Friuli with flourishes: a weekend in the heart of Italian white wine | Holidays in Italy

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The Picech family’s cozy B&B, known simply as Casa Picech, sits atop the sleepy winemaking hamlet of Pradis. It overlooks the historic town of Cormons en Mitteleuropa, the unofficial capital of the Friuli Collio region, where some of Italy’s finest white wines are produced. As I open the wooden shutters of my bedroom, the early morning sun floods in to reveal an idyllic bucolic landscape. There is layer upon layer of rolling hills, the lower plains covered in a light mist, slowly revealing endless graphic lines of vines whose leaves glow an autumnal red and orange.

The harvest here is drawing to a close, and for locals the most important news of this post-containment era is that the harvest appears to be the best of this century. Another reason to be cheerful is that tourism seems to have rebounded, attracted by the mix of wine tasting, good food, hiking, biking and festivals that make the fall holidays appealing. Visitors should simply be prepared to show an NHS health pass (or European pass) when eating or drinking inside, watching a concert or checking in at accommodation, and wearing a mask in shops and on public transport.

Roberto and Alessia Picech make a lot of fuss with their guests, starting the evening after check-in, when this talented winemaker, whose vineyards surround the B&B, opens his last crisp whites, made from the distinctive native grapes. Then, for breakfast, Alessia prepares a feast of local specialties: smoked ham and salami from the local artisan prosciutteria D’Osvaldo that rivals the more famous ham from San Daniele or Parma, and tasty cheeses and yogurts. organic products from the neighboring Zoff farm and dairy, which she advises us to visit. This is not our first stay with the Picech family, and the area was at the top of the “returns to” list when we emerged from confinement in Venice, where we live. So far, a break here seems little different from before the pandemic.

In bustling Cormons, the first stop is the local tourist office, located in a large square lined with stately pastel-colored mansions and an imposing bell tower with a distinctive green onion dome. The office offers a range of eco-lanes to explore without a car; the surrounding hills, vineyards and forests can easily be seen on a rented electric Vespa (€ 60 per day) or an electric bike (€ 35 per day), all in the characteristic bright yellow of Collio. And for walkers setting out on the well-marked hiking trails, there’s Collio Windows’ new initiative, dozens of wooden picnic tables set inside a giant yellow window frame, each overlooking a spectacular view to the border with neighboring Slovenia, with directions to a nearby winemaker, osteria, craft brewer or farm to visit (via QR barcode on the picnic table).

The Collio Windows picnic area – each table overlooks an exceptional view. Photography: John Brunton

Next to the tourist office is the legendary Enoteca di Cormons, where everyone gathers – a crowded place that I remember occupying with a mix of rowdy wineries trying each other’s vintages and tourists tasting actively before deciding which wineries to visit. Today, social distancing means far fewer people, the marble bar is unfortunately banned with table service only, and the remarkable wine list is only visible by scanning your smartphone. But our usual waitress, Federica, is always there, always so friendly and helpful. “A lot of tourists have come back here, and I find everyone agrees that they have to follow the new rules so that we all avoid another lockdown,” she said.

Enoteca di Cormons, where everyone meets.
Enoteca di Cormons, a dynamic meeting place. Photography: John Brunton

There’s the same positive vibe when we sit down for lunch at Al Giardinetto, a historic trattoria that has been run by the Zopolatti family for 120 years. It changes so much from the dark and sad past to hear Giorgio Zopolatti declare that “since our reopening in June we have broken all records, and I would say that 30% of our guests are new tourists, who have never been here previously ; I am sure they will become new loyal customers. The future looks very positive at last.

The last time I was here, Joe Jackson and his group were seated at the next table, enjoying a feast of Chef Paolo’s friulano cuisine, dishes such as spinach goulash, porcini mushrooms, and langoustine soup, and a nod to the territory’s Habsburg roots, kaiserfleisch – succulent smoked pork topped with freshly grated tangy horseradish. Jackson’s group had just performed at the Cormons Jazz & Wine Festival, a brilliant event taking place October 21-25, covering not only concert halls but also intimate performances in vineyards.

Also around this time, the Roman town of Cividale was transformed into a huge open-air antique market on the last Sunday of each month, teeming with great bargains; and the neighboring valley of Natisone hosts a gastronomic festival dedicated to chestnuts on weekends (the last on October 23 and 24). During the Cantine Aperte weekend celebrating the feast of San Martino (November 6 to 7), winegrowers from all over Friuli open their canteens to present their wines and regional cuisine.

The winery of L'Aquila del Torre
Aquila del Torre winery. Photography: John Brunton

The Cormons road in the other direction from the Collio and the Slovenian border leads to Austria and the Julian Alps, in the Eastern Hills (Colli Orientali), less visited by tourists, but where there are still great wines to discover, especially powerful red and pignolo refosco. To get an idea of ​​the location of the different wineries, we visit the Collio Orientali tasting academy, housed in a majestic 17th-century villa, then we head straight to the neighboring cantina of Oliviero Visintini, who produces many of its wines according to an old method with terracotta amphorae (wine aged in clay). He recommends that we stop for lunch just down the road at Osteria Solder, whose garden terrace offers stunning views, perfect for enjoying a plate of steaming pappardelle topped with rabbit and sage ragù. Heading north, we finally stop at Aquila del Torre, the Eagle’s Tower, an idyllic winemaker’s B&B that overlooks a breathtaking amphitheater of vineyards and mountains.

The young owners, Michele and Sarah Ciani are committed environmentalists, offering walking and cycling tours to discover the biodiversity of their lush woodland estate – and we walk through the forest to a high point for a picnic. It is the ideal place to discover the most famous wine of Friuli, the succulent and sweet picolit, its explosive fruitiness perfectly associated with a creamy local goat cheese. From L’Aquila del Torre, the roads lead to Carnia, the most mountainous part of Friuli, where gentle vineyards are replaced by wilder alpine landscapes as they approach the border with Austria. One for another weekend.

The trip was provided by Turismo Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The rooms of Casa Picech start to 110 €; rooms in Aquila del Torre from € 105


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