A long weekend in Trieste
What to do and where to eat in the capital of literary cafes
Discovering the true soul of Trieste, the splendid former imperial port on the sea, famous for its Central European charm, the coffee trade, and the cultural vivacity stimulated by a multi-ethnic community.
Having become, under Roman times, one of the most important ports in the Upper Adriatic, Trieste finds a period of great prosperity under the Austrian rule. In 1719 it became a free port and assumed a role of enormous strategic importance for the Empire, as it was its only outlet to the sea.
In the following years, thanks to the development of the naval industry, and therefore of international commerce, Trieste benefited from large investments. The city became the capital of the coffee trade, a highly sought-after beverage just then discovered by the European elites (especially loved by Maria Theresa of Austria), attracting workforce from neighboring nations, thus accentuating its vibrant multi-ethnicity. Also, many banks and insurance companies started to be established there, such as Assicurazioni Generali founded in 1831, thus further boosting its economic growth.
At the center of international tensions between the two world wars for its strategic position, Trieste will definitively return to Italy only on 26 October 1954, the date of the entry of the Bersaglieri Italian Army to the city.
My soul is in Trieste.
To breathe its nineteenth-century grandeur, which is intertwined with the adventures of brave financiers and modern explorers, the right address to sleep is definitely Seven Historical Suites, a boutique hotel located inside Palazzo Terni, built by the same important family of Casa Terni Smolars, the most beautiful example of Liberty style in the city.
Afterward, the building belonged to Baron Goffredo de Banfield, the famous Austro-Hungarian aviator nicknamed the “Eagle of Trieste”. The seven suites of the hotel, each different from the other, were, in fact, inspired by the travels of the de Banfield’s in the most beautiful hotels of the Belle Époque; wunderkammers that combine the empire style with unique antiques and design pieces, partly coming from the ancient Sicilian residences of the owners’ family.
If you, rather, prefer to breathe the more intimate atmosphere of the “literary” Trieste, you can book the small hotel L’Albero Nascosto (the hidden tree). Owned by the Trieste antiquarian Aldo Stock, the rooms were furnished with pieces, in particular from the art déco style, from his store, thus giving to them the unique atmosphere of the Trieste residences of the early twentieth century.
In the morning you can start with a lovely breakfast in a historic café such as, a stone’s throw from Seven Historical Suites, La Bomboniera pastry shop, a splendid example of Viennese Art Nouveau from 1836, and, after a walk along the Grand Canal to the magnificent Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia, you can stop by the most beautiful literary café in Trieste, the Antico Caffè San Marco.
Its story begins in 1914, in a building of the Assicurazioni Generali, where Marco Lovrinovich decides to open his first restaurant which over the years confirmed its fame as a literary salon, famous for its illustrious frequentations, from Italo Svevo to Umberto Saba, from James Joyce to Claudio Magris. After various conservative restorations, which kept intact the original furnishings, bound by the Fine Arts, the entrepreneur Alexandros Delithanassis, born in Trieste of a Greek father, already in the publishing business, took up the challenge of returning the San Marco to the ancient splendor, giving life to a unique concept in Italy which saw the opening, with direct management within it, of a bookshop, a restaurant and a pastry shop.
Here, the coffee ritual should be taken seriously: choose a secluded table, open your favorite newspaper and order in the Trieste style a capo in bi (macchiato coffee served in a glass) with a slice of Sachertorte. And don’t forget to buy a package of their exquisite Caffè San Marco branded coffee, purchased raw and then processed by the renowned Sandalj Trading Company, a tasty blend of Arabica and Robusta for mocha.
In the afternoon you can visit the Miramare Castle, and its beautiful garden, the residence commissioned by Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Habsburg and built between 1856 and 1860, or take a walk along the Rilke panoramic path, that connects Sistiana to that Duino Castle, which takes its name from the homonymous Bohemian poet.
Trieste, perhaps, more than other cities, is literature, it is its culture.
Once back to Trieste, do not miss an aperitif at sunset at Pier The Roof, the only bar and restaurant on the sea in the center of Trieste, which offers a wonderful view of the docks of the city’s port, a few meters from Piazza dell’Unità of Italy. Here, at the end of the nineteenth century, the first sailing clubs of Trieste arose, at the time when the city belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and, right on the pier to the left of Pier The Roof, there is the oldest sailing company of the Adriatic sea, the Yacht Club Adriatico founded in 1903.
For dinner, you can stay for a fish-based meal at Pier’s restaurant or return to the heart of Trieste in the former Jewish ghetto and chose among one of the many bistros and restaurants in the area, such as the cosy La Bottega dell’Antiquario in Via delle Beccherie.
The next day you can start with a lovely breakfast at Mimì e Cocotte, a bohemian bistro that also hosts exhibitions by young local artists, a stone’s throw from one of the most beautiful house museums in Italy, Palazzo Revoltella, our next destination.
One of the major protagonists of imperial Trieste, Pasquale Revoltella was born in 1795 and, after moving from Venice, he started a dazzling career that will lead him to manage a timber trading business and, reinvesting the profits, to become one of the first shareholders of Assicurazioni Generali. On his death in 1869, he left the palace and all his money to his beloved Trieste, with the explicit request that part of his possessions was destined for the purchase of works for the museum.
The Revoltella Museum has, in fact, today two souls: the private residence of the baron, still furnished exactly as he had conceived it, thus giving us the voyeuristic pleasure of seeing how wealthy people used to live at that time, and the modern art gallery. Restored on an initial project by the great Carlo Scarpa, it houses the Museum’s more recent collections, including masterpieces by De Nittis, De Chirico, Guttuso, Pomodoro, and a magnificent selection of early twentieth century artists active in Trieste such as Timmel and Dudovich.
On the top floor, another great wonder of the Museum is revealed: the terrace of the building, which on summer evenings hosts a café open until midnight, from which a unique panorama is revealed. A privileged view of the true soul of Trieste, rich in contrasting symbols: the lighthouse that watches over the horizon, the modern cargo boats leaving the docks and, in the distance, the buildings awaiting restoration of the beautiful Imperial Old Port.
How much beauty and history, in a single, exciting, view.