Piazza della Liberta square in Udine
Fly to Italy and transfer by coach to your four-star hotel in Udine, the historic capital of Friuli.
Explore more in 2022. Indulge in a back to back river cruise, take an extra city break in Paris or Bruges, sail the Adriatic in spring and discover the Italian Lakes in September.
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Few places in Italy remain undiscovered, but the tiny region of Friuli Venezia Giulia – known simply as Friuli – is a treasure trove of historic and artistic gems. You may find your first visit surprising, as there’s so much to explore and it’s so easy to fall under the spell of this unspoilt landscape. Tucked away in the northeast at Italy’s borders with Austria and Slovenia, Friuli boasts enchanting scenery of staggering contrasts. The snow-capped Dolomites and Julian Alps dominate the north, while fertile plains and manicured vineyards sweep across the centre and south in emerald waves to meet the rugged Adriatic coast.
As a border region, Friuli has a complex and fascinating history: it began with the Romans in Aquileia, then Cividale rose to prominence as the capital of a Lombard dukedom, and the Venetians took control of Udine. However, it was the Habsburgs who had the greatest influence, with Trieste being a jewel in the crown of the Austro-Hungarian empire until it was ceded to Italy in 1918. Gorizia is a fascinating and unique border town once divided from Slovenia’s Nova Gorica – meaning ‘new Gorizia’ – with medieval arcades and Baroque palaces.
Then there’s the extraordinary collection of art: peppered throughout the towns of Friuli are historic highlights from virtually every period of Italian art and architecture, from Roman ruins and early medieval churches, to dazzling Byzantine frescoes and Renaissance treasures.
Gastronomically, the region offers a variety of flavours which reflect neighbouring influences, such as polenta from the Veneto, soups and dumplings from Central Europe, and interpretations of Austrian desserts. Friuli is perhaps best-known for its outstanding wines, particularly the white varietals, and there are plenty of tantalising dishes to sample: the dry-cured ham of San Daniele, frico or savoury crisps made with creamy Montasio cheese, and gnocchi with cherries or plums!
The base for our engaging tour is Udine, an affluent provincial city whose grand historic centre features Roman columns, Grecian statues and Venetian archways. We discover the legacies of Caesar, Charlemagne and the dukes of Lombard in the charming towns of Cividale and Aquileia, and admire Trieste’s splendid Habsburg heritage, art and architecture. We enjoy a coastal drive to Miramare, where we visit the magnificent castle built for Austrian Archduke Maximilian.
One of the delights of this less-visited – but no less wonderful – region is the absence of crowds often associated with other parts of Italy. This means you can truly take your time to savour Friuli’s very many treasures, and the locals are so friendly and welcoming, you’ll soon feel right at home.
Piazza della Liberta square in Udine
Fly to Italy and transfer by coach to your four-star hotel in Udine, the historic capital of Friuli.
Trieste overlooking Adriatic Sea
After breakfast we drive through rolling countryside with the snowy peaks of the Julian Alps never too far off in the distance. We arrive in Trieste, the region’s cosmopolitan capital, beautifully situated on the gulf of Trieste overlooking the Adriatic Sea. We will partake in a walking tour of the area, which has a reputation as ‘the city of cafés’. Notably the seafront Piazza Unità d’Italia – Europe’s largest sea-facing square, features the smart cafés, with their inspiring sea views were once frequented by literary figures, such as James Joyce and Sigmund Freud.
During our tour, your local guide will introduce you to Trieste’s highlights and splendid mix of architectural styles in its largely pedestrianised old town. Up above the hill overlooking the harbour stands a medieval fortified castle, which remains remarkably preserved as it has been miraculously spared any significant military activity. At the foot of the hill lie the ruins of a striking Roman theatre, astonishingly unearthed only in 1938! It once had a magnificent proscenium decorated with ornate statues and archways looking out to the sea – in Roman times, the sea reached inland as far as the theatre! Another must-see is the San Giusto cathedral, known for its dazzling Byzantine mosaics, reminiscent of those in Ravenna.
After our tour, you have free time to wander at your own pace and soak up the café culture for yourself – try a strucolo de pomi, the Triestine take on apple strudel, with a cup of Illy coffee, the famous brand that was founded here.
Next, we follow the coastal road to Miramare Castle, built in 1860 for the Archduke Maximilian of Habsburg and his wife, Charlotte of Belgium. Set dramatically on a rocky promontory above the sea, this fairy-tale castle is a fine example of an aristocratic residence with remarkably preserved furnishings. Entrance is included to the castle, so take a closer look at Habsburg life in the eclectic interiors or stroll through its immaculately landscaped park to admire the impressive variety of plants. If the beauty and serenity of the location haven’t taken your breath away, the stunning views over the gulf will surely do the trick.
This morning we drive through lush countryside to visit the Mosaic School of Friuli in Spilimbergo. Founded in 1922, this renowned training centre attracts students from all over the world. During our guided tour, we’ll dive into the nitty-gritty of this intricate artform and the various techniques used. We’ll walk the halls of the school’s gallery to admire the talented students’ finished works, creatively expressed in a kaleidoscope of colours, motifs and styles.
There’s free time after to discover the pretty little town of Spilimbergo. As you walk along cobbled streets between elegant buildings, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. The town’s medieval castle comprises magnificent buildings in a fascinating combination of architectural styles – some buildings were set ablaze during upheavals in 1511, but fortunately much of its wonderfully painted façades were saved. There is also a 13th-century cathedral with frescoes, paintings and sculptures adorning its interior.
Later we continue to San Daniele, a hilltop town renowned for its delicious prosciutto. We visit a local producer to learn about the ancient artisanal process involved in curing this very special ham and enjoy a tasting afterwards. Its sweet and delicate flavour is said to be a result of the area’s microclimate, owing to a mingling of the winds from the Carnic Alps and the Adriatic Sea.
Wine region of Collio
After breakfast we drive to Cividale, nestled in the green hills bordering Slovenia and split by the picturesque Natisone river, over which spans the town’s bridge – so-called ‘Devil’s Bridge’ after locals allegedly asked the devil for help to build it! Cividale was founded by Julius Caesar as ‘Forum Iuli’ – from where Friuli gets its name – and grew in significance as the capital of the first Lombard duchy in Italy.
To discover its fascinating history, we visit the Santa Maria in Valle monastery to see the unique Lombard Temple, an outstanding example of art and architecture from the High Middle Ages. The well-preserved walls and ceilings of this hidden gem are intricately adorned with Byzantine frescoes and stucco decorations, and its 8th-century sculptures are some of the finest to survive in Europe.
Then we drive to Gorizia, a unique town at the border with Slovenia once well-loved by the Habsburg bourgeoisie. Its red-roofed buildings are crowned by a medieval castle, and there are sweeping views over the beautiful countryside. Hemingway’s Frederic Henry begins his narrative near Gorizia in his beloved novel, A Farewell to Arms, set during the Great War. Today Gorizia is a lovely place to wander, with elegant arcades and Baroque buildings.
After time for lunch at your leisure, we continue to the critically acclaimed wine region of Collio Goriziano. This enchanting landscape of gentle hills is marked by hypnotic rows of verdant vines and dotted with grand villas and wine estates. The unique microclimate, created by the area’s equidistance from the Adriatic Sea and the Austrian Alps, works perfectly with the marlstone soil to yield exceptionally fragrant grapes. Unsurprisingly, some of the world’s best white wines are produced here, so our tour would not be complete without a visit and tasting at one of Collio’s celebrated vineyards.
Aquileia’s World Heritage site
This morning we discover Aquileia, one of the largest and wealthiest cities of the Roman Empire. At its peak the population exceeded 100,000, but today it’s a sleepy rural town peppered with ancient ruins – the most complete example of an early Roman city in the Mediterranean world. During the Middle Ages, a smaller town took its place and a magnificent basilica was built. As we near the historic site, keep an eye out for the ancient remains flanking the road.
We have a guided tour of Aquileia’s early medieval Patriarchal Basilica, a World Heritage site recognised for its significance as a Christian hub in central Europe. Interestingly, this Romanesque-Gothic building was built on the ruins of a 4th-century church, and the original floor, paved with stunning mosaics, is a sight to behold. The excitement builds as we descend to the subterranean depths of the basilica to unearth its treasures. Its Crypt of Frescoes boasts a 9th-century vault beautifully painted with 19 biblical scenes, while the Crypt of Excavations houses an astonishing collection of excavated gems from three different periods, including the remains of intricate mosaics, columns and a baptismal font.
After a fascinating morning, we drive to a rustic restaurant in order to sample authentic Friulan fare made with fresh local ingredients.
Later we return to Udine with the rest of the day at leisure. There’s plenty to explore in this visual feast of a city, such as the hilltop castle, which houses a collection of excellent museums, including an art gallery with works by Caravaggio and Tiepolo. For those who enjoy more recent art, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art features an impressive 20th-century collection. Of course, art in Italy isn’t confined to just museums and galleries – Udine’s beautiful Venetian heritage can be admired in Piazza della Libertà, a Renaissance jewel with handsome sculptures and gleaming palaces.
Transfer to the airport for your return flight.
Along with your experienced and knowledgeable tour manager and local experts, you’ll discover so much on our award-winning Classic tours, offering the best value for money way for you to explore the world.
Our tour managers have been rated as the best in the business for their knowledge and experience and will go above and beyond to ensure every aspect of your holiday runs smoothly – so all you need to worry about is your packing.
On a range of tours we are delighted to offer the option to travel in a small group of up to 25 people.
You’ll enjoy the same sociable atmosphere of a typical Riviera Travel holiday - but with a smaller number of travellers and a touch more exclusivity.
Available across our range of UK, European and select Worldwide tours; just look out for the icon on holiday pages.
All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependent on traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us.
|Airport||Hotel location||Transfer time|
|Venice Marco Polo Airport||Udine||1 hr 45 mins|
|Venice Treviso Airport||1 hr 45 mins|
|Trieste Airport||1 hr|
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The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a room and includes:
We guarantee there are never any hidden costs or surcharges, inflated prices or artificial discounts.
Daily breakfast is included, meaning you are free to experience traditional cuisine at local restaurants for the remaining meals. Your tour manager will be able to recommend restaurants and cafes to suit you.
Single rooms are subject to availability at a supplement from £115 per person.
Requests to pre-book your seat are subject to the airline’s conditions. If you would like to pre-book seats please contact our Reservations Team, we will be able to provide further information regarding the possibility and also the cost.
UK Citizens do not require a visa to enter Italy however must have a valid passport. For the most up-to-date passport and visa information visit https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/italy/entry-requirements
We are unable to accept responsibility if you are unable to travel because you have not complied with any passport/entry/immigration requirements.
We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitability of the holiday due to reduced mobility, we encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns. General information on mobility in connection with our tours can be found here.
Patrick & Kathleen Barrett
My wife and I recently went on river cruise on MV William Shakespeare from Dublin via Budapest to include Bratislava, Salzburg, Vienna Budapest, Dublin early September. We greatly enjoyed the whole experience and found the ship ve...
We would like to say a big thank you to the Riviera Travel team who did an amazing job organising alternative flights for us when Ryanair cancelled ours at short notice. We had a great trip to Berlin & Dresden, where we had the be...