous, white limestone cliffs plunge into the sea. At the end of the rocky trail is Sistiana, where white sailboats rest afloat in the sapphire blue bay. All along the Rilke Path, shady pine forests alternate with breathtaking views, each worthy of a poet’s inspiration.
10. Sample the world-famous prosciutto di San Daniele
San Daniele del Friuli hosts one of the biggest food festivals in the region, Aria di Festa, with tens of thousands of visitors flocking to the hill town every summer. This festival celebrates the town’s renowned prosciutto, the origin of which dates back to around 400 BC, when the Celts arrived in San Daniele, bringing with them their technique of salt-curing pork. With a lower salt content than many other Italian hams, prosciutto di San Daniele is often described as sweeter and more delicate in flavor. Perhaps this is due to the unique climate where salty Adriatic breezes intermingle with fresh Alpine air.
Of course, it is not necessary to brave the crowds at the festival to enjoy this world-renowned ham, as plates of prosciutto di San Daniele are served in restaurants throughout Friuli. Still, there is no better place to sample this savory treat than at its source. At local San Daniele restaurants such as Antica Osteria Al Ponte and Trattoria Da Catine, you can order not only a platter of prosciutto as an antipasto but also dishes featuring the cured ham, such as the ubiquitous tagliolini al prosciutto. To further your prosciutto experience, visit a prosciuttificio such as Il Camarin or Prosciuttificio Prolongo, where, in addition to prosciutto tastings, you may take a guided tour of their factories.