Friuli, Istria & Slovenia
13 - 19 June 2011
This fascinating tour takes in three beautiful countries: Italy, Croatia and Slovenia. It combines the undiscovered wines of Istria in the north-west of Croatia, the world class whites of Friuli in Italy and the increasingly impressive wines of Slovenia. We start with a visit near Bdra in Slovenian territory just over the Italian border from Collio. (Both “Brda” and “Collio” mean “hills”). Effectively they are the same region as the borders here have been pretty fluid, the area having once been part of Venice and later part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The wines of Friuli truly rank alongside the two most prestigious wine regions of Italy, Piemonte and Tuscany. Sadly their wines are not often seen in the UK, which is a great pity for they are amongst the top white wines that Italy produces. Our first base is an attractive 4* hotel in the lovely small city of Udine with its little canals that run beneath and alongside the streets. The city has a surprisingly varied display of architecture including the Venetian, Gothic and Renaissance styles. The main square is dominated by the porticoed San Giovanni and behind the gateway designed by Palladio in 1556, is the 16th century castle, which now houses the Fine Art collection.
On the Slovenian side there are regional grape varieties such as Zelen, Pinela and Furmint as well as Malvasia, and we’ll also come across some excellent Chardonnays. On both sides of the border, the variety Ribolla Gialla is to be found. Italy’s Collio region is best known for outstanding whites including Sauvignon, but there are also complex reds here (especially made from Cabernets and Merlot), as there are for that matter just across the border in Slovenia’s Brda.
Our second base is in the peninsular of Istria, in Croatia and we stay in the best hotel within the attractive walled peninsula town of Rovinj. Rovinj was under Venetian control, from 1283 to 1797. The ancient city gate dates from 1680 and the Civic Museum houses 18th century works of art from the Venetian school and works by modern Croatian artists. The cathedral dates from early Christian times (but was rebuilt in 1736) and has a bell tower tower which was modelled on that of St Marks, in Venice. The bustling daily market is packed with local produce including honey, fruit, cheeses, herbs and flavoured grappa.
The main white wine, from this region, Malvasia Istriana or Malvazija Istarka is gently aromatic with a scent of Acacia flowers. There is also a little Muscat here and a feisty red is made from Teran, a similar grape to the Italian Refosco. In one afternoon we visit Pula in the south of Istria and there will be time to visit the Roman Amphitheatre. Although modern day Pula is not immediately an attractive place, there are some hidden sights to visit. The vast paved piazza was the Roman Forum and on the North side is the well-preserved Temple of Augustus. The town hall, next door which now has a Renaissance Facade was built on the site of the Temple of Diana, The 17th century Renaissance cathedral was also on the site of a former temple.
Our last few days are spent in the picturesque Capital City of Slovenia, Ljubljana, in the best hotel in the city. Ljublana is a small bustling University city which was home to the architect Joze Plecnik, whose diverse architectural legacy can be seen all over the city. This charming city is small and very easy to explore on foot. The Ljubljanica River, bridged by the famous triple bridge, divides the centre of the town with willow lined banks. There is a very young feel to the city, in part due to the presence of the university, but also due to the easy going nature of the Slovenians. A walk up to the castle gives great views over the old town. In the National Gallery the collection of 19th century art is also worth a visit.
This is a wonderful tour based around the axis of these three countries, where the borders criss-cross so that the journey times are not huge – do join us for this memorable tour to experience a wide range of grape varieties, scenery and food!