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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.
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.