Why San Daniele is the perfect weekend destination for lovers of prosciutto, history, culture and Italian scenery.
Tucked away in the north-east corner of Italy, in the province of Udine and close to the borders of Austria and Slovenia, lies the historic and beautiful town of San Daniele.
It’s popular with tourists during its annual Aria di Festa each year in June, when music and laughter fill the streets and visitors flock from all over Europe to experience this unique event devoted to Prosciutto di San Daniele.
But even if you can’t make it for the yearly celebration, San Daniele makes for a wonderful weekend break at any time of the year.
Whether you’ve got two days or more to spare, here are some of our favourite things to do and see.
A great way to get acquainted with San Daniele’s many attractions is to spend the morning exploring its historical centre.
Start your day at the magnificent Duomo di San Michele Arcangelo (Cathedral of Saint Michael the Archangel) the white façade of which illuminates the town square, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, the beating heart of the town.
The Cathedral was built in the 14th century on the site of a previous building, before being refurbished in the 18th century by the Venetian architect, Domenico Rossi, and later expanded. Important features housed within include a font by Carlo da Carona, paintings by Pomponio Amalteo and one of the largest organs in the region. Next to the Duomo stands an incomplete 16th century bell tower, designed by a disciple of Raphael, Giovanni Ricamatore, also known as Giovanni da Udine.
Next, visit the Biblioteca Guarneriana (Guarneriana Library) one of Italy’s most venerated libraries and the oldest library in Friuli. Founded in 1466, it contains more than 12,000 antique books including a priceless manuscript of Dante’s inferno. The same microclimate that naturally air cures Prosciutto di San Daniele also preserves the library’s ancient manuscripts, with no need for air conditioning.
After a morning of exploring, it won’t be difficult to find somewhere to enjoy a delicious lunch, simply check out the cafes and prosciutterias in the streets running from the Piazza.
Then it’s time to see another magnificent religious building – Chiesa di Sant’Antonio Abate (Church of Saint Anthony the Abbot). Dating back to the year 1308, and tucked away on a side street, it is dedicated to the patron saint of pork butchers and charcutiers – very appropriate for the town that’s home to Prosciutto di San Daniele!
The first known reference to the church dates back to 1308, and there’s a good reason why it’s called the ‘Sistine Chapel of Friuli’ – inside you’ll find a vividly coloured fresco cycle of paintings by Renaissance artist, Pellegrino da San Daniele.
For an evening meal and entertainment, make your way again to the bars and restaurants near the Piazza. If you enjoy a glass of something sparkling, ask for a Friulano, the local sparkling wine from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. With a lighter taste than Prosecco, it’s the perfect accompaniment to a plate of Prosciutto di San Daniele
Spend the morning on Via Garibaldi, one of the main shopping streets in the town centre, dotted with ancient buildings, family-owned boutiques that have been trading to local people for decades, and numerous eateries and shops where you can taste and buy Prosciutto di San Daniele along with other local delicacies.
From the town centre, walk up Colle del Castello (Castle Hill) to the summit of Colle Massimo, the fortress of Roman and medieval San Daniele. Passing historic residencies and gardens, follow the ancient walls to the beautiful Villa Ticozzi De’ Concina, built on the ruins of the castle, which dominates the hill.
Near Villa Ticozzi is a public park that offers a panoramic view over the hills, and provides the perfect Instagram opportunity, while close by is the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Fratta (Church of Santa Maria della Fratta), which dates back to 1348 and is located next to the medieval town wall. Its apse incorporates one of the town’s ancient towers and inside you’ll find a fragment of a 15th fresco.
The afternoon offers the chance to explore a bit further afield. Learn about the history of the area in the Museo del Territorio, which is located in an old hospital building and contains valuable artworks and archaeological finds, before taking a drive to see the Tagliamento River, one of the few rivers in Europe that has retained its original course.
Without the Tagliamento River, the unique micro-climate that naturally air-cures Proscuitto di San Daniele wouldn’t exist. Fresh, clean winds flow directly from the Alps and meet warmer air coming in from the Adriatic Sea, proving nature’s own ventilation. From the western slopes of Mount Muris you can see how the crystal clear water snakes through the landscape.
After dinner and drinks back in town, and a peaceful night of sleep in your lodgings, your visit to San Daniele del Friuli may be over, but you’ll have wonderful memories to last a lifetime.