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An Insider’s Tour of Italy’s Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia Regions

An Insider’s Tour of Italy’s Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia Regions

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Like many people who have visited Italy, our first visit has not been our last. In fact we’ve been to Italy three times so far, and are now spending a few months slowly touring our way through the country.

This has given us the opportunity to explore beyond the top destinations that come to mind, such as Rome, Florence or Venice.

We were looking to get beyond the surface to find those places that most people don’t even think to visit. And luckily, we met someone who knew exactly where to look, because she has made it her business and her passion to do just that.

Marianna Marcuzzo started her business, Delicanto, to help people explore the Italy that she knows best. The Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, which is just two hours away from Venice.

She put together a several day itinerary for us that was specific to our interests – which include culture, food and wine. And nailed it.

Treviso, Italy

Treviso Italy at night

Treviso Italy at night

We started off in the city of Treviso, in Italy’s Veneto region, which is a short 30 minute train ride from Venice. Treviso is a great alternative if you are also planning a several day visit to Venice but don’t want to pay the Venice hotel prices.

Here you can spend a quiet evening having dinner in the square with locals, away from the throngs of Venetian tourists. It has beautiful historic buildings, long canals to stroll along and plenty of outdoor cafes.

Statues taking a dip in one of Treviso Italy's canals

Statues taking a dip in one of Treviso Italy’s canals

Discovering Friuli Venezia Giulia Italy

From Treviso, Marianna took us on a two hour drive to the middle eastern section of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region near the Slovenian border.

We were meeting with Mitja Sirk, whose family runs a hotel and restaurant, La Subida, in the midst of the hilly Collio Goriziano Vineyards.

But that doesn’t really begin to describe what this experience was like, which for the Sirk family, is the whole point.

Beautiful grounds of La Subida Friuli Venezia Giulia Italy

Beautiful grounds of La Subida Friuli Venezia Giulia Italy

We started off getting a tour of the grounds, with Mitja, discovering deceptively simple looking cottages along the edge of the woods.

The cottages have evolved to suit the needs of guests, which include a feeling of privacy and luxury.

Huge tubs have been installed in each of the 12 guest houses along with other surprising elements that come from the imagination of Mitja’s father, Josko Sirk.

The first living “experience” we came across was while visiting a horse that is boarded on the property.

Above the barn in the hay loft the family had constructed a large canopy bed and private bath, so guests could experience an outdoor living experience.

With our eyes wide open we continued to explore the property and discovered one enchanting location after another.

From a loft with an entire wall made of glass and a huge hot tub, to a small “nest”  in the woods.

La Subida Hotel and Restaurant

La Subida Hotel and Restaurant

In order to experience the nest, you are led there after dinner, in the dark and without shoes.

The idea is that your senses will be elevated, and as a result, your experience will be richer. The box-like room itself comes complete with robes, local wine and a huge tub pre-filled for your arrival.

If all of that isn’t enough to wow you, possibly a meal of Slovenian/Friuli dishes prepared in La Subida’s Osteria may just do the trick. I know that it did for us.

Lightly smoked prosciutto of Sant'Osvaldo handmade by a family in the area

Lightly smoked prosciutto of Sant’Osvaldo handmade by a family in the area

We sampled several outstanding dishes made from fresh locally sourced products accompanied by a few wines Mitja hand-selected from their international collection.

We also had the opportunity to sample palate cleansing ice cream made from the vinegar that the family produces themselves on the property.

Artisan cheese and local preserves

Artisan cheese and local preserves

Discovering the Orange Wine

Our next experience was equally spectacular. After lunch, we were met by Mateja Gravner, whose family operates the farmhouse where we were to spend the evening.

And again, this is a completely understated description of the events ahead. Mateja gave us a guided tour through the area, which crisscrossed back and forth across the Slovenian/Italian border.

Here the beautiful serene surroundings that we found ourselves in were in stark contrast to the historical events, including both world wars and bloody civil combats, that have taken place here.

Gravner Vineyard and Farmhouse

Gravner Vineyard and Farmhouse

After this tour, Mateja gave us an intimate tour of her family’s vineyard and unorthodox winemaking production.

Her father, Josko Gravner, decided to change the way he was producing wine following a visit to California, where he found the wines to have a chemical aftertaste.

He decided to find a way to make wine that would not rely on the use of chemicals and techniques that would not need to be changed as trends came and went.

So he studied winemaking and decided to take the process back to its roots. He learned that in villages of Georgia, wine is still being fermented in large terra-cotta vessels as it had been for 5000 years.

He brought the “amphora” to his farm in Slovenia and now, seven years after the wine began fermenting, is distributing his resulting infamous “orange wine.”

Terra-Cotta Amphora no Longer in Use on the Gravner Farm

Terra-Cotta Amphora no Longer in Use on the Gravner Farm

Slovenia Orange Wine Gravner

Slovenia Orange Wine Gravner

The flavor is as unique as the process of making it. We had the pleasure of sampling it alongside Marianna, Mateja, and her college-aged daughter, all while we cooked dinner together with a Michelin Starred Chef, Alessandro Gavagna, from La Subida. And this was just day #1.

Shaved Apple Salad with sauteed red Pepper, Fresh Zucchini Flowers, Grated Local Cheese and Freshly Grated Horseradish. Why food is better when prepared by a Michelin-starred chef.

Shaved Apple Salad with sauteed red Pepper, Fresh Zucchini Flowers, Grated Local Cheese and Freshly Grated Horseradish. Why food is better when prepared by a Michelin-starred chef.

Sunset After a Perfect Day in Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy

Sunset After a Perfect Day in Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy

The next morning after a light breakfast of local products, including some fresh bread made by Mateja’s mother earlier in the day, we headed back to the Veneto region – to our meeting with the Countess.

Castle on the Collalto Family Estate

Castle on the Collalto Family Estate

The Borgoluce

The Borgoluce is a large estate owned by the Collalto family. We were very honored to be given a private tour by the Countess, Ninni di Collalto, along with her assistant, Linda.

Here we found the theme of ultimate love and respect for the land in parallel with the other places Marianna had shown us.

We drove through the estate, passing through the vineyard, by the family’s castle and several buildings that now serve as B&Bs, a small tavern and classrooms where school children visit to learn about farming, and the family’s osteria.

Tavern on the Collalto Borgoluce Estate

Tavern on the Collalto Borgoluce Estate

But the most fascinating stop was the family’s cheese-making production.

We wandered through the area where water buffalo were busily eating hay and making milk for the production of organic cheese and milk products. And then the Countess showed us the greenhouse like buildings where the manure from the cows is converted into electricity.

Baby Water Buffalo on the Borgoluce Agritourismo Farm

Baby Water Buffalo on the Borgoluce Agritourismo Farm

Greenhouse Methane Processing Biodigester

Greenhouse Methane Processing

Biodigester Monitoring System

Biodigester Monitoring System

But our favorite stop had to be at the Osteria where we sampled wine and shared a gourmet lunch together.

Borgoluce Proscecco

Borgoluce Proscecco

Slow Roasted Lamb from the Estate's Osteria

Slow Roasted Lamb from the Estate’s Osteria

left to right- Jen, Marianna, Contessa, Linda, Sean

Left to right- Jen, Marianna, Contessa, Linda, Sean

Tavern in the Prosecco Hills

Each one of these experiences would have been amazing on its own, but put together it was really unforgettable. B

ut Marianna had one last stop in mind, and this was by far the quirkiest and definitely, one that we would never have found without her guidance.

Marianna drove us high into the Prosecco hills. We wound high up past small picturesque towns and stopped next to a nondescript house.

Path to the L'Osteria Senz Oste

Path to the L’Osteria Senz Oste

Not knowing quite what to expect, we followed her up a narrow path with sweeping views of the vineyards below.

Here up in the hills is the Osteria Senz’Oste or “Tavern without a host.” The tavern is made up of several small outdoor eating areas among the vineyards, and a small room next to a tiny barn.

Barn residents

Barn residents

Inside the room is a cash register where you can pay for some meat and cheese to go with your wine. Or maybe try your hand at playing the guitar hanging on the wall for anyone’s use.

But where is the wine? Travel up the hill to the top, and the Prosecco vending machine is there ready to serve up some cold bubbly wine.

Prosecco Hills Vending Machine

Prosecco Hills Vending Machine

World's Coolest Vending Machine

World’s Coolest Vending Machine

I was having a little trouble wrapping my American brain around the concept. Fortuitously, the owner, whose personality was a perfect match for the wine he sold, happened along.

Outdoor dining with a view in Italy's Prosecco Hills

Outdoor dining with a view in Italy’s Prosecco Hills

After meeting us he bounded up the hill and arrived back with a bottle of wine to share and tell us about his tavern (with the assistance of Marianna’s translation).

According to the owner, Cesare De Stefani, he is motivated by trust, a love of meeting people from all around the world and sharing the beauty of the land and the wine that is produced here.

Osteria Owner

Meeting Cesare and sharing a glass of wine in this fascinating place was the perfect way to end our tour.

Cesare Sean and Jen

Reflecting back I’m amazed at how much we were able to see and experience in just two days. We were really touched by each person that we met and the stories that led them to produce and share the food and wine of Italy that we have always enjoyed.

Now each flavor has a story, and now thanks to Marianna and Delicanto, also a wonderful memory and some new people I am happy to call friends.

You can find our related articles about our travels through Italy in our Destinations section. Or head over to our Resources section to find our money-saving tips and suggestions to make your journey more comfortable that we’ve compiled after more than 2+ years of full-time travel.

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A special thank you to Delicanto who hosted us on this tour. They provide luxury intimate Italian experiences that will guide you on the journey of a lifetime.  Note: all opinions about our time traveling with Delicanto remain authentically our own.

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Zena's Suitcase

Wednesday 1st of November 2017

I love Italy, and would love to explore more of the country. I love how they preserve traditional techniques to create wonderful food and wine. This tour seemed to really celebrate that