A Local’s Guide to Udine, Italy: Modern Art and Cinema in a Former Ancient Capital | Holidays in Italy

Food

We are spoiled for choice for eating in Udine. Prices are reasonable and Friulano’s cuisine is totally delicious. Don’t miss Al Vecchio Stallo, where I like the contrast between the two grizzled owners who crack jokes and only speak Friulano with the cooks, who are two bubbly West African women with knowledge of the local cuisine. The food is totally traditional – frico (fried cheese), salami cooked in vinegar and brovada (fermented greens, similar to sauerkraut) and delicate cjarsons (sweet/salty stuffed pasta). Two restaurants with exceptional wine lists are Hostaria alla Tavernetta and Osteria da Michele. Check out the Sunday Mercato del Cormor, where farmers sell their homemade vegetables, cheeses and salamis. For a morning treat, sip delicious hot chocolate in the sumptuous Art Nouveau Caffè Contarena, with picture-perfect views of the 15th-century Torre dell’Orologio across the square.

Inspiration

Piazza della Liberta square in Udine, Italy. Photography: Dalibor Brlek/Alamy

As a woman, I was thrilled when the city’s former indoor fish market was transformed into Galleria Tina Modotti, after an inspiring artist and pioneering photographer who was born in Udine and paved the way to Mexico and in Moscow in the 1920s. I also like the Sala Rossa of the Diocesan Museum, where Tiepolo’s frescoes create an incredible, almost fantastical perspective. Our new modern art museum, in the 16th century Casa Cavazzini, also takes you into a world of frescoes, this time painted in the 1930s by the Basaldella brothers from Udine. On a personal note, I am proud that Visionario, the art house cinema that we created in 2004, is also an art centre, with exhibitions, concerts, video installations, poetry and literature as well as five cinema screens.

District

walk to Fiera della Santa Caterina
Artwork: Hennie Haworth/The Guardian

Piazza Primo Maggio is also called the Giardin Grande, legend has it that it was created in the hole left by the soldiers of Attila the Hun who built the imposing hill of the fortress, today surmounted by the castle of the city. This vast green space is surrounded by spectacular buildings, including the Madonna delle Grazie Church and the Udine Conservatory, where students congregate at Bar Beethoven on its south side. Cobbled, tree-lined streets next to the square include Via Verdi, which runs along a small canal, and Via Porta Nuova, home to the best pizza in town, at Concordia. The square is also the site of markets, concerts, open-air cinema and our most famous festival, the Fiera della Santa Caterina, which has been held every November since 1485. It’s two weeks of celebration with stalls of food, souvenirs and giosterold-fashioned rides and fairground rides.

Green area

The old canal between the houses in the city center, Udine, Italy.
The old canal between the houses in the city center, Udine, Italy. Photography: Panther Media GmbH/Alamy

Although Udine is a small, compact city, we have many gardens, green squares and parks. My favorite for a quiet Passeggiata is the intimate and elegant Giardino Ricasoli. With its ancient shady trees, statues and fountains, the 19th century garden can feel like your own private fairy tale. It is crossed by the Roggia di Palma, one of Udine’s two canals, and lovers of walking or cycling can follow a path along its banks into the countryside.

Night life

Although there’s a large student population here, it’s the locals that rock the nightlife scene, with bars packed from 6 p.m. happy hour. In most places, a glass of wine, a tajut in Friulano, costs only €1. The largest selection of bars is found in the triangle between Via Mercatovecchio, Via Paolo Sarpi and Largo del Pecile. Start drinking here and you never know what time you’ll be home. Two traditional osteria Not to be missed are Al Cappello and the boisterous Pierimortadele. La Taverna dell’Angelo, back towards the Ricasoli, looks like a pub whipyteca, but a new generation of cocktail bars is also opening up. Gatti e Re, on Via Jacopo Marinoni, offers many unusual drink recipes.

To stay

The grand Astoria Hotel (double €109 B&B) is the best address, right in the center. The Asian stars of the festival love staying there, especially Jackie Chan!

Sabrina Baracetti is president of the Udine Far East Film Festival (April 22-30), which she founded 22 years ago in the historic capital of Italy’s Friuli region, to promote Asian cinema