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Friuli Venezia-Giulia with its capital Trieste represents a true central-European cultural landscape, stretching between the Carnic and Julian Alps and the vast lagoons of the Adriatic coast. Under the shared auspices of the Venetian Lion of St Mark and of the double-headed imperial eagle of the Habsburgs, the threshold to the Balkans in the extreme north-east of Italy has always stood apart for its own particular artistic, historical and even linguistic heritage, shaped by Italians, Slavs and Germans. One of Italy’s five autonomous regions, it harbours many outstanding artistic treasures from Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the century-long rule of the Serenissima: exquisite Roman and early Christian mosaics in the former Roman metropolis of Aquileia, rare sculpture and goldwork in the Longobard stronghold of Cividale, and brilliant frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo in Venetian Udine. Trieste, on the other hand, is an intriguing combination of Mitteleuropa and the Mediterranean, a slice of Vienna by the sea, as exposed to the southerly Scirocco and the north easterly Bora as it is to diverse cultural and political influences. Smaller towns such as San Daniele are home to splendidly decorated churches and painted palaces, while the varied countryside is dotted with rugged castles and elegant villas, little known even among Italians. In addition, the region offers delicious wines and culinary delights from funghi porcini to prize-winning prosciutto, complementing this tour’s many artistic highlights.
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Morning flight from London Heathrow to Venice. By coach to Sesto al Reghena, a charming mediaeval borgo situated on the border between the Veneto and the Friuli. Continue to Udine, our base for the first three nights.
The delightful city of Udine lies at the heart of the Friuli. Its attractive squares, palazzi and churches, connected by arcades, reflect Venetian influence and the city’s role as the seat of the Patriarch of Aquileia. The cathedral features a chapel decorated by Venice’s 18th century superstar painter, Giambattista Tiepolo. From there continue to the castle of Udine, home of the Civic Museums, with a fine collection of Italian paintings. In the afternoon visit the Palazzo Patriarcale with Tiepolo’s murals, demonstrating the panache of his brush and the luminosity of his colours.
Full-day excursion to San Daniele to visit the Oratory of Sant’Antonio Abate, featuring the most beautiful fresco cycle in the entire region. Continue to Cividale, the Roman ‘Forum lulii’, which eventually gave its name in corrupted form to the entire region of Friuli. This little town has extraordinary treasures: the famous stuccoed Tempietto Longobardo, an elaborate 8th century baptismal font and the so-called Altar of Ratchis with Lombardic relief carvings. Return to Udine.
A full-day excursion to Aquileia and Grado, among Ancient Rome’s most powerful ports and subsequently as seat of a Patriarch, one of the most impressive early Christian sites in Europe with breathtaking 4th century mosaic floors and an archaeological museum. Mainland invasions forced Aquileia’s residents to seek refuge in the lagoon of Grado. Continue to Trieste where the final three nights are spent.
The great sea port of Trieste, sitting at the foot of the severe Karst hills, has diverse and contrasting parts. Walk through the centre to explore this eclectic city from the Roman Theatre to the Art Nouveau coffee houses frequented by literati such as James Joyce and Italo Svevo. Enjoy a mid-morning coffee break in the historic Caffè degli Specchi on the main square. After lunch coach to the Castle of Miramare, a few miles from the centre of Trieste, the Habsburgic residence of the Emperor Francesco Giuseppe’s younger brother. The castle was designed by the architect Carl Junker and it is built on a promontory with a spectacular panorama over the Riviera Triestina.
In the morning visit the Museum of Villa Sartorio that houses a remarkable collection of drawings by Giambattista Tiepolo. Walk to the Museo Civico Pasquale Revoltella, to visit the urban Villa of Baron Revoltella, a wealthy businessman who contributed to the opening of the Suez Canal. In his Villa we can admire his rich collection of works of art. Coach to the Castle of Duino, historical dwellings of the princes Thurn and Taxis. Built in the middle ages as a military defence fortress, from the 17th century it became a humanistic court hosting artists and intellectuals such as Franz Liszt, Johann Strauss, Paul Valéry and Rainer Maria Rilke. During the First World War the castle was on the front line and was badly damaged. It was restored to its original splendour by the Thurn and Taxis family. Conclude our visit with a walk along the Rilke path with breath-taking views over the Adriatic sea.
After breakfast, transfer to Venice airport for an early afternoon flight back to London Heathrow.