That local city across the border.
Trieste is a port city on the border between Slovenia and Italy, which is one of the largest ports in Italy and one of the few deep water ones in the Mediterranean. It has historically been a very disputed, hot territory and is now a bilingual region with a strong Slovenian minority. Like all Slovenians, I grew up on stories of the olden days when my grandparents would go shopping to Trieste for things you couldn’t get in socialist Yugoslavia (coffee, jeans and toilet paper were popular staples). It is starting to feel like history is repeating itself, as a lot of Slovenians are now grocery shopping in Italy again because it is, unfortunately, more than a lot cheaper than here. Either way, Trieste makes for a nice day trip if you want to drink an Aperol Spritz and feel the Italian vibes by the sea. For all of us it feels very local, so I think we don’t appreciate it nearly enough, because it is quite a nice and interesting city, particularly the central part.
The main seaside sights include the harbour with the Molo Audace pier, the pretty old lighthouse la Lanterna and the Grand canal, as well as the main square Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia with the city hall and the Verdi theatre. Up above, the San Giusto medieval fortress dominates the hill along the new lighthouse Faro Della Vittoria, which was built to commemorate WW1. Like in most places around Italy, you’ll also find interesting Roman ruins, in this case the Roman theatre and the Arco di Riccardo arch sticking out of a random building, with the 14th century San Giusto cathedral nearby. On a darker historical side, you can visit the museum in a former rice factory, which became a concentration camp during the Nazi occupation of Trieste in WW2. Kleine Berlin, a network of German anti-aircraft underground shelters is also interesting and guided tours are run by local volunteers every month, which something I still need to try.
Otherwise Trieste is known as Italy’s coffee capital and there are plenty of cafes, bars, restaurants and interesting shops around. Most recently we had lunch in Eataly, which is a chain of fancy Italian grocery stores aesthetically presented in large food halls – think Ikea, but for Italian food. Their store is definitely worth having a walk through for enjoyment, although the prices are tourist-inflated, so you’re better off buying food in a regular supermarket. They do have a nice rooftop restaurant overlooking the harbour though and the food was great and reasonably priced, so we’ll probably come again.
Travel tip: Trieste is built in several confusing levels on the hillside, so if you are coming in by car, it is best to rely on navigation to get you where you want to go.
Impressions of Trieste
There are two other major tourist attractions close to Trieste, the Grotta Gigante, essentially a huge and gorgeous Karst cave, and Miramare castle, which is technically located in Trieste, but a bit outside the centre. Miramare castle is one of the most beautiful aristocratic manors I’ve seen so far, all in pristine white, full of intricate details and ideally located by the sea. It was built in the 19th century for the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Habsburg (the brother of the famous Franz Joseph with his wife Sisi) and his wife Charlotte and apparently every single room has a seaside view. Maximilian later became the Emperor of Mexico and met his end in front of a firing squad, which is why there’s a legend that says all the owners of Miramare castle will meet a violent end abroad, but there is also another legend claiming that his wife Charlotte is still haunting the grounds and we hadn’t met her, so who knows?
The grounds are comprised of a huge park full of statues, fountains and exotic trees, including a sequoia, another smaller manor house, a cannon gallery, horse stables and a nice cafe in the gardens. There’s also a cool sphinx statue at the end of the pier and the castle still has all of its original furnishings inside. Although you can wander around the grounds for free, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee to see the inside. The easiest way to reach Miramare castle is to park in the Grignano marina here, which is free, and take the short walk up the hill to the park entrance. Also, there are a lot of free public toilets around, which is always nice, and the castle is quite popular, so it is best to arrive early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
Another fun fact about Trieste at the moment is that it is currently hosting one of the world’s largest super-yachts, owned by a Russian oligarch and impounded by Italy in early 2022 for political reasons. It is so big that you can clearly see it anchored in the middle of the bay from all vantage points around the city and it is now even marked on Google Maps as a tourist attraction. The reviews are absolutely hilarious and it is a beautiful boat even from afar. 🙂