Ancient Celtic in origin, the name “Barcis” means simply, “hut”. What this scenic mountain valley holds today is much more than huts, but a tranquil village on a manmade lake with emerald green waters looking like a place right out of a storybook. Barcis has a distinctly Alpine feel, a world apart from busy Pordenone just 40 minutes driving distance to the south. Filled with holiday homes and restaurants serving tasty local cuisine with rustic wine, this village on the lake is a cool summer escape, or a romantic winter retreat.
The settlement of Barcis, though destroyed and rebuilt many times in its history, today traces its modern origins to the building of the hydroelectric dam on the river Cellina shortly after World War II. The ancient town, badly damaged by the fighting during both world wars, was rebuilt into the tourist resort you see today. Despite the destruction of battles, many ancient monuments remain, including the 17th century Palazzo Centi, which uniquely combines Venetian architectural elements with those of the local area.
The striking emerald green colour of the water can be traced to the sediments carried by the river, now forced into the calm of the reservoir created by the dam. The temperature of the lake remains frigid year round, only reaching a maximum of 7°C even in summer. While some hardy souls do choose to bathe in the cold waters for medicinal purposes, the primary recreational activities of Lago di Barcis are limited to the surface. A kayaking school is located at the western end of the lake, and paddleboat rentals are available nearer the dam on the east end.
Despite being artificial, the lake boasts some of the most beautiful alpine scenery in the Friuli Region of Italy. Several 2000 meter peaks surround the lake offering spectacular views from every angle. A 3km footpath runs the length of the entire north shore from the dam, through the town, to the dual use one lane suspension bridge at the western end where the river Cellina meets the lake. Here you get a great picture of the whole scene worthy of your computer’s desktop background when you get home!
If visiting during the winter months, the ski area Piancavallo is nearby. During the summer, join the elite few who choose to conquer the epic hors catégorie bike climb Barcis-Piancavallo that rises nearly 900 meters over 13km through dense forest. Should you be less adventurous, more leisurely circumnavigate the icy emerald waters of the lake on the 5km ring road.
By now having worked up a healthy appetite, visit a lakeside restaurant. Nearly all of them have an amazing view over the water. Local specialties to look out for include anything made with “cervo”, or deer meat (venison). My particular favourite is an especially delightful cervo ravioli with a sweet sauce of wild cranberries. Not a meat lover? Don’t worry. The surrounding forests are full of wild mushrooms, which inevitably make their way into the local cuisine. Despite the presence of the lake and an abundance of trout, most dishes here feature heavily “of the land”.
As you take in the scenery, and polish off that carafe of great local sfuso wine, take a deep breath. Let the crisp mountain air and cool breeze off the emerald waters of the lake reinvigorate you. Lago di Barcis, completely unknown to the guidebooks, offers a tranquil diversion from everything you thought you knew about Italy.
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