Its landscapes offer profound contrasts too, with the perpetually snowy Giulie and Carnic Alps in the north, idyllic grapevine-filled plains in the centre, sandy beaches along the southern shore, and limpid lagoons and craggy karst cliffs encircling the regional capital, Trieste.
While there’s an amazing reserve of historical sights, from Roman ruins to Austro-Hungarian palaces to World War museums, this is also a destination for simply kicking back with the locals, tasting the region’s renowned wines and discovering a culinary heritage that will broaden notions of the Italian table. Serene, intriguing Trieste and friendly, feisty Udine make for great city time – they’re so easy and welcoming you’ll soon feel as if you’re Friulian, Venezian or Giulian too.
Tumbling down to the Adriatic from a wild, karstic plateau and almost entirely surrounded by Slovenia, Trieste is physically and psychologically isolated from the rest of the Italian peninsula. As such, it preserves its own unique border-town culture and retains a fascinating air of fluidity encapsulated in the Triestini dialect, a strange melange of Italian, Austrian-German, Croatian and Greek.
Once the great seaport of the Habsburg Empire, its fabulous waterfront is lined with portentous neoclassical architecture on a par with London’s, although its view across the blazing blue bay is considerably finer. It is this view, plus the marina chock-full of sleek white yachts, the city lidos, the long, sandy beaches and the vineyard-draped hinterland of the karst that hold the real magic of Trieste. Without much effort, life is slow and sweet. Like those before you, you might find yourself staying on longer than you’d planned.