Friuli, as it is known for short, enjoys less of the Italian limelight than tourism hotspots Tuscany, Umbria or Rome, for example, but it has its own attractions, and they are not in short supply. In the north, towards the Austrian border, is found dramatic Alpine scenery, unspoiled and therefore often described as "wild". By way of contrast is the lovely natural beauty of the gorgeous lagoons and sandy beaches that hug the sea along the Adriatic coast.

The shoreline to the west of Trieste encompasses the family-oriented beach resorts of Grado and Lignano. Grado, for instance, is joined to the mainland by a thin strip of land and is known as the "Island of the Sun" because its eight kilometres of beaches are all south-facing, permanently exposed to the sun. The gently sloping shallow waters are calm and clean, lapping Blue Flag beaches.

Grado is a spa town and it is renowned for its iodine-rich sea air, iodine being a nutrient with many important roles in the body, such as proper brain development in children. The strong point of the Marine Thermal Baths of Grado – immersed in this extraordinary marine climate – is the thalassotherapy, a therapeutic treatment using sea water and its beneficial properties, which effect a cleansing, firming and re-balancing action for the body.

The Marine Baths also offer hydrotherapy treatments including baths, aerosols, inhalations, nebulisation and insufflation, manual and mechanical physiotherapy. Plus, there is heliotherapy and psammotherapy, the so-called sand bath, which is the oldest and most characteristic treatment of the spa.

# Grado in Friuli-Venezia Giulia

It is understandable, then, that this was once a favourite bathing place for the Austro-Hungarian emperors and aristocracy, who came here from early in the 19th century for the thermal baths and spas.

There are also two seawater swimming pools, one for free swimming with water at 31 °C and the other with water at 32 °C with a coordinated hydromassage system, ideal for a relaxing moment. You can then pamper yourself in the spa and take a massage or beauty treatment, or visit the hot area with Turkish bath, sauna and whirlpool tub, and exercise in the fitness centre.

And in the Water Park, located directly on Grado's main beach, you can dive into welcoming saltwater pools; trampolines, games, waterfalls and hydromassage are the ultimate fun for both adults and children.

With its many organised and amenity-filled Blue Flag beaches, Grado's coast allows all ages to relax and have fun. There is an efficient network of cycle paths for pleasant rides inland.

The town is also a holiday destination for people with disabilities and special needs, as they can use the numerous dedicated services: beach wheelchair rentals and private walkways on the beaches, boat trips on the lagoon, wheelchair-accessible nature reserves and areas, plus the opportunity to try sailing and other sports.

Grado's Cote d'Azur is a stretch of free public beach dotted with several establishments that also serve food, and in this part of the beach young children can enjoy the playground areas and the bigger kids can play beach volleyball and on five-a-side football courts. Parents can enjoy peace of mind as the youngsters play in safety.

The main expanse of beach, however, has an admission fee and comes with playgrounds, green areas and playing fields offering special activities and entertainment. This area can only be entered by security gates and it guarantees safety for families in the special facilities for young ones.

VIP areas such as Settimo Cielo (Seventh Heaven) give greater comfort and convenience with exclusive services and ample space. Again, there is no shortage of food, with a wide selection from quick snacks to more elaborate seafood dishes.

The Lido di Fido beach is a private area with amenities, designed for four-legged friends. The Grado Pineta beach is connected to the town via an easy cycle path and extends into a lush green area. This is a family-favourite section due to its quiet atmosphere next to the greenery. Dogs are welcome here too.

The Al Bosco and Sacca dei Moreri beaches are next to a large wooded area between the main beach and Pineta beach. This stretch is also free to enter and there are trees for shade when it gets too hot.

# The Grado lagoon

Visitors can explore the waterside walking and bike tracks of Valle Cavanata, by Grado's lagoon, a natural paradise for wild birds, or head to Marano Lagunare and either follow a guide through the Valle Canal Nuovo nature reserve or sail across the lagoon in a tour boat, past distinctive casoni, white-thatched fishermen's cottages seemingly floating on the wetlands. Grado has an attractive historic quarter with an evident Venetian style, criss-crossed by narrow alleyways that run between the canal-port and Santa Eufemia basilica. Grand Hotel Astoria is a four-star in the centre of all the action, at Largo San Grisogono 3. Email:

# Grand Hotel Astoria, Grado

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