Cividale del Friuli
Cividale del Friuli, 15km east of Udine, may be a small town these days, but in terms of Friulian history and identity it remains hugely significant. Founded by Julius Caesar in 50 BC as Forum de Lulii (ultimately condensed into 'Friuli'), the settlement reached its apex under the Lombards, who arrived in AD 568 and usurped Roman Aquileia a couple of hundred years later.
San Daniele del Friuli
Hilltop San Daniele sits in an undulating landscape that comes as a relief after the Venetian plains, with the Carnic Alps jutting up suddenly on the horizon. While ham is undoubtedly the town's raison d'être, it's also got a general gastronomic bent, with many good alimentari (grocery stores), and other culinary industries springing up such as sustainably farmed local trout.
A Friulian surprise, the tasteful beach resort of Grado, 14km south of Aquileia, spreads along a narrow island backed by lagoons and is linked to the mainland by a causeway. Behind the less-than-spectacular beaches you'll find a mazelike medieval centre, criss-crossed by narrow calli (lanes).
The Giulie Alps
The Giulie Alps are dramatic limestone monoliths that bear more than a passing resemblance to their more famous Dolomite cousins. Though there's been some recent development of the region, including a cross-border ski lift, the area is still relatively pristine and retains a wildness often lacking in the west.
The Carnic Alps
The region known as Carnia is intrinsically Friulian (the language is widely spoken here) and named after its original Celtic inhabitants, the Carnics. Geographically, it contains the western and central parts of the Carnic Alps and presents wild and beautiful walking country flecked with curious villages.
Stunningly sited Tolmezzo is the region's capital and gateway. Pleasant rooms at Albergo Roma overlook the main piazza or one of the town's many hills. An interesting detour, 6km northeast of the town, is Illegio, a 4th-century hill village with a still-operating 16th-century mill and dairy.