Castelmonte the type of hidden Italian gem most tourists would miss -- but you shouldn't
By JASON DUHR | Stars and Stripes | Published: September 22, 2015
Hidden in the shadow of larger Italian cities like Venice and Verona are many others waiting to be rediscovered.
The Sanctuary of Castelmonte, a small hamlet near the Slovene border, is one such place. History and beauty rest here at the top of a mountain peak, unnoticed by many foreigners.
Within the province of Udine, a few lesser-known towns with heritage sites might pique your interest and add to the experience of living in Italy. The sanctuary was the last and most impressive of four stops I made during a day trip to the province.
The 12th-century structure, which is thought to have been a Roman outpost before becoming a sanctuary, survived wildfires in the 15th century, was stripped of its valuables in the 18th century, and survived nearly unscathed after a barrage of German artillery during World War II.
Castelmonte is a small community in itself, nestled in the Julian Alps near the town of Cividale, which is said to have been built by Julius Caesar.
The ancient castlelike structure is the oldest sanctuary in northern Italy. It houses a 15th-century painted stone sculpture of Mary holding a child.
Friars can be seen walking the halls, kneeling as they enter the chapel and lighting candles near the church’s altars. The main and side altars were created by Venetian masters and date back to 1684. The crypt below spans the length of the church and is dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel.
There are several other sights worth seeing nearby.
A visit to Attimis, about a 15-mile trip from the sanctuary through Cividale, will lead you to a group of hiking trails that in turn will take you to one intact castle and the remnants of two others.
The sight of each of these pales in comparison to Castelmonte, but if you love hiking, the trip through the forest is certainly worth it.
The hike takes you on a few well-marked paths that all lead you to the three castles: Attimis Superior, Attimis Lower and Partistagno.
I was a little disappointed by Attimis Lower. All that remained was rubble consumed by vegetation and a partially erected tower.
Venturing farther down the path led me to Attimis Superior, which offers a little more to see and is a great place for a quiet rest.
After hiking a little more than an hour, I saw the walls of the Castle of Partistagno, which is located above the town of Borgo Faris. The 11th-century castle is in better condition than the Attimis castles. But when I visited, grounds were temporarily closed for restoration work.
This isn’t a hike for a beginner or someone out of shape. Be sure to bring your hiking shoes, a hiking stick and enough food and water.
This trail surrounds the nearby towns of Attimis, Faedis and Borgo Faris. Two more castles can be seen in Faedis, which is less than a 10-minute drive from Attimis.
An early day hike near Attimis and an impressive sight at the Sanctuary of Castelmonte made for a complete day of sightseeing in parts of Italy you rarely hear about.
DIRECTIONS: Take SP7 from Aviano Air Base to Roveredo in Piano, continuing on SP31 through San Quirino as the road changes to SP53 leading up to and through Vivaro and San Marco. There it changes to SP73 heading toward Spilimbergo. Continue through Spilimbergo on SR464 until you reach Udine, where you follow signs for Cividale then Castelmonte on SS54.
Sanctuary of Castelmonte. Address: Santuario Beata Vergine di Castelmonte - 33040 Castelmonte
TIMES: The sanctuary is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to noon and 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
COSTS: Entrance to the sanctuary and trails is free.
FOOD: There is one restaurant located on the sanctuary’s grounds. Bring a brown-bag lunch if you plan to hike around Attimis.
INFORMATION: Sanctuary of Castelmonte: Call (+39) 0432-731094 or visit www.santuariocastelmonte.it/ (Italian only)
Casa del Pellegrino (hotel) and Al Piazzale (restaurant): (+39) 0432-731161 or visit www.lacasadelpellegrino.org/# (Italian only).
There are more than 200 parking spots outside of Castelmonte.