The Natisone Valleys are in Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
The Valleys are a magical area of hills, mountain streams and ancient villages of stone houses. On the map, these Valleys form a diamond that lies north and east of Cividale del Friuli, up to Italy's border with Slovenia. Here the local dialect is Slavic, not Italian; despite more than a century of public schools only in Italian and decades of mind-numbing Italian TV, the old traditions hang on in the bilingual signs to the villages - and more.
Buses from Udine run several times a day to San Pietro al Natisone, the largest town in the Valleys; they stop at the train/bus station in Cividale, where other bus lines branch out to smaller villages .
The regional and international Ronchi dei Legionari Friuli Venezia Giulia Airport is 40 km away by car, and the international Marco Polo Airport of Venice as well as Treviso Airport are about two hours drive away.
In the woods just beyond the village of Antro, on a hillside looking over the Natisone River, a remarkable grotto is the home for an ancient chapel: San Giovanni D'Antro . Beyond the chapel, visitors can wander through a short length of the caverns that stretch into the hill.
The Mario Ruttar collection in the village of Clodig gathers traditional agricultural tools and artefacts, as well as documents and household items, from the area's proud but difficult farming past .
The Village of the bears is a small nature museum in the village of Stupizza, at a point where the Natisone River enters a tight corridor carved between two mountains. The museum, run by the University of Udine, is open from May to September. Its exhibits describe the local fauna, including the work of researchers to study the bears and lynxes that wander into the Natisone Valleys from the Slovenian Alps. Most signs are in Italian - the students who hope to find bears and more can explain.
The Natisone Valley are a paradise for walking and biking. The Pro Loco Nediške Doline/ Valli del Natisone organises hikes, often with a stop at one of the local restaurants. In early 2013, most of these activities are in Italian .
For those who want to strike out on their own, a network of hiking trails leads through the Valleys and up the slopes to the mountains along the border with Slovenia - the Matajur, over 1600 metres, and the Colovrat, over 1200 metres - for all with sturdy shoes (and a good map, available at Vidussi in Cividale del Friuli.
The Stazione di Topolo' / Postaja Topolove is a yearly encounter of artists who come in the first half of July from across the globe to work in the village of Topolo', on a steep hillside next to the border between Italy and Slovenia. Music, video art and more bring new life and creation to a community whose busy elementary has long closed . All the performances are free. However, in early 2013 government budget cuts threatened this year's station .
The traditional cake from the Natisone Valleys is the gubana, similar to the potiza found in Slovenia and further East - but different!
Hiding in the villages of the Natisone Valleys are several wonderful restaurants, as the UK's leading newspaper, The Guardian, discovered in fall 2011 .
The following list includes several places not visited by the Guardian, though it is not quite complete (it's advised to call ahead, most places close at least one day a week and some are only open on weekends).
Trattoria Alla Cascata Clodig – Grimacco – tel. 0432 725034
Albergo Trattoria Alla Trota - Via Specognis 10 – Pulfero – tel. ./fax 0432 726006
Osteria All’ Antica - Cras di Pulfero - tel./fax 0432 709052
Trattoria ai Buoni Amici - Tarcetta 36 – Pulfero – tel. 0432 709164
Trattoria Le Querce - Via del Klancic 5 – S. Pietro al Natisone – tel. 0432 727665
Trattoria Alla Posta - Clodig – Grimacco – tel. 0432 725000
Gastaldia D’ Antro - Via Antro 179 – Pulfero – tel. 0432 709247
Trattoria Scacco Matto – Via Cicigolis 1/B – Pulfero – tel. 334 2549657
Trattoria Da Mario – Via XXIV Maggio 16 – Prepotto – tel. 0432 713004
Agriturismo Sotto il Campanile – Via Borgo S. Valentino 27 – Azzida di S. Pietro al Natisone
The town of San Pietro al Natisone has at least four caffés / bars for an espresso, a glass of wine, or more. The Paradiso dei Golosi makes its own ice cream and pastries. The Albergo Belvedere is the town's historical hotel and restaurant, as the photos on the walls from a century ago attest. Its proprietor, Claudio, is fluent in English (he grew up in Canada), and can provide extensive advice for visits, as he has biked and walked throughout the Valleys. Ai Trevi is located next to a fountain (though a bit smaller than the one in Rome that is its namesake).
A range of hotels and bed and breakfasts are located throughout the Valleys. The Pro Loco has a nearly complete list, including the mountain lodges near the peaks of the Matajur and the Colovrat .
The Albergo diffuso is a booking service for houses and apartments to rent in the ancient villages of the Valleys : literally, its name means a hotel spread across many locations.