Grado, Friuli Venezia Giulia

Discover Grado in the Northeast of Italy: The Island of the Sun

May 16, 2022 | By

Grado is an Italian town of about 7,000 inhabitants in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. It is an important tourist and spa center known as the Island of the Sun or the ‘First Venice’.

Once belonging to the domains of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Grado was much loved by the Habsburg aristocracy. During the nineteenth century, they used the island for the baths and the precious marine spas. Even today people still flock here for health and beauty reasons. They are ideal for tourists to restore vigor to the body and spirit.

Visit Grado for health and wellness

There is a maritime hospice for children by the name of Ospizio Marino in Grado since 1879. Doctor Giuseppe Barellai found in the climate and environment of the island perfect for the treatment of some childhood diseases.

Subsequently, Grado was the chosen destination for marine thermal treatments. Psammatotherapy (sandblasting) stems from here and industry standards are at high levels.

The area boasts a prestigious tradition of hospitality as a health and wellness center. In fact, the area is an imperial beach of the Habsburgs since 1892. It is an international spa resort thanks to thalassotherapy on offer. Grado offers its guests a wide range of activities and experiences.

The lagoon exists here since the fifth century. A western sector (the palù de soto), larger and richer in islands. An eastern one (the palù de sora). It extends north of the island of Degree.

Historical places to visit in Grado

The fisherman’s lagoon

Characteristic of the lagoon is the presence of ‘casoni’. These are simple houses with thatched roof used in the past by the fishermen of Grado. The local fishermen remained in the lagoon for a long time living in these huts. They would only return to Grado on rare occasion during the coldest periods of the year.

The lagoon is rich in tree species such as tamarisks, elms, poplars, junipers and pines. The local fauna features a remarkable variety of birds including gulls, egrets, gray herons, mallards and sea swallows.

Madonna di Barbana Sanctuary

Some islands have inhabitants all year round. Among these, Barbana has hosted a Marian shrine for 1500 years. The birth of the sanctuary of the Madonna di Barbana dates back to 582, when a violent storm threatened the city of Grado. Elia, a patriarch of the time, as a thank you for having saved the city from the storm had a first church built in the place where an image of the Madonna had been carried by the waters.

Since then, the sanctuary, which has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, has been continuously officiated.

The current sanctuary, which stands on an island at the eastern end of the lagoon, is in the neo-Romanesque style. It preserves numerous vestiges of the buildings that have followed one another over the centuries. This includes two columns that possibly date back to the original church. Inside, the main altar has a relief with the lagoon surmounted by a wooden statue guarded by an aedicule of the Madonna.

Venetian alters dedicated to Saint Anthony and Saint Francis

There’s also a large canvas representing the union of Venetians in a brotherhood. In addition, there exists two Venetian altars dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua and Saint Francis of Assisi. Furthermore, near the entrance to the bell tower it is possible to see capitals and marble from the early Middle Ages.

The island of Barbana, a destination of a pilgrimage every year from Grado, has residents all year round. A community of Franciscan friars minor is explorable just 25 minutes away by motorboat.

What to do in Grado

The 40km of cycle paths in Grado allow two-wheel lovers to venture out to discover the area. But Grado is not only a destination that cyclists love. It is the ideal destination for all those who try their hand at countless other sports. Everything from sailing, kite surfing, golf and tennis to kayaking, roller-skating, beach volleyball and Nordic walking are possible here.

Beach hopping and nature

The island of Grado also offers ten kilometers of beaches with very fine sand, mainly oriented towards the south and slowly sloping down towards the sea. There’s a total of 120,000 square meters of beach divided into four main beaches: Pineta, Spiaggia al Bosco, GIT and Costa Azzurra.

The westernmost beach is the French Riviera, which the locals call the ‘old beach’. It continues alongside the seafront of the curved dam which stands in honor of Nazario Sauro.

Access to this beach is free, however there are payable concession areas. Here you can rent deckchairs, sunbeds, umbrellas and pedal boat. At the end of the dam, there is almost three kilometers of Blue Flag beach. It is exposed completely to the South, and extends for several kilometers to the east, through the entire Garden City until it exits the town and joins the al Bosco beach.

The latter is located between the Main Beach and Grado Pineta, so named as there are plenty of trees close to the beach. Here, the seabed is rather shallow when compared to the other areas. Most of the beach is under the concession of the ‘Campeggio al Bosco’, although access to the outside is allowable and pedestrian access is free.

Between the al Bosco beach and the entrance of the GIT beach. There is another well-equipped bathing establishment in Sacca dei Moreri. Where the Spiaggia al Bosco terminates the Grado Pineta beach extends. Here there are various bathing establishments. In this area kitesurfing sports are popular, and you can watch them glide across the water.

The depths are generally lower here. A few kilometers from the coast there are numerous rocky outcrops at a depth of about 20 meters. They play host to a rich biodiversity of marine environments.

A perfect family holiday destination

Grado is today an organized seaside resort. It boasts excellent beaches offering relaxation and fun. Suitable for both adults and children. The shallow waters make the coast of Grado particularly suitable for families. An efficient network of cycle paths allows for pleasant excursions inland.

In Grado, every first Sunday of July, locals enjoy a picturesque festival: the Perdòn di Barbana. An evocative procession of boats, decorated with flowers, garlands and flags. It reaches the Marian shrine on the island of Barbana, to dissolve an ancient vow of the city made 800 years ago.

If you are keen to visit spa resorts and other less known Islands off the beaten track of Italy, speak to one of our travel consultants today and start planning.

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