Grounded in history as you have a brew
While Italy is recognised for its love of coffee, Trieste takes it up a few notches. The city has an annual coffee consumption of 10 kilograms per person.
MAGICAL TRIESTE. The Canal Grande has Piazza St Antonio and the neoclassic church of the same name in the background. Picture: iStock/Supplied
Italy is a bucket-list country. The leaning tower of Pisa, Venice, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican, the Colosseum and Pompeii.
It’s a list that can go on for pages. The northern port city of Trieste is a must add to this list, and it should be wedged into the top five places to visit at the very least. It’s Italy at its most cosmopolitan. Partly because of the various rulers that claimed it over the years, and due to its proximity to Slovenia. Walk down any street and a mixture of Italian, Hungarian and Austrian architecture turn this seaside city into an eye candy of the highest order.
Trieste is nestled on a slender strip of north eastern Italy, right at the extreme top tip of the Italian boot, where it neighbours the curve and extends south towards Slovenia. This European pocket had a series of rulers, with the Hapsburgs of Austria leaving the most enduring sociocultural mark. They were at the helm of the Austro Hungarian Empire for centuries, overseeing Central Europe until the empire’s dissolution in 1918 post-World War I, when the territory was returned to Italy. Trieste’s people are at one with the sea.
The seaside charms and coffee culture of Trieste
Along every main road the beaches and seaside platforms are crammed with city dwellers soaking up the sun at any time during the day. Weekends see the coastline thronging with locals and tourists alike. A canal runs into the main city square, too. Its status as a key port city since the days of the Roman Empire, and its citizens’ relationship with the sea, a millennia-long tradition.
An afternoon stroll through the city, with its deep and ancient history, its Jewish quarter filled with old antique shops and eateries, and the sheer history of the place weighs on visitors, not in a heavy way, but in a manner of deep appreciation.
The city is clean, exceptionally so. The rows and rows of coffee shops along the canal, evidence of the coffee culture that gave birth to some of the world’s biggest brands in coffee today including Lavazza and Hausbrandt.
For the Triestinos, coffee isn’t just a drink, it’s a passion, what one coffee house owner called a “soulful pastime”.
And, while Italy is recognised for its love of coffee, Trieste takes it up a few notches. The city has an annual coffee consumption of 10 kilograms per person, which is twice the national average in a country already deeply impassioned with the brew. It is also Italy’s main coffee port. For centuries, Trieste flourished and became one of Europe’s wealthiest ports, with a significant portion of these riches rooted in coffee.
Trieste: A city steeped in coffee, culture, and historical splendor
In the 18th century, modest coffee houses laid the foundation for an expanding supply chain, the rise of coffee import firms, roasteries and even a Coffee Stock Market all played pivotal roles in cementing Trieste’s prosperity earning it the nickname of the “City of Coffee”.
On the city’s outskirts lies a castle with gardens so beautiful that you could spend a day simply meditating and taking in its absolute beauty. Miramar Castle was completed in 1860 for Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Austria and his wife, Charlotte of Belgium. It is located on a rocky outcrop, jutting out into the sea, and offers stunning views of the Gulf of Trieste and the surrounding mountains.
Walking through the property, you can breathe in its rich history, and the reasons why everyone who visits Trieste falls in love with the place. Even though the city attracts thousands of visitors, you never feel overrun. It’s as if Trieste breathes everyone in, and there is space for all.
One of its most famous former citizens was James Joyce. He lived there from 1904 to 1915. Joyce first went to Trieste to teach English.
He quickly fell in love with the city, said to be drawn to its diversity and energy. This is where he wrote some of his most important works, including Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. In the latter, his alter ego, Leopold Bloom, was said to be based on a Jewish businessman from Trieste named Ettore Schmitz.
Trieste is home to the James Joyce Museum, which houses a collection of his manuscripts, letters and other personal items. Hop across to Slovenia for a day or two, take a road trip to Croatia or take a drive to Venice. It’s a haven of cultural inspiration, and brings to life aspects of Italian culture other cities just don’t. And it is where every coffee aficionado should pitstop.