Straddling the border with Slovenia, the sweeping drive along the tree lined forest road from the “Alte Piano” or upper plateau, gives rise to some of the most breath taking sea views you are likely to see in this part of central Europe. Trieste comes into view through the moving haze of centuries old trees, its sprawling mass covering every inch of its waterfront land, locked tight between the ranges that still form a distant part of the Italian Alps.
Here in this ‘valley of wind’ – famed for the incessant Bora (north wind) that descends from the nearby icy alpine slopes – resides a city of some 250,000 inhabitants, most of whom prefer to be known as ‘Triestini’, rather than Italian. With a heritage that includes Austrian, German, Italian, Slovenian and even Croatian, this is a city with as much diversity of peoples, as it is of architecture and culture.
Streets narrow and steep, many of the sidewalks sport metal and chain rails for pedestrians to cling to in times of sever wind. Fortunately for most visitors to this city – merely an hour’s train ride to Venice – the Bora mostly subsides in late winter, giving way to the gentle breezes of early spring.
Dating back to Roman times this town has been an outpost for every major European power at one time or another. And as Trieste lays claim to the northern most port on the Mediterranean Sea, its location served as an attractive summer home to wealthy Austrians during their empire’s rule over these lands. The Austrian tourists continue to verge on this prized city, as do Europeans and even the odd American. It takes but a stroll of the city streets to see all of its peoples – locals and visitors alike – indulging as much of Trieste’s culture and atmosphere, as they do of it’s fine wines and cuisine.
Known also as the birthplace and center of the Illy coffee empire, Triestini’s hold dear their claim to having the best coffee in all of Italy, if not the world. And a quick visit to any of the dozens of coffee houses and bars that dot every one of its ‘Viale’ (boulevard’s) and Piazza’s, is as reassuring of this claim as any might be.
This is no longer a favored beach vacation spot, as northern Europeans now prefer the east coast of Croatia’s Adriatic, or the southern Italian coastal destinations. But Trieste will amply indulge its visitors with Roman ruins, such as the amphitheatre along the Via Del Tetra Romana. A stroll to take in the stunning Venetian and Austrian architecture lining the fringes of Piazza Unita will simply take your breath away. And the extraordinary and composed buildings of Austrian influence along the Viale XX Settembre – where both the artists and cultural elite gather at the countless bars and restaurants lining this famous boulevard – make this destination one of Italy’s best.
But for those who are still tempted to indulge of the miles of scenic coastal beaches and parks in summer, be sure to come early in the day, for few peoples are as dedicated to soaking the sun’s rays as are locals who in the months of July and August lay claim to virtually every square inch of beach front from morning till night.
So if you find yourself there in the month of August when the town is all but deserted, just ask where everyone is. The one word reply is always, Barcola. To most, it defines a small strip of beach along the Strada Miramare (named after the famed waterfront castle to which the road leads), but for the Triestini, Barcola refers to the endless beaches that stretch for dozens of miles in both directions.