During our 3 week stay in Cividale del Friuli, we were lucky enough to be able to visit the surrounding areas with our rental car. One of the best day trips we took was to visit Grado and Aquileia.Grado is an island in the lagoon between Venice and Trieste. It’s on the Adriatic Sea in northeastern Italy’s Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region. The island, connected to the mainland by bridges, is a great vacation destination.
The top draw near Grado is the ancient Roman town of Aquileia, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Much of the town is an open-air museum with views of Roman ruins. Aquileia’s Basilica has stunning mosaics and 2 crypts with frescoes. The Paleo Christian Museum is another good place to see mosaics. There’s a bike path from Grado to Aquileia.
SIGHTSEEING – GRADO
Even though Grado is quite small, there are a few interesting historical sights to visit. Grado has a small but charming historic centre with picturesque medieval buildings and old churches.
Walking and biking paths run along the sea, canals, and harbours.
Pedestrian streets are lined with trees and shops and there are several parks.
In summer, Grado is also a top beach destination with great beaches, both paid and free. Spiaggia Principale, a long sandy beach, is the main beach.
Basilica of Sant’Eufemia
A beautiful church with impressive mosaics and frescoes.
Santa Maria delle Grazie
This little church is a gem and it was my absolute favourite. The inside is well preserved.
Basilica della Corte
Remains of floor mosaics from a 4th-6th century church were uncovered in Piazza Biagio Marin, a big square just outside the historic centre.
Ferries leave from Grado for the small island of Barbana where there’s a sanctuary. The original church was built in 582 AC but the current one is more modern. It’s a pleasant half-hour ride through the lagoon and a peaceful place to spend an hour or so. We, unfortunately, did not have the time to visit this island this time.
SIGHTSEEING – AQUILEIA
Aquileia was once a major Roman city of over 100,000 people waiting for the barbarians to pour across the borders (none other than Attila the Hun!). It even has the symbol of Rome – the Capitoline Wolf with Romulus and Remus – right in front of the Basilica’s bell tower.
The Roman ruins are all free to access and view. You don’t even need to pay. You just walk around and enjoy the sights! Below, for example, you see the ruins of the forum, which you really can view from your car as you pass by but you can also stop and walk around and take pictures.
When you’ve seen the river port area and burial ground for the rich you can walk over to the Paleo Christian Museum and then see the interior of the church.
Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta
The Basilica’s floor is monumental, in fact, it is “the largest of all the Western Christian world.”
It is divided into ten carpets, figures with symbolic biblical subjects. Of significant importance are: the struggle between the rooster and the tortoise, the four seasons, the portraits of donors and benefactors, the Victoria, the largest marine scene with within the biblical story of Jonah, the Good Shepherd, and different animals.
The first Christian building in Aquileia was constructed in 313 AD by Bishop Teodoro, so that’s what this now mostly Romanesque church was built upon.
There are also beautiful frescoed crypts.
And the Baptistery.
Aquileia is most famous for the amazing mosaics and Roman ruins – more on that in a separate post. However, the churchyard of the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta contains a plot with Italian war graves from the First World War.
It is a very peaceful place. We were the only ones visiting it – I guess not many people know it even exists!
Wandering around the graves and reading names, dates, and stories was really moving. So many young lives were lost during this absurd war.
Please, consider stopping by to pay your respect if you visit the mosaics of the church.
Grado has many good restaurants, most of them in or near the pedestrian zone. Seafood lovers will be very happy as there is a lot of fresh fish available. The traditional dish is Boreto, fish in a vinegar and garlic sauce served with polenta. Polenta is served with many dishes.
There are numerous places to eat in Aquileia. You can try Hotel Patriarchi on the main drag across from the Archaeological Museum. Their Cjarsons de None are apparently very good. Cjarsons are local stuffed ravioli.
However, we stopped to have lunch on our way back to Cividale in a restaurant near Cormons.
Poderi di Angoris
We found this place by chance. It is called Poderi di Angoris and it is just on the side of the main road. We saw many cars parked just outside of it, which is always a good sign, so we decided to stop and give it a try. And boy were we happy we did!
We liked it so much that we went back another couple of times. This place is handy if you are in the Gorizia, Aquileia, Redipuglia areas. So keep it in mind.
At lunch, they usually have a fixed menu. When we were there it included 2 main dishes (a pasta dish and a meat/fish-based dish), a side, a glass of wine, and water for 12 euros. Amazing price! And the food was really really good too. Just make sure to choose from the dishes on the blackboard, if you don’t and order something else, the price will increase – not that it’s a big deal, but it’s nice to know.
We tried their potato gnocchi with melted butter and smoked ricotta.
Their sausage pasta.
Their pasta with eggplant and calamari.
Their canederli (bread dumplings) with melted butter and smoked ricotta.
Their beef steak with baked potatoes.
Their pork steak with grilled polenta.
And their AMAZING vitel tonne (see my recipe HERE).
We were always too full to order dessert, so we can’t comment on that. All other dishes were amazing. I highly recommend this place!!
In Cividale, we stayed in a beautifully appointed apartment right in the heart of town, in Piazza Polo Diacono: Casa in Piazza. This place is a gem.
We booked the 1 bedroom apartment with a king bed.
There were a big kitchen and a sofa bed in the living room.
There was also a perfectly sized bathroom.
It is very clean and practically new. Highly recommended – I think a place like that right in the centre of town is hard to beat! And with so many restaurants and cafés just down in the square!
Also, the building itself is ancient – it dates back centuries and the restoration work was done really tastefully. You can still see part of the original walls in some areas of the apartment!
The mezzanine with loft is the apartment above this and it was lovely too – friends from our same group were renting it, so we got to visit.
The owner and his wife are truly amazing people. Very friendly, helpful, and kind. One day they even took us for a drive to see the vineyards and we had lunch together. More on that in another post though.
If you decided to visit Cividale, look no further: stay at Casa in Piazza for an AMAZING experience.
I highly recommend a visit to both Grado and Aquileia. They are beautiful little towns full of charm and history!
If you have any questions, leave a comment and I will be happy to help out!
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