Gorizia: an unknown Italian pearl on the border with Slovenia
January 1, 1970
If you’re not Italian or Slovenian – or really into First World War history – you probably have never heard of Gorizia. To be honest, even though I come from Veneto, the only other Italian region bordering with Friuli Venezia-Giulia (Gorizia’s region), I have heard of many Italian people who have no idea of where this little city is on the map. When I mentioned I was moving there to study International Relations, a close friend of mine even asked me whether I was sure Gorizia was even still in Italy. Yet, I’m about to tell you all the reasons why this town is definitely worth discovering for a fiew days.
A marvellous position
This much disputed town stands on the Italian north-east border with Slovenia, in the beautiful Isonzo Valley. This river, known as Soča in Slovenian, was the scene of one of the bloodiest fronts of the First World War, since Gorizia and the nearby Trieste were claimed as part of Italy even though they were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This is one of the reasons why, even after over a century, this city keeps a certain mittel-European mood, perfectly uniting Mediterranean and Balkan characteristics. The Isonzo is an incredible place to relax: there is even a project to build a bicycle path that runs along it from the source, in Slovenia, to the mouth, in the Adriatic Sea. It runs through a big park, the Parco Piuma, where citizens usually go to find a cool spot in the summer, reading a book or even attempting to have a bath in the freezing waters.
The closest city is Nova Gorica, in Slovenia. Don’t worry if you don’t speak Italian or Slovenian: people in this area usually speak quite a bit of English. Nova Gorica is a very particular place: it was built from scratch after the Second World War, when Gorizia was divided in two between Italy and Jugoslavia. This means that the whole city is built in a strict “communist” architecture style. Still, many people visit it because of its famous casinos.
A quiet, calm place
Visiting Italy can sometime be overwhelming for foreigners: most people are loud and the cities are often crowded and rowdy. Gorizia bucks all Italian trends: it may be because of its scarce population – just around 35 000 inhabitants – or because it stands more or less in the middle of a beautiful nowhere – even though it’s well connected thanks to the Italian railway system and the close Trieste airport – but this city may sometimes seem abandoned. Particularly at night during weekdays – even though there are a few good bars which close late at night and have outrageously low prices compared to other western cities – and during hot summer afternoons. It has a very characteristic vibe, with its orderly main streets, its small shops and libraries, its petite squares. The prettiest places are Via Rastello, a small pedestrian street ligned by little shops – there’s even an incredible hat shop and many local cousine restaurants – and the area sorrounding the Castle. Which reminds me of…
Different interesting spots
If you’ve ever been to Italy, you know this country has a way to always surprise you, one way or the other. I’m not going to bore you with all the incredible architecture and history: I’ll just list a few places that I think are worth taking a look – and a picture – at. The first is definitely the Gorizia Castle: you can see it pretty much from anywhere in the city, since it stands in the center, on a quite high hill. Built in the IX century, the Castle was rebuilt in the Fascist period, the 1920s, but it is still a great place to visit if you’ve got a passion for the Middle Ages or for awesome panoramic views. The sunset from up there is incredible and it lets you admire both the small city and the areas of the sorrounding Collio. In the Borgo Castello – the district aroung the castle – you can find a few interesting little museums and art shows. Another beautiful place is the St Ignazio Church: facing Gorizia’s main square, the pretty Piazza della Vittoria, St Ignazio contains some artistic ancient frescos – and it’s also the city’s main religious building.
Another thing that might strike you if you decide to spend a day (you won’t need much more than a few hours to visit all the main spots in town) in the city is just how green this place here. Strolling around the small centre, you will most certainly find shade under the line of tall trees running along all the roads. Furthermore, there are several pretty, calm city parks: I suggest you visit the already mentioned Parco Piuma as well as the Parco Coronini Cronberg, a “landscaped garden” which was first maintained by the noble family which ruled the area.
Many unique events
Gorizia may be “boring” during most of the year, but there are two main events which truly repopulate the city: èStoria and Gusti di Frontiera. The first is a great International Festival of History: it was first organized ten years ago and it attracts thousand of visitors. It usually lasts for the weekend of the last week of May and it hosts dozens of conferences, workshops and guided tours which all revolve around one great theme: history. What I love the most about this festival is that it takes place in the central park of the city, in great gazebos, and it usually calls many different history experts from all around the world. The other is slightly less intellectual: Gusti di Frontiera is this huge gastronomic event which lasts a week in September. It may not sound like a great deal, but think about this: days and days of discovering different cousines from all around the world at affordable prices. During this event, the city’s neighbourhoods pretty much get divided by area: there’s a Balkan area with stands of food from all over Eastern Europe, obviously you’ll find an Italian area with the typical foods of all different regions from North to South…but there also are stands which sell foods from other European, American (North and South, obviously), African and Asian foods. Different areas call for different vibes, so expect to walk through a whole world of different musics and parfumes as you walk through this festival. I really think it’s the best period to visit Gorizia if you truly want to be impressed.
Food and wine
We can all agree on the fact that Italian food is the best in the world. Ok, maybe I’m a bit exaggerating (yes, I’m just saying this not to offend anyone and not to sound too biased), but I really, really suggest you try food here. In this area, the typical cousine mixes with Balkan influence and it creates incredible, yet simple, recipes. Try any kind of risotto you can find – they are all delicious – and the local Frico – a kind of strange cheese cooked with potatoes or onions. Another unmissable product of the area is wine: Gorizia stands in the middle of a flordi area, the Collio, with hundreds of local wine-houses exporting their top-notch bottles all around the world. Try Ribolla Gialla. You’re welcome.
As you may have understood if you’ve read my small guide up to here, Gorizia certainly is a big tourist attraction, and travellers usually forget it when planning a tour of Italy. It may not compare to incredible places like Venice or Florence, but I can still assure it’s very worth visiting if you’re looking for an alternative route in the North-East of the country!