For our first day trip abroad as a family I chose a town in Italy which I haven’t visited before. As it turned out my frivolous method of choosing Udine for a day trip was an excellent choice because we spent a wonderful Sunday in a surprisingly pretty town. Udine is the second largest city in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region in the northeastern Italy between the Adriatic Sea and the Alps. The capital of this autonomous region is Trieste, a city I know quite well.
I googled the major sights of Udine and made a loose plan of what to do/see on our day trip. However, I didn’t think much about the actual drive to Udine (only two and a half hours from our home) or the parking in the city. So, when we saw the exit for Udine my husband smartly decided to pull over and actually check on GPS which exit we have to take to get in the city center. All I wanted was to park somewhere near the train station because I thought that the train station (or McDonald’s) would be a good option for having baby changing facilities. No, the train station doesn’t have it (it has free toilets, usually you have to pay for them in Italy) but McDonald’s which is just across the train station has a toilet with the baby changing pad so we sorted baby V. out before we commenced our sightseeing of Udine. The plan was actually to use the service station along the motorway before we entered Udine but since there was none my idea of parking near the train station was a good one. Parking was free and it seems that parking in Italy on a Sunday is always free (at least in this part of Italy).
It was a rather warm and sunny Sunday in a city seemingly devoid of residents. But that’s Italy on a Sunday 🙂 Yes, there were a lot of people around the train station but on our short walk from the train station to the main square (15mins on foot ) we didn’t come across many locals. Nevertheless, we weren’t the only tourists in the town and we later saw where the locals hid: at the street food trucks’ festival in the park below the castle.
Before we reached the main square we walked under the pretty porticoes and my heart skipped a beat with joy. I first encountered porticoes in Bologna and I just love this rather clever architecture which provides you with cover from the sun and the rain when you walk around the town. We glimpsed the cathedral just before the main square and decided to see it on our walk back to the car.
Piazza della Libertà is Udine’s magnificent main square with the beautiful clock tower at Loggia di San Giovanni, several marble statues and a fountain. Just across this oldest square in Udine is Loggia del Lionello built in Venetian Gothic style. Baby V. looked around from his stroller and was pleased to see that he attracted a lot of admiring looks even here at this beautiful square. 🙂
I took some photos and then noticed a Tabacchi shop (in Italy you can buy cigarettes, snacks, magazines, lottery tickets here etc.) where I bought a couple of postcards and a fridge magnet. I always get postcards wherever I travel.
Apparently there was the Chinese film festival in the town since we came across a small Chinese market on the side street of the main square and saw Chinese decorations at Loggia del Lionello. Later in the day we came across a group of people who demonstrated Chinese martial arts in the street.
Udine Castle is perched on a hill just above the square so we went under Arco Bollani with the sculpture of a winged lion to reach the castle. There are steep stairs to the castle but since we were there with our baby we took the longer road to the castle. Wherever you see a winged lion holding a bible in Italy or across the Mediterranean you know that place was once under the rule of Venetian Republic since the winged lion with the bible is the symbol of St.Mark, the patron saint of Venice.
Udine castle was built in 16th century by Venetians and today it houses several state museums. We didn’t visit the museums. Near the castle is the Church of Santa Maria di Castello di Udine which is probably the oldest church in Udine dating back to the Lombard era (6-8ct). There’s also a restaurant at the castle grounds. From here you can see the town beneath and the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
There were a couple of benches around the castle green so I fed my baby. It was my first experience of breastfeeding in public and it was fine. So, I managed to overcome two major fears on this day trip: where to change the baby on the go and how to nurse him in public.
After that we went downhill back to the main square (Piazza della Libertà) and proceeded to another lovely square just 2 minutes away. Piazza Matteotti was originally built-in 13th century. Now there are many cafes where you can enjoy world-famous Italian coffee (I’m not a coffee lover) and watch the world go by. There’s also the church Chiesa di San Giacomo and a beautiful fountain. Basically, the part of Piazza Matteotti where the church is, is called Piazza San Giacomo even though that’s just one big open space not two separate squares.
It was time for a drink at Caffè Contarena back at the main square (behind Loggia del Lionello). I love historical & traditional coffee houses. We ordered Aperol Spritz which is widely popular in this part of Italy and it’s basically the most Italian drink you can have. This cocktail has a long history and it’s usually served in Italy with free salty snacks. This café does have that old charm and decor but unfortunately the baby changing pad could have been cleaner/newer.
After Aperol Spritz we just had to have another staple of healthy Italian cuisine: il gelato! The ice-cream was delicious and we got it at an ice-cream parlour just past the old gates Porta Manin which are again close to the main square. Udine is an ideal city to explore with your baby since all the major sights are close to each other in Udine’s compact historical city center. What else did we see? Well, a plethora of old beautiful houses and several churches. We found the locals at the Giardin Grande (a circular garden to the left of Porta Manin and under the castle’s hill) at the street food trucks’ festival. We didn’t actually eat anything there because we planned to be home for dinner. So, we went back to the cathedral.
Udine’s Cathedral is an imposing structure from 13th century but it has been radically transformed in 18th century. It was closed so we couldn’t see its baroque interior. We made a slight detour on the way back to the car because we spotted another city tower/gate in the distance and decided to check it out. It was Porta Aquileia.
We managed to see everything I planned and spent a lovely Sunday in Udine. Baby V. was a perfect little traveller. I was a bit concerned about travelling with a baby but this trip dispelled all my fears.
Udine surprised me with its elegant porticoes and beautiful squares. It’s definitely one of Italy’s hidden gems.