I am on a venture among the Alps close to Austria. Carnia in the Friuli Dolomites is really beautiful: unspoilt, with little tourism, a nature park, rivers, mountains, picturesque villages and above all: a culture that has been preserved. People here even still have their own language: Ladino, in addition to Italian. The people here are quiet and hard workers. They are known for that, even abroad. I find myself among real mountain people, with their hearts set on Italy, but also on Austria and Slovenia. You also notice this in their cuisine.

At the Antica Osteria Stella d’ Oro, I explore the particular dishes. It is a historic tavern located in the green valley of Villa di Verzegnis, Stella d’Oro is a gastronomic venue that is also greatly appreciated by locals. Two years ago, the restaurant, owned by associates Sara Pachini and Francesco Marzona, was voted the best restaurant in Carnia.

Wartime history
I am in a place with a lot of history. A beautifully preserved and impressive carnic fogar, or open fire in the living room, from 1600 is the charming part. So much for the tour of history in the restaurant. But I am also interested in the other past, which I discovered by chance. A piece of past of which I see nothing in the building. A logical choice by the owners, it turns out.

In 1944, the village of Villa di Verzegnis was occupied by the Cossacks, recruited by the Nazis for raids and reprisals against the partisan movement that was very active in the region. Numerous Friulian towns suffered the same fate during those months. From July 1944, the first convoys of Cossacks and Caucasians, who were themselves on the run, began to arrive at Carnia station. About 40,000 arrived. A considerable number considering that Carnia had a population of 60,000 at the time. Carnia was even presented by the Germans as the “Kosakenland in Nord Italien”. It was a forced cohabitation that created fear and terror but also, in some cases, discreet relationships between the Cossack families and the inhabitants of the villages.

Fact that General Pyotr Krasnòv with his family, settled here in the Stella d’ Oro inn and stayed until the end of the war, is of course still sensitive. General Krasnòv had been an ally of the Germans since his wartime actions in 1918 against the Red Army. The Cossack illusion of regaining the independence of yesteryear vanished under the blows of the Soviet offensive at Stalingrad in 1942.

In late January 1943, the Red Army won the final victory, forcing the German army and those who had flanked them to their retreat to the West. Countless civilians followed along the way fuelled by the promise of refuge in a land similar to the one they had left behind. In the summer of 1944, they were given the promise of a temporary homeland, solemnised in the Rosenberg-Keitel resolution, to occupy Carnia.

The inhabitants of the communities in Carnia were long forced to live with the Cossacks, allies of the Germans and republicans. Many would have arrogantly installed themselves there. In every house, at least one room was occupied by the Russians, as the new residents were then generally called.

Fortunately, nothing of this past is noticeable anymore and I mainly experience a very cosy restaurant with a nice terrace located centrally and quietly in village. It is also only since 2003 that the current owners have run this Antica Osteria Stella d’ Oro. The menu features mainly traditional dishes such as cjarsons, goose gnocchi, game and local vegetables like their famous radic di mont. It is interesting to note that the owner Francesco Marzona, together with his two brothers, also runs an azienda agricola (an agricultural farm) where they cultivate the vegetables, fruits and grains for the restaurant.

Address: Antica Osteria Stella d’ Oro, Via Tolmezzo 6, Villa di Verzegnis