Gorizia and why you should avoid TripAdvisor


In just a few hours in Gorizia, we sampled the biggest food and drink festival you’ve never heard of, had the most horrific meal of our lives and realised you should never trust TripAdvisor.

We only had an evening in Gorizia before travelling on to Slovenia by train the next morning, so weren’t expecting much from this Italian border town. Guidebooks describe it as “sleepy” – ideal for a relaxing, early night? Not quite…

With a population of 35,000, it was once part of Yugoslavia, but was gifted to Italy after WWII, and is now part of the region of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (FVG) in the north east of the country. Not happy at losing Gorizia, the Yugoslavs built a new town on their side of the border and called it Nova Gorica (“New Gorizia”).

You can actually walk across the border from Italy to Slovenia (and vice versa) at the pedestrianized Piazza Transalpina, a twenty minute walk from central Gorizia. There used to be a Berlin Wall-like fence separating the two countries, but this came down in 2004 when Slovenia joined the EU.

Crossing the border at Piazza Transalpina

Crossing the border at Piazza Transalpina

Leaving our hotel in search of food, we were surprised to see throngs of people walking up the main road (Corso Italia). Could this be the famous passeggiata that Italians are so keen on? It soon became clear there was something big happening, as the crowds were of the size you’d expect going to a football match. The nearest Serie A team to Gorizia is Udinese, based in Udine 20 miles away.

We walked to the end of Corso Italia, and found ourselves in the middle of what we thought at first was a market, but it turned out to be a huge food and drink festival. Gusti di Frontiera (“Tastes of the Frontier”) is an outdoor festival that celebrates the gastronomy of the local area and that of the countries bordering Italy (plus bizarrely Cuba and Argentina). It takes over the whole of Gorizia’s old town which is split into eleven villages specialising in the food and drink of a particular region – we bought a beer each and wandered around the Austrian, Balkan and Friulian quarters being entertained by Serbian oompah-bands.

Gorizia's castle in daylight

Gorizia’s castle in daylight

Tempted as we were by the aroma of barbecued meat, we’d had our hearts set on a meal at a nice Italian restaurant. Being a Sunday evening in the middle of a food festival, we thought we might struggle to find any restaurants that would be open, so when we saw a neon sign with the word “TRATTORIA” flashing, we knew we had to stop.

This is how we found ourselves sitting at a table on the street outside Trattoria alla Luna – we decided to live dangerously and grab the only remaining table without looking at the menu.

This proved to be one of the biggest mistakes we’d ever made, and one we were lucky to get away from alive.

The waitress passed us a handwritten menu each – neither of us could read the writing, but even if we could have done, we wouldn’t have understood it. It seemed to be written in a mixture of Italian and Slovenian – my very basic Italian and our Eastern European phrasebook were no use at all. It may have been in Friulian, the local tongue, but now I’ll never know.

I picked out one word – gnocchi. I’ve had them before and quite liked them. Kat was not so keen, so plumped for Frico con Polenta – she had no idea what it was, but the waitress said it would be good.

When our dishes arrived, we could do nothing but burst out laughing. Presentation is obviously not important in Gorizia. My two gnocchi (yes two!) were each the size of a bunched fist – when I cut into the greasy suet of one, raisins, cinnamon, some type of meat and fat oozed out. The taste was not dissimilar to the English pudding Spotted Dick.

Kat’s meal was even worse – essentially, Frico con Polenta is potato cake with lard. Between fits of laughter, we managed to eat most of our meals – Kat saying her grandparents had to eat potatocakes during WWII.

When we got back to the hotel, we were stunned to find out Trattoria alla Luna was TripAdvisor’s number one rated restaurant in Gorizia. I will never look at TripAdvisor’s recommendations again.

If you don’t believe how wrong they can be, take a look at their top rated restaurants in your hometown. In mine, Coventry, I would only consider eating at one of the top ten tips (Ristorante Da Vinci at number nine). Hilariously, number seven is The Newlands – a rough pub in a dodgy part of town specialising in £3.99 sizzling steaks.

I also looked at the top rated hotels, and shouldn’t really have been surprised to see a Premier Inn off Junction 2 of the M6 at number three.

Piazza della Vittoria when the stalls had been taken down

Piazza della Vittoria when the stalls had been taken down

The highlight of Gorizia is its castle perched upon a hill – it is illuminated at night, and beneath it Piazza della Vittoria seemed to be the place to be for local booze.

FVG produces some of Italy’s best wines, and the wine tents here serve glasses of the best on offer for peanuts. Friulian prosecco was just €1.50 a glass and was as good as any sparkling white we’d had. It was time to move on to the Slovenian wine tents – the Brda region produces some beauties, and as it was the last night of the festival, the stallholders were happy to let us finish off their bottles.

The next morning, we left the hotel to see the streets being cleaned and the Gusti di Frontiera packed away for another year – the town and the castle certainly looked more attractive at night. We made our way to Nova Gorica train station for the next leg of our trip to Bled, although that is another story.

Inspired?

The Gusti di Frontiera festival is an annual event, and has recently enjoyed its 7th successive year. If you want to go to it in 2013, it’s usually held over four days in the last week of September. Although there’s no official website, there is a facebook page you can ‘like’. Alternatively, google “Gusti di Frontiera 2013” next Spring.

Getting there

FVG has its own tiny airport at Ronchi dei Legionari, also known as Trieste airport. It is served by Ryanair, so you could bag yourself a bargain. From the airport, bus E01 takes you to Gorizia in about 40 minutes for €2.90 (see timetable here). Otherwise, a taxi will cost around €45.

Staying there

The 4-star Best Western Palace, on the central Corso Italia, has doubles with balconies and breakfast for around €80 – book through www.trivago.co.uk.

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Categories: ItalyTags: , , ,

30 comments

  1. Seems like an interesting place.. And I agree with you, TripAdvisor isn’t the best travel-related website ever.. :p Luckily nothing thaaat bad has happened to me because of TA!! But I guess I should start avoiding it!

  2. Cheers for the comment. Businesses in the UK have started to sue TripAdvisor now for publishing bad reviews of their hotels/restaurants – let’s hope the site closes down soon!

  3. Sounds like a bit of a disaster! Perhaps the best way to look at it is that you have to have bad experiences to appreciate the good! I never use TripAdvisor, I have never trusted it! I am sure you will have had a better time in Bled?

  4. What a grizzly name for a place, Richard, but then it can’t help that. Did you ever watch that documentary on Trip Advisor where it featured some of the people who spend their lives writing the reviews? Not the kind of people whose opinion you would value is all I can say.

  5. I’ve seen a few dodgy jobs advertised on freelancing sites to write fake Tripadvisor reviews so always take their recommendations with a massive pinch of salt!

  6. Blimey – I didn’t realise people did that. I just thought it was usually staff/friends of owners/Daily Mail readers!

  7. I thought Trip Advisor was a bit off kilter when we were in Prague, although I also thought that maybe I was being picky! Now I know I’m not alone!!! Thanks for the tip ! 🙂

  8. Maybe there’s not much choice for good restaurants in Gorizia. 😉 I’ve actually found some great places via TripAdvisor but it’s good to research from a variety of sources. I guess everyone gets it wrong sometimes: just today I was talking with a girl who followed a Lonely Planet hostel recommendation in Kuala Lumpur for a place that basically turned out to be a brothel!

  9. You should now visit South italy, to experience the authentic soul of the country. Friendly people, stunning food (pasta was born in south, pizza in Napoli, vegetables, fish…), sea, sun, music…

  10. I’m from Napoli, however I wellknow Puglia as I spent many summers there. You can see some info on my blog 😉 where are you going? I’d be glad to give you any info and suggestion about Puglia, is one of my favorite place in Eu. Especially the southern ionian coast and salento.

    • We’ll be staying in Polignano a Mare for 5 nights and although we won’t have a car we’d like to get out and see the best of Puglia – Lecce, Alberobello, Ostuni before getting ferry from Bari to Dubrovnik.

  11. We stayed somewhere recently that was highly praised on Tripadvisor, but was so dreadful that I felt obligated to write a bad review (I’ve never done that before…), just to balance out all the good ones. I got a really arsey reply from the owner. I don’t think I’ll bother with it again.

    You should check out the Langhe for some proper Italian food and wine!!

  12. It looks like you had something close to “canederli”, not gnocchi. It’s a dish typical of Alto Adige region, but they have it also in Friuli, Czech Republic and so on. I have tried Frico once and didn’t like it.

  13. Interesting to hear about your TA research. I’ve had a mixed experiences following their reviews, from a fantastic meal in their top rated restaurant in Bath to a fleapit hotel that was one of their top choices in Venice.

    • I avoid at all costs now. I had a weekend break in Bruges recently, and I read the TA reviews of the only decent restaurant we found when we got back. Someone gave it 1 out of 5 and then said they didn’t actually go there as they couldn’t get a table!

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  17. To be fair though whatever the restaurant meal was it was at least memorable. Some of our most ghastly meals have remained memories for life. And we are in the region right now …. it is STUNNING. The landscape, the beautiful clean villages, the vineyards…it’s just glorious and I hope people reading this know the beauty of the region!

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