Italy without armies of tourists!
A few years back I travelled to the Italian city of Reggio Emilia for a conference. Staying in the same holiday apartment building was a retired couple from Australia. They apparently were regulars and had spent several years holidaying for extended time in Reggio Emilia. Chatting with them we asked why Reggio Emilia? (As opposed to Rome, the Tuscan Hills etc all well known tourist haunts) The reply was 'no tourists' they could have as close as possible an authentic Italian stay interacting with locals. Reggio Emilia is a pretty Italian city but my recommendation for a city less visited is Trieste.
Trieste over the past 10 to 15 years has had something of a transformation with many of its old buildings restored. The city council is encouraging private owners to do the same and there are tax deductions for owners who restore the facades of their buildings.
So here are my things to do and see in Trieste.
Piazza Unita (officially Piazza Unita d'Italia) the largest square in Italy facing the sea. On the righthandside of the square, being obscured by the statue is one of the oldest cafes around. Cafe dei Specchi, first opened in 1839.
Looking into the square from the stone wharf which is full of the locals promenading on a Sunday!
This picture is taken from that same stone wharf showing a cruise ship at dock. It can dock so close to land that the bows of the ships come over the road that runs along the seafront! Trieste is one of only 2 deep water ports in the Mediterranean where a fully laden aircraft carrier can dock. This piece of trivia gleaned from a lost US sailor I came across years ago. He had ended up in the suburbs by catching a local bus, I chatted to him as I steered him back to the main part of the city, at the time an aircraft carrier was in port. (For Trivia buffs, the other deep water port is Marseilles, everywhere else the carriers drop anchor in deep water and tenders bring them into the port)
Salone degli incanti. The old fishmarket, now turned into a gallery with temporary exhibitions. I've done a post on this building.
Salone degli incanti
For those who like castles, there are a few. The oldest up on the hill in the centre of town, is San Giusto castle. Huge fortified walls, storybook type castle.
Then there's the newer Miramare castle, built on a rocky headland just outside the city. Here's a post about Miramare.
Further out of Trieste is Castle Duino, which is still owned by the Torre and Tasse family and is open to the public. It can be reached by catching a local bus in Trieste. The castle was bombed and badly damaged in World War I and large sections were rebuilt in the 1920s. What you see now is a mixture of very old and 20th century. The gardens are lovely and there is a World War II bunker that was built using slave labour, the Nazis had gun placements in the bunker to protect their naval fleet across the bay at Sistiana. Worth visiting the castle just to experience the bunker.
Another reminder of the not so good parts of Trieste's past is the Risiera di San Saba. It's the only concentration camp that was on Italian soil that had a crematorium. Before the war it had been a rice husking factory and that's the reason for the height of the buildings, the rice was dried on different floors.
The crematorium was destroyed by the Nazis in April 1945 as the war was coming to an end, you can see the outline of it on the left, on the ground are darker tiles showing the size of it. A post about the Risiera is coming!
The Roman Theatre (Teatro Romano), to be found behind Piazza Unita. For years I had been under the impression that it was found in the 1960s when the road was widened, just looked it up and it actually was discovered in 1938! It dates back to the 1st and 2nd centuries, even now there's an occasional summer concert held there.
Catch the little historic tram up to Villa Opicina, here's my post on this little tram.
This has to be my most favourite statue anywhere in the world, it's of James Joyce. He lived in Trieste for over 10 years beginning in 1904, at the time Trieste was a major port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and a very cosmopolitan place to live. This statue is on Via Roma at Porto Rosso, he's strolling in the direction of an apartment he lived in nearby. For James Joyce aficionados you can walk a trail through Trieste looking at all the places associated with him.
Trieste does have beaches, rocky ones! They are full of locals during the summer months, all tanning to a crisp baked potato colour! As someone who's now used to Australia's sandy beaches, these rocky beaches and concrete platforms don't appeal, but the locals love them it seems!
Citta' Vecchia, Trieste has an old town centre which has been heavily restored, and it's now very expensive to buy an apartment there! The narrow streets have been converted to pedestrian only zones, and there are many restaurants, cafes and bars to be found there. All with outdoor seating in the summer!
Illy caffe' (coffee). Trieste is the home of Illy caffe' and it still has its headquarters there. Francesco Illy started the coffee business in the 1930s and it's now run by his grandson. Francesco is credited with inventing the forerunner of the expresso machine. (Coffee snobs, salute him!)
Grotto Gigante, a huge cave in the mountains outside of Trieste, you can catch a local bus to get there. Amazing to see, it's huge, all of St Peter's Basilica can fit inside it.
In 2012 Lonelyplanet.com listed Trieste as Italy's most underrated tourist destination. It still is, but for anyone who wants to visit an interesting city without being swamped by hordes of tourists all following their leader, Trieste is great.