Cycling among villas and forts
The 17th-century cathedral, which some attribute to the great Scamozzi, presents a façade of beauty and brightness that make it one of the most fascinating churches in the region. Pilasters and string courses, niches and portals, in Istrian stone give it a rhythm that the gaze follows with pleasure, dwelling on the lights and shadows that animate the façade. But if you like cycling, you should know that all five UNESCO sites of Friuli Venezia Giulia are located in places with truly unique landscapes and urban peculiarities, crossed by roads, cycle paths and country paths, a true paradise for the cyclist.
The Palmarino route starts directly from the square. It then leaves the fortress from Porta Aquileia, one of the three that, despite the austerity of a military artefact, show off a skilful architecture of stark elegance, modulated on the variety of shapes and materials. The Alpe Adria route will lead you to Strassoldo, the fortified village, home of two castles, which today have the appearance of noble rural residences. The village is a real gem, with the two residences of the Strassoldo counts, the mill driven by the clear waters of the Taglio river, the prisons and two small precious churches. The one inside the fortification, dedicated to San Nicola, witnessed the wedding of the future Field Marshal Radetzky with Countess Francesca Romana Strassoldo in 1798. It is worth visiting, even if the other is more significant: it is Santa Maria in Vineis, just outside the walls. Inside, a cycle of 14th-century frescoes has been brought to light, attributed to the entourage of Vitale da Bologna. Not to be missed by art enthusiasts. The road that leads you to Novacco, the hamlet of mills, is immersed in the quiet landscape of Bassa Friulana, among vineyards, fields and crystal-clear spring waters. There are a few houses and remains of tiered tanks to move the mill blades. The 14th-century mill is really picturesque with arches and brick buttresses. Entering this medieval flour nativity scene, you will see a canopy. Please take a moment to admire it as it is supported by two mighty granite columns, of sure Aquileia origin, and a part of History.
More history: frescoes have been found by the same workshop that painted the crypt of the Aquileia Basilica (11th-12th century!), while the ceiling is the work of an accomplished Baroque painter. Who? Here, I risk my reputation: Giulio Quaglio. Aiello can be reached in a few minutes, passing by an amazing row of ancient mulberry trees on our left. Aiello is the town of sundials (there are over one hundred) and Villa Formentini, which houses the Museum of Farming Civilization.
The next stop is Tapogliano, and when passing through Crauglio, I never fail to admire the beautiful villa Steffaneo Roncato, which can be visited by appointment, courtesy of the owners. Tapogliano is one of the most characteristic villages of this area of the Bassa Friulana, of rural beauty: a street lined with typical well-restored farming houses, the remains of a house-fortress – the circular tower is clearly visible – the beautiful Villa Strassoldo, a spectacular cedar of Lebanon and the church of San Martino, with 15th-century frescoes. In the large grassy square shaded by spectacular centuries-old lime trees, there is the octagonal church of Santa Margherita and the Austro-Hungarian banner. It was transformed into an antenna to transmit messages and orders to Italian troops during the Great War. Nothing spectacular: only a metal pole. But this is history too.
Following the road that leaves Tapogliano in a northerly direction, you reach Nogaredo al Torre – the Torre creek flows nearby – and then continue along the grassy path (sometimes too overgrown) that runs at the foot of the embankment. The hamlet is just one road from the banks of the Torre creek reaching Via Udine. Three hundred metres, that’s all. Another tiny part of the landscape and history that offers the cyclist a series of ancient rural outbuildings and the splendid Villa Gorgo-Maniago, with neoclassical architecture and Renaissance reminiscences.
The country road towards Clauiano, immersed in the quiet landscape of the Bassa Friulana, touches the 14th-century church dedicated to San Marco, which rises from a well-kept lawn. A beautiful bell tower, slender and elegant – a wonderful texture of pebbles and Torreano stone – the inviting grass perfect for a picnic, offers a view of this peaceful, tranquil place.
But what is so special about this town? You will soon discover it by yourself: the houses are built with the stones of the Torre creek, a poor and rural architecture that has defied centuries and earthquakes, and I really don’t understand how. One stone on top of the other, a binder to keep them together, and hundreds of wagon journeys loaded with pebbles from the creek to the village. It is an epic without singers that speaks only through the silent voice of the walls. The orbit around the UNESCO star is about to end: after Sottoselva, you return to the fortress passing through Porta Cividale. Surrounding the artistic excellence is a vast landscape and signs of mankind like the blue sea around an island. It is but one of the possible routes we have travelled. I hope it was a good ride.