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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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 surrounds that we found ourselves in was in stark contrast to the historical events, including both world wars and bloody civil combats, that have taken place here.
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, 7 years after the wine began fermenting, is distributing his resulting infamous “orange wine.”
The flavor is as unique as the process of making it. And we had the pleasure of sampling it along side Marianna, Mateja and her college-aged daughter, all while we cooked a dinner together with a Michelin Starred Chef, Alessandro Gavagna, from La Subida. And this was just day #1.
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.
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&B’s, a small tavern and classrooms where school children visit to learn about farming, and the family’s osteria.
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.
But our favorite stop had to be at the osteria where we sampled wine and shared a gourmet lunch together.
Tavern in the Prosecco Hills
Each one of these experiences would have been amazing on its own, but put together it was really unforgettable. But 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Meeting Cesare and sharing a glass of wine in this fascinating place was the perfect way to end our tour.
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 have led them to producing and sharing 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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