Gorizia’s post-war watchtowers and cyclone fences remain but you can now meet Italy’s north-eastern border on your own Eurozone terms: put your right foot in and shake it all about, or hop, amble or drive across without even the flash of a passport. The relatively brief period of Cold War absurdity aside, this small, stately city has long been a mutable, if cannily self-assured, place, its winding inner streets awash with multi-tongued ghosts and their parley of trade, faith, art and war.
Palazzo Lantieri is not a hotel but a private home; the guests that came before you a ripe assortment of popes, poets and playwrights, warriors, radicals and Hapsburg royals. It’s as discreet as it is elegant – a sprawling noble house unassuming behind the high walls of a former 14th-century fortress.
Owners Carolina Lantieri and Niccolò Piccolomini are jovial and generous, sweeping you up into the bustle of their family life while simultaneously creating a sense of privacy and space. Despite the bedrooms’ astonishingly beautiful antiques, towering stufas and echoing parquetry floors, they too are infused with an easy, enveloping warmth. Outside is a wonderful garden, its bowers and paths modelled in the Persian style, all leading to a darkly canopied apex. It’s calm and intriguingly labyrinthine, mannered but with the reassuring markers of everyday life: a wendy house, ponds with a tiny becalmed boat and the frolicking family beagle (who recently made his film debut in a Werner Herzog film we are told).
Today’s Lantieri faces are mirrored in several centuries of portraits that line the public reception rooms, but they are a family firmly of the times. Large site-specific installations by Jannis Kounellis, Jan Fabre and Michelangelo Pistoletto and works by Getulio Alviani, Giulio Paolini and Donatella Spaziani now form an integral part of the palazzo’s art collection. These contemporary works are inspired by, and continue to interact with, the objects and architecture of other eras.In the former cellars, Clementina Lantieri, Carolina’s sister, has a ceramics studio, holding classes as well as selling works known for their graceful form and jewel-like glazes.
Carolina can suggest places to eat in walking distance or the best dining rooms in the countryside, and will call ahead and make sure there’s a table waiting. The local food is enthralling, even if some dishes, like the dustily sweet or astringently herbal filled raviolis, and a preponderance of slow-cooked game, can be a jolt for those still expecting a familiar Italian table. Dishes are often startlingly different even from the stalwartly Friulian cuisine of Udine, under an hour away, or the Venetian-influenced food of the nearby coast. My memory, perhaps clouded by the superb (and, when here, cheap) Collio Goriziano or Colli Orientali whites, recalls first the colours of the food: all red and white, then deep brown and green. Seemingly the landscape writ large on the plate. Its flavours too are of the earth, rich and comforting, but also conjures empires and trade routes distant in time if not place.
If you were to eat only one thing in Gorizia, though, it should be the gubana, a flaky, filled snail of a pastry. This nutty, fruity, boozy roll can be found elsewhere in eastern Friuli (and across the border too, the name coming from the Slovenian word ‘gubat’, which, loosely translated, means ‘how we roll’), but Gorizians like to claim their own as exemplar.
The city itself is not without things to see, including a magnificently-sited 13th-century castle, a blingy Baroque cathedral with Gothic chapel attached, an 18th-century synagogue and ghetto streets, their former gates garlanded with serpents and flowers, not to mention a harrowing WWI museum and various memorials to this bitterly contested front. And, of course, the afore mentioned minute-to-midnight era mementos. But there would be nothing at all wrong with making a journey here to simply go to sleep in such storied surrounds, and to wake to the deep green silence of the Lantieri garden.Palazzo Lantieri B&B or book for guided tours of the collection Piazza Sant’Antonio 6, Gorizia +39 0481 533284 firstname.lastname@example.org
All images © Donna Wheeler