A few weeks ago I wrote a quick piece on how one might enjoy a weekend in Friuli Venezia Giulia, spending a day at Cividale and another at Aquileia. If you had a third day, you might also think about visiting Marano Lagunare, which is something – so far as I know – unique.
And what is it, exactly? Marano Lagunare is an area west of Aquileia on the Friulian coast, where large brackish lagoons have formed behind a series of barrier islands. The town is pretty, with elegant palaces and a port that was initially fortified by the Patriarch of Aquileia in about 1000 AD, and then taken over by the Venetians, who transformed it into one of their mainland strongholds; it remains a Venetian enclave where the population speaks Veneto rather than Friulano to this day.
But the real reason to visit Marano is the lagoon; it’s several miles across and for the most part very shallow, though there are channels that were dredged during WWI by the Italian Navy, which wanted to move supplies without having to worry about being attacked by Austrian ships in the open Mediterranean.
Now the channels are used primarily by fishermen, and one leads west to the Riserva Naturale Foci dello Stella, the Mouth of the Stella River Wildlife Refuge — beautiful but not at all what one thinks of as Italy: Flat, as befits the mouth of a meandering river, with huge open skies and fields of brilliant green (in the summer) reeds that stretch to the horizon.
Lots of birds, and, along the banks of the channels, the Casoni where the fishermen used to live; they’re fairly large rectangular buildings whose walls and steep-sided roofs are made of reeds, and at first glance one might think they belong on a south-sea island, though the absence of windows suggests a cooler clime. Some are isolated, while areas with a little more dry land have several on the banks of the canals, forming small hamlets.
The hamlet we visited was deserted, because we visited on a weekday morning; up until the introduction of boat motors in the 1960s each Casone was inhabited by several fishermen, and each day one would row back to the mainland to sell the previous day’s catch while the rest would head out into the lagoon to catch whatever happened to be in season. Now, instead, the fishermen return to port each day, and those who still own Casoni use them as weekend retreats.
Our visit to the hamlet included a visit to a casone; it was quite airy, and though a fire was roaring in the raised fire place in the middle of the casone and there was no chimney there was very little smoke — the smoke filters through the reeds, while the absence of larger openings kept the interior much warmer than it would otherwise have been. Though living in a casone year round must have been very difficult, especially during the months when the days were short, spending a summer weekend in one now must be rather nice; there’s a wonderful sense of peace.
Our trip was of course organized — the only way to reach the wildlife refuge is by boat. We were on board the Nuova Saturno, a small ferry captained by Adriano Zentilin, who is quite knowledgeable and commented upon everything we saw. During the return leg we were treated to a fish lunch based on the local catch, including delightful grilled sardines, accompanied by several white wines from Friuli’s costal DOCs. The Nuova Saturno departs daily from the Marano Lagunare’s pier at 10 AM, returning at about 4. If you visit Friuli Venezia Giulia do consider the lagoon, because it opens a window onto a way of life few even in Italy are at all familiar with. For further information, reservations (a good idea) and such, see http://www.saturnodageremia.it/.
A last note: I visited Marano Lagunare in the winter, and hence the hues in the photos. If you visit in the summer, it will be much, much greener.
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Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.