Udine is, as the locals say, “the Milan” of the FVG region, meaning it is industrious, full of hard working people and often finds itself a little out of step with its more leisurely and chill neighbors. Not often considered a tourist destination, it is in fact ideally situated in the Province of Udine which borders Austria and the Julian Alps to the north, Slovenia to the east and, to its south, the Adriatic Sea — making it perfect for day-trips for skiing, hiking, beach-going, wine tasting and more. But the city of Udine is a little-known gem. Just an hour from Trieste, Udine itself is ideal for a day-trip.
A richly adorned historic center shows the city’s march through time, with architecture spanning from the time of the Patriarch of Acquileia, to the domination of the Venetians, to the rule of the Austro-Hungarians and the romantic Liberty-style buildings of the end of the 1800s. You can find even Andrea Palladio’s hand in the Palazzo Antonini (Banca d’Italia).
The Loggia del Lionello and the Piazza della Liberta’ highlight Udine’s centuries-old ties with “La Serenissima” Republic of Venice. Just beyond them lies the rather daunting hill upon which the Castle of Udine is situated. Local lore says that the hill was built by the Huns in order to create a vantage point in their battle against Aquileia since the overall topography was too flat. It is now the site of the Civic Museums, comprising the Archaeological Museum, the Drawings and Prints Gallery, the Museum of Photography, the Photographic Archive and the Ancient Art Gallery, with a beautiful collection of precious paintings from the 1500s to 1800s, including a Caravaggio and some Tiepolos. The main salone or parliamentary hall of the castle is the only part that still has its original and abundant frescoes. Not to be missed is the oldest church in Udine, the Chiesa di Santa Maria di Castello dating to the 1200s – you pass it on your way up to the Castle.
Udine is also called the “City of Tiepolo” and offers what they call the “Tiepolo” itinerary. Before he was famous, the young Giambattista Tiepolo was summoned to Udine in the early 1700s to Udine by its then patriarch, Dionisio Delfino. There Tiepolo and his son Domenico painted frescoes in the Duomo and the Patriarchal Palace, now the Museo Diocesano, where you will find the greatest concentration of his work.
For those hungering for modern art, there is the Casa Cavazzini, an ancient palazzo restructured by the famous Gae Aulenti, which houses modern and contemporary art collections. During the restructuring they uncovered frescoes from the 1300s and several other archeological relics of note, which can still be seen there.
Also interesting is the Ethnographic Museum of Friuli, depicting life and culture of the people of the region as well as the Gallerie del Progetto an Archival Museum of architecture and design located in the beautiful Palazzo Morpurgo.
Once you’re done traipsing around Udine, then it’s time to go to Piazza Matteotti, also known as the “living room” of Udine. Surrounded by porticoes and bars it’s where one goes to relax, people watch, meet friends and unwind.
There is no lack of good restaurants in Udine, but the two I’ve found very enjoyable are Hosteria alla Tavernetta right in the center near the Duomo, and Alla Vedova just outside of town. Both specialize in local fare and their food is beyond delicious. Tarvernetta is a little more chic and hip, Alla Vedova is hearty and rustic.
This region is known for its specialties like San Daniele Prosciutto and the lesser known duck prosciutto from Jolanda De Colo’, to Frico (chips made with the local Montasio cheese) not to mention the amazing wines from the Collio region among them, the local Friulano, the Vitovska and the sweet and prized Picolit.
The main ingredients of the culinary tradition of Udine are humble but varied due to its proximity to the borders; from delicious fresh seafood to creamy polentas served with game meats and Slovene and Austrian inspired dishes.
Udine has a lot to offer and should be on your “must-see” list when you travel to Italy.