Friuli could be the next Tuscany. It has everything any holidaymaker to Italy would want: rolling hills, forests, mountains, skiing, vineyards, castles, history, medieval towns, beaches, hot springs, delicious foods like prosciutto and fabulous cheeses … and the list goes on. It’s got everything going for it – well, apart from maybe one or two or several hundred glitches…
… Monstrous, ugly, dirty, ageing eyesores dappled endlessly across the region. Can you guess? I’ll give you a clue… The remains of industry.
In a bid to overcome the economic and social devastation wrought by World Wars I and II, the Italian government propelled Friulan industries and built hundreds of factories. They sprung up like autumn mushrooms in the nearby mountain forests. When asked about this time, the older generations will say it was a glorious period – a boom and a total success.
Flash forward fifty years… Factories abandoned, dilapidated, sitting in prime positions, situated behind or in front of historical and scenic sites. Cohesive and planned development wasn’t exactly a priority!
Friuli’s location doesn’t really help matters either. Tourists from the north typically head further south to Venice or they head east to Trieste where they can explore Croatia and other eastern European countries. Friuli is therefore too far north and not east enough. Rather it’s somewhere in the middle fighting for its own identity… sort of like the middle child.
Yet despite its disorganized landscape Friuli still sucks you in. Put it like this: Germany and Austria have pristine rolling hills and their industrial zones are wonderfully tucked away from tourist cameras. Yet, how often to do hear of someone dreaming to go to Austria? Sorry Austrians, no offence, but most travellers to Europe tend to see Italy first.
We are drawn to Italy because it is a country that has seen tragedy. And through this, beauty has arisen in the forms of art, love, tradition, philosophy, literature and culture.
That said, Friuli epitomizes what holidaymakers to Italy seek: Friuli has seen its fair share of wars, invasions, natural and man-made disasters, and economic hardships. As a result, this region has many stories to tell… Stories, myths, and ruins that fascinate and confound us, and which ultimately leave us wanting more.
Friuli may have its dirty elements, but so do Rome, Milan and Venice. For example, building Italy’s largest petrochemical plant opposite Venice Island seems like a tragic and misguided error on many levels. Only it hasn’t hurt tourism, has it? People still head to Venice in their droves.
There are so many things to see and do in Friuli, but you may have to venture behind that abandoned factory or follow an overgrown path… Perhaps, like us, you’ll see a small sign that somehow snares your interest… and you’ll drive or walk to the destination just out of curiosity, only to find that it’s a cave in the side of a mountain that was actually a fortress and church dating back to the fifth century (La Grotta di San Giovanni d’Antro). We stumbled upon many hidden gems like this, either by chance or after a local told us about them.
Therefore Friuli’s captivation doesn’t lie in initial glimpses: It’s what’s hidden behind that leaves you speechless. So could Friuli be the next Tuscany? Probably not. But then again, it doesn’t have to be.