A man crosses a rope bridge at the RampyPark in Piancavallo, Italy. Nestled in the trees, 3,800 feet above Aviano, thrill seekers can harness up for the hours-long aerial obstacle course. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Katherine Windish)
Hiking trails traverse the mountains around Barcis. The lake is adjacent to the Riserva Naturale Forra del Cellina and is nestled in a valley in the Friulian Dolomites.(U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Katherine Windish)
8/31/2012 - AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- First of all, as for any other journey, we need a map to see where we're going. That, together with our imagination and curiosity, will be the only necessary tool for our trip. If you don't already have one, get yourself a Friuli-Venezia Giulia map, unfold it in front of you and be ready to travel up and down mountains and valleys, through canyons and lagoons, and into vineyards and forests.
We'll leave from a place you surely know. Find Aviano on the map, place your index finger on it and start moving toward Piancavallo and from there to the borderline with Veneto. We are now on the foothills of the Alps: the Carnic Prealps.
Move north; we'll pass the Cellina Ravine Wildlife Reserve which includes the homonymous canyon, the largest of the region and one of the most spectacular in Italy, and reach the Natural Park of the Friulian Dolomites, whose peaks are named a part of natural world heritage by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
At the extreme west of the park, where the Erto and Casso towns are indicated, we find the old Vajont Dam, one of the tallest in the world and, sadly, known for a disaster that happened almost 50 years ago.
Some very beautiful lakes are also located in the Carnic Prealps area such as the lake of Barcis, Cavazzo and Cornino with its regional natural reserve. Also worth mentioning are the stunning green caves of Pradis, in Clauzetto.
Keep following the borderline and head north now, cross the Tagliamento, the longest river of FVG, and you'll reach the Carnic Alps and the mountainous natural region of Carnia. Here we find several holiday resorts and characteristic alpine towns such as Tolmezzo, Ravascletto, Zoncolan, Forni di Sopra and Sauris.
The beautiful landscape also features the lakes of Sauris and Verzegnis and the Val Alba Nature Reserve preserving an almost unspoiled mountain environment.
Going east, we'll pass from the Carnic Alps to the Italian part of the Julian Alps and between them we'll find the magical forest of Tarvisio, home of the Rio Bianco and Cucco Reserves. Other important holiday resorts and enchanting mountain villages and places are also located here, such as Tarvisio, Pontebba, Malborghetto, the lakes of Fusine and Predil and many others.
Moving back South, we'll pass from the Alps to the Pre-Alps. Next, to the border with Slovenia we'll see the Natural Park of the Julian Pre-Alps and if we keep going down along the borderline we'll also find 2 caves open to the public - the Grotta Nova di Villanova in Pulfero and the Cave of San Giovanni d'Antro in Pulfero.
On our descent southward, entering the territories of the province of Gorizia, we'll be fascinated by the lovely hilly area known as the "collio", covered with colorful vineyards where excellent famous friulian wines are produced. But it's not time for wine tasting - not yet - and we'll continue our way proceeding toward Trieste.
We are now entering the karst plateau, or Carso, a territory with special geological features and impressive phenomena such as underground rivers, hollows and cave networks. It's actually here that we find the Giant Cave, also known as Grotte Gigante. Look on the map for Sgonicco and the mysterious river Timavo whose underground course in caves and grottos is still unknown.
In the Doberdò and Pietrarossa lakes Reserve we can find also a rare example of a European karst lake. Keep following the Slovene border southward and we'll find other beautiful natural reserves: that of Mount Lanario, Orsario and Val Rosandra. We have now reached the extreme southeast of the region.
Jumping back to the central lower area of the region, we arrive in the Friulian Plain. Another area famous for the production of wines, the Grave del Friuli, is located here and it includes several municipalities in the Udine and Pordenone provinces, including Aviano.
Once again there's no time for wine tasting because two more special natural areas await us. One of these is the resurgences belt, where part of the underground waters comes to surface in extremely charming sceneries as evident in Gorgazzo and La Santissima near Aviano or the Codroipo's Park of the Resurgences. On the other side we have the surreal landscape of the magredi, the most arid area included in the valley between the Meduna and Cellina rivers.
To conclude our tour we will take a dive into the Adriatic Sea. Place your finger on the coast of Lignano, right on the border with Veneto. See the wide sandy beach, crowded with sunbathers and tourists?
Let's start moving east now, and we'll find the beautiful Marano Lagoon with its natural reserve. On the same part of coast we'll also find the natural reserve of the peaceful River Stella mouth much valued by birdwatchers and tourists alike for its oasis of fauna.
Proceeding east we'll go past the Valle Canal Novo Natural Reserve and penetrate into the Lagoon of Grado, where the picturesque "casoni," of fisher's huts, join to create a fantastic landscape. The lagoon encompasses the "golden island" of Grado, one of the main seaside resorts of the region, and the islands of Barbana and della Schiusa.
Let's keep moving, we'll run into the Valle Canavata natural reserve and then reach the Isonzo mouth and its natural reserve. This marks the passage from the western sandy and low beaches to the typical coast of the Gorizia and Trieste provinces where the coastline rises into scenic cliffs overhanging the waters of the Trieste Gulf. Here we can find two more natural reserves: the one of Duino and the sea reserve of Miramare.
All this is the Friuli-Venezia Giulia territory; Mountains, canyons, hills, plains, lakes and sea, all within a range of just over 100 kilometers. Not to mention the 27 zones of bio-diversity and all the natural reserves, lakes, caves, rivers and other stunning natural spots. You'll have to agree, not too bad for a region of only 7,845 square kilometers.
See you next time for our journey into the history of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and like real Friulians say: Mandi!