Between Two Castles
Italy is so famous for its mountainous coastlines that nestle small romantic towns like the Amalfi or Portofino or the Cinque Terra, these are iconic without a doubt. So when taking a similar coastline that didn’t get visitors, the builders of Portopiccolo realistically created it on the upper Adriatic. Here a charming recreated village that would make Disney proud is in unspoiled nature among the cliffs overhanging the sparkling sea of the Bay of Sistiana offering a lifestyle of yachts and sailboats, restaurants, shops and beaches without cars. This voluntarily sustainable project is protecting both the land and sea with the aim of reducing and neutralizing environmental impact. The properties are modern but mimicking a traditional fishing village with small lanes and built with local materials making them truly belong.
Their stunning five star hotel, Falisia Resort and Spa adds not only elegant accommodations, but a medical spa, fine dining restaurants and a roof top pool. Interesting you arrive via a tunnel underground and magically appear in the Lobby, thus maintaining the no cars policy. You can easily roam freely as Portopiccolo’s wonderful location can be explored heading by land or sea, it is set between two famous and historic castles.
Less than an hour from Venice and minutes from Trieste. You are in Fruili Venezia Guilia, a leading wine region with 10 DOC and 3 DOCG areas. The variety and range of food and wine here is extraordinary, from Boreto alla Graisana a traditional fish soup from the fisherman of Grado, Baccala mantecato typical of Venetian cuisine, Frico a cheese based dish accompanied by corn polenta. Then there is Gubana, a walnut, current, pine nut and lemon peel cake moistened with Grappa of Fruili.
But we will go back to the fish – Boreto after many centuries is still cooked according to tradition, since it predates the discovery of America there are no tomatoes and it is served with polenta. Born of the lagoon, typically the fisherman sold the largest and best fish at the markets and the rest was for family consumption, same as the infamous Bouillabaisse of Marseille. The fish is slowly turned in its juices to cook. I was served the fish at the family winery owned by Edi Kante in the low hills of Collio. The winery is in the Carso, a micro-climate in Fruili at the crossroads of Italian, Slovenian, and Croatian culture and historically at the crossroads of the Venetian and Austro-Hungarian cultures and his wines are promoted by Kermit Lynch. Edi is not just and artist of wines, but paintings as well, this energetic, passionate, mad-scientist like personality even got me to eat the fish eye! There is actually a special spoon used, he handed it to me – I was on the spot and did not want to insult my hosts, down the hatch – a delicacy in some circles. I was a first timer for fish eyes.
I was actually here to attend the 9th Teranum Vini Rossi del Carso, a gathering of 33 winemakers bringing their indigenous wine varieties from the Carso Triestino. Many were from just over the border from northern Croatian region of Istria and Slovenia. Carso is also known as the Karst Plateau, the red lands make these wine unique. For instance: the Terrano variety, red berry grapes coming from local Refosco produces a strong ruby red dry wine with a pronounced tannic and sour bouquet – but a perfect match for the cured meats and cheeses. Our chef was an award winning Slovenian Tomaz Kravcic from Castello di Zemono Pri Lojzetu. This put Slovenia on my wish list of further exploration.
As for exploration here at Portopiccolo there are hiking trails both east and west along the cliffs with outstanding vistas. Going west walk along the Rilke path along the white limestone cliffs of the Falesie Nature Reserve until you come to the Duino castle perched on a promontory where Bohemian Austrian poet Rainer Rilke wrote his Elegies, obviously getting inspiration from the scenery. The castle started back in 1389 and is now open to the public. And if you walk east you will come to the fairytale architecture of Miramare Castle, residence of Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Hapsburg and his wife Charlotte of Belgium – their love nest. It is encircled by a wonderful 22 hectare park and overlooks a Marina reserve now managed by WWF. But not all fairytales have happy endings, he and Charlotte became Emperor Maximilian I and Empress Carlota of Mexico in April of 1864 and begrudgingly took up residence in Mexico City. Maximilian was taken prisoner in May of 1867 by Juarez’s Republican troops. A little more than a month later, at the young age of 34, he was shot by order of Juàrez. Sadly, Charlotte went insane after Maximilian’s death and spent the rest of her days in seclusion, deeply in love with her husband and hanging on to the possessions they shared.
I want to end on a happy note so back to my crisp, modern hotel set right on the waters’ edge to have an aperitivo at La Piazzetta overlooking the marina just as the sun was setting on my last night. I’ll be back.