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Travel - Discovering Friuli-Venezia Giulia: Enjoy autumn using your senses

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- This feature is part of the "Discovering Friuli-Venezia Giulia" series. These stories highlight the history and culture of the region surrounding Aviano Air Base.

If you're feeling blue because the end of summer is near, vacation time is over, the days are growing shorter and shorter and the weather colder and colder - and you know it's only going to get worse - well, this article is for you.

Let's face it, this is the time of year, between the energy of the summer and the excitement of Christmas time, that makes most of us wish we could just go into hibernation.

As I start to put my sandals away and sigh in resignation, I find it almost hard to believe that autumn was actually my favorite season when I was a child. What could I possibly like so much about it? So I close my eyes and go back to almost forgotten memories and emotions, and all of a sudden, I remember colors, fragrances and tastes. This is enough to cheer me up and let me assure you, we can enjoy this season with all of our senses.

If there's one thing I could suggest to stimulate all senses at once and to spend a unique afternoon, go chestnut hunting. That's something you won't be able to do in any other season. Invite your friends over for a "castagnata" later in the evening and go for a walk into one of the local wooded areas. Enjoy the colors, fragrances and sounds of nature while looking for those little treasures wrapped in spiny shells and hidden among the fallen leaves. Have fun exploring, searching and hunting. And don't worry if you don't find any or if it seems like someone else already picked the best ones up: grocery stores and local markets sell them by the case.

Taste. Enjoy the flavors of autumn at home or at one of the many seasonal local festivals. Apples, pumpkins, pomegranates, potatoes, mushrooms and chestnuts are the special fruits and vegetables of the fall season in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. And let's not forget the first wine of this year's harvest, the "vino novella," traditionally released on Nov. 6. Pick a different place and flavor each weekend. Enjoy potato-based dishes in Gemona del Friuli or in Ribis (September 29-October 14). Try a variety of Friulian apples and products such as cider, pastries or roasted apples in Tolmezzo and Pantiacco (Sept.28 - Oct.7). Discover how pumpkins are used in our culinary tradition and even taste a special pumpkin beer in Cavasso Nuovo (Oct. 5-7), in Cordenons or Venzone (Oct. 27-28). Be a true Friulian and eat our most typical dish at the Polenta Festival in Ronchis (Oct. 5-7) or just try anything at the Typical Local Foods Fair in Carlino (Oct. 6-7). Taste some roasted chestnuts paired with a glass of Ribolla wine at one of the many festivals like the ones in Mezzomonte di Polceningo (Oct.6-28) or Osoppo (Oct.21- Nov.28). Or just join the local communities at one of the numerous "castagnate" (chestnut roasts) organized by the nearby municipalities throughout the whole season. There's just a ton of ways to celebrate the arrival of autumn, and it's variety of fruits and colors. And while the kids go trick-or-treating, visit a "pasticceria" to buy a sweet treat for yourself and try the traditional little almond-based sweets of the All Saints period: the "fave dei morti."

Sight. Autumn may be the opposite of a flowering spring, or not have the charm of a snowy winter land or the vigor of summer, but if there's one thing about fall that surpasses every other season, it's undeniably the season's wonderful colors. As the days go by, marvel as nature changes color. Just take a look at the surrounding hills and mountains exploding into a variety of warm shades, from green to yellow and orange, from red to brown and purple. And to enjoy an even more vivid view, just take a short ride to Barcis and see how the cold waters of the lake mirror the warm shades of fall.

Hearing. Walk down a tree-lined road, one of those streets that gets covered by inches of fallen leaves after a windy day. As an alternative, if you have a yard with trees and haven't raked up all your leaves yet, take a few steps there. Make sure nobody is watching and go back to the lightheartedness of childhood. Kick leaves high up in the air. Listen to them rustling, swishing and crackling. And when the rain keeps you home instead, allow yourself to be lazy and let the sound of the drops falling outside lull you.

Smell. Walk outside in your yard, a park, the woods or simply a field after the rain. Take a deep breath. Can you smell the fragrance of the earth being refreshed again after the dryness of the hot summer? And, at dusk, when you walk through one of the little towns, can you smell the scent of burning wood coming from fireplaces and wood stoves that people start to light in the fresher nights? Visit a festival and let the aromas of different seasonal food make your mouth water.

Touching. Blacken your fingers shelling a bunch of roasted chestnuts. Feel the warmth of an apple flapjack or the softness of pumpkin bread. Get your hands dirty while cleaning mushrooms and then experiment with some new recipes.