The north eastern corner of Italy, south of the Austrian border comprises the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. It is a region of mountains and hills and offers great possibilities for trekking and winter sports in the Dolomites and Alpine regions, plus the Adriatic coast with its beaches and, most famously, Venice.
Alto Adige is predominantly German speaking: it used to be known as Südtirol (South Tirol) and was part of the Tyrol region of Austria, when it was ceded to Italy in 1918. Trentino, although Italian speaking, was also part of Austria until it was handed over to Italy after the First World war.
In the Friuli region in the north east a distinct Roman language is still spoken in some small pockets south of the Alps and which has seen invasions of Romans, Germanic Visigoths, Huns, Lombards and Franks; it became Venetian in 1420 and Austrian in 1797. When Italy was united in 1866, western Friuli was included, but the eastern part of it was ceded by Austria after the First World War and the region became known as Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
The Veneto is wedged between these two regions and runs from the Austrian border to the Adriatic Sea with its most famous drawcard, the city of Venice. A maritime republic since 726 when the people, inhabiting the lagoons and islands off the coast who had formed a federation of communities, elected a "Doge", a magistrate. For over 1000 years Doges lead the city republic, which became an important maritime power and commercial centre. In 828 Venetian merchants abducted the remains of the apostle Mark from Alexandria and the St. Mark (San Marco) basilica was erected next to the Doge's Palace. Venice took part in the Fourth Crusade during the 12th Century and in 1271 Marco Polo, a Venetian merchant, started his famed overland journey to China. Its growing strength led the city into a series of wars with Genoa, a rival sea power. Venice finally defeated Genoa in 1380 and gained control over trade in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Venice became one of the largest cities in Europe. It reached the height of its power in the 1400's, when its colonial empire included Crete, Cyprus, the Dalmatian coast (now part of Croatia), and part of northeastern Italy. It fell into decline when the centre of trade moved to the Atlantic and the Turkish Empire grew in influence. In 1797 Napoleon occupied the city and divided the remainder of its empire between France and Austria.
Although its buildings are in serious decay and rising tides form a growing threat, Venice is still a beautiful and romantic city, lying on approximately 120 islands in the Adriatic Sea, with its 150 canals, more than 400 bridges and magnificent buildings and is the highlight of a visit to this part of Italy. Further south, on the Riviera del Sole of the Adriatic coast in the Emilia-Romagna region is Rimini and not far inland the small town of Mercato Saraceno and the Republic of San Marino.