Situated in the adjoining Italian regions of Fruili-Venezia Guilia and Vento, and only 160 miles apart, Trieste and Verona present two very different experiences of Italy.
Trieste seems off the radar of most tourists visiting Italy which is a shame as it’s a beautiful city with a fascinating history. Bordering Slovenia and Croatia, and having belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Trieste is a cultural melting pot. It doesn’t feel typically Italian and this was reinforced during our stay when we witnessed some First World War commemorations in which men dressed in their distinctive military costume were parading with the accompanying Trieste national flag.
Following the Second World War, Trieste was declared an independent city state by the UN, sandwiched as it was between Italy and Communist Yugoslavia, and it was only given over to Italy in 1956. Many locals are committed to restoring Trieste’s free city status, the Free Trieste Movement
To experience its historical links with Vienna you only have to visit one of Trieste’s classical cafes such as Caffé San Marco with its emphasis on reading whilst enjoying great coffee.
Coffee is central to Trieste’s economy as it is the HQ of Illy, Italy’s premier coffee roasting company, founded by an Austrian-Hungarian who based the production in Trieste as it was the main gateway port for the Austro-Hungarian empire. This allowed the imported coffee beans to be roasted and transported inland to Vienna, Budapest, etc.
You can still catch a tram from the port up the steep hillside to Opicina village where there is a main line railway station with connections to Vienna and beyond.
If you get the tram towards Opicina, you can then walk across the hillside above Trieste to the village of Prosecco which gave its name to the local wine which has overtaken champagne as Britain’s favourite sparkling wine. Without even ordering it, we were served a half litre carafe of draft prosecco during our first restaurant meal (for 5 euros).
Trieste’s main claim to literary fame is being the place where James Joyce lived from 1905 until 1915, and where he completed Dubliners, his collection of short stories. I wonder whether he was timely with paying his rent, as he had no less than nine different addresses in ten years, all of which feature on the James Joyce walking trail. Apart from numerous plaques, there is a splendid statue of Joyce which marks the anniversary of his arrival in Trieste in 1904.
Some additional twilight images of Trieste’s splendid harbour
William Shakespeare helped to establish Verona‘s reputation as a romantic city, even though the Casa de Guiletta, complete with balcony, is a Disneyesque fantasy. It doesn’t stop thousands of young people leaving romantic messages in the alleyway to the house.
Verona does of course have a magnificent (genuine) Roman amphitheatre (alas we were too early in the season to catch Adele). It would have been a superb venue for Pink Floyd to add to their classic 1971 performance in the ruins of Pompeii.
As in most western countries, newspaper reading in Italy is sadly in decline – news kiosks are one of Italy’s most endearing institutions, but it is heartening to see some people still find time to enjoy the habit.
During our stay in Verona we were struck by the hordes of Italian school children and students being shepherded around the historical sites and art galleries. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t always seem thrilled by the experience.
Mantova, a short train ride from Verona, is a beautiful sleepy town full of character. It has been designated Italian city of Culture for 2016 and the centro storico is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Any stay in Italy is an excuse for us to indulge in great food and wine, and this was no exception.