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Doing Northern Italy’s Dolomite Loop

This post is being written with a rear view perspective of a fantastic week I recently spent traveling across northern Italy. To be sure, I intend to blog plenty about my trip and thought I’d start out sharing a suggestion for a great fly-and-drive itinerary I kind of stumbled upon while planning for my time away.

First stop on my journey was the tiny mountain hamlet of Forni di Sopra in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia. Situated in the northeastern corner of Italy nuzzled up next to the borders of Austria and Slovenia, FVG is Alpine Italy. To get to Forni, I had flown into Venice Marco Polo Airport, hired a car and hit the road upwards and onwards into the mighty southern Alps range of the Dolomites.

I’d come from London City Airport (under two hour flight), but Venice is serviced by pretty much all the major international airlines (lots of smaller ones too) with routes spanning the globe. The drive from Venice to Forni took about three hours. Once arrived from Venice, drive times between destinations never took more than an hour or so.

Even though my “Dolomite Loop” only comprised a few nights of my overall trip, it proved to be a fun fly-and-drive excursion that would make a great break in its own right. If you’re keen to experience stunning mountain views, enjoy scrumptious food and drink and discover another side to Italian life, consider doing your own Dolomite Loop through the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia.

Here’s a brief account of some of the highlights of my “Dolomite Loop”.

Forni di Sopra

Adjacent to the Parco Naturale delle Dolomiti Friulane, Forni serves as excellent base for outdoor adventure with plenty of nearby (and even in-town) opportunities for skiing, climbing and hiking. It’s also home to awarding winning brewery, Foglie d’Erba. The artisanal beer movement in Italy has exploded over the past five years or so, and brewmaster Gino Perissutti seems to be leading the way from his Forni di Sopra birreria with a small selection of tasty yet simply crafted small batch beers made with fresh local water and foraged herbs.

Sauris

From Forni, I carried on to the even more mountainous and remote village of Sauris. The distance between Forni di Sopra and Sauris is about 35 or 40 kilometers, but as the crow flies it’s probably not even half that. Manoeuvring the winding mountain roads between Forni and Sauris was a delight. Known as a “language island” where the locals speak a dialect similar to German, Sauris is another picturesque Alpine destination with views that’ll take your breath away. They brew great beer here as well. In fact, the local Zahre brewery is making quite a name for itself with its hemp beer and its smoked ale.

But it’s not just beer that’s smoked here. The Prosciuttificio Wolf produces world famous prosciutto and a cured birch-smoked bacon called speck. Prosciutto made in Sauris to a set of exacting standards using limited high quality ingredients is protected by the EU as a PDO product. PDO stands for “Protected Designation of Origin” – this essentially that just means the way they produce prosciutto in Sauris is specific to the area and for a ham to be called a Sauris prosciutto is must be made nearby and according to traditional custom.

San Daniele di Friuli

Sauris was followed by a quick stopover in historic San Daniele di Friuli, about an hour down the road. I didn’t come across any beer here but did manage to sample some more fabulous ham. The local claim to fame is the prosciutto which is also designated as PDO. I took a tour of the roadside DOK Dall’ava prosciutto factory and museum. It’s a smart place to visit to learn about how prosciutto is made and what sets San Daniele apart from other regional producers. There’s an excellent restaurant and a well stocked gift shop with all sorts of other PDO and gourmet Italy food and drink on offer (not just ham).

Udine

After getting fill of the San Daniele delights, I headed about 20 kilometers over to the compact city of Udine for a couple of day checking out it and its pastoral surroundings. Udine is the hub of the small province of the same name and the historic capital of the region. It’s a lively setting with a large university ensuring an interesting mix of people and great nightlife. Local cuisine here is hearty and rustic (think polenta more than pasta) and the wines are of exceptional quality – especially the local speciality Friulano from the rolling hills in nearby Collio Gorizia, which is well worth a ramble round or drive through if visiting traditional farms and vineyards is your sort of thing.

More

There’s soooo much more to the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia than this write up suggests. For details on the places I’ve mentioned and about other FVG destinations visit their website.

 

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