A funny city, with more than a hint of melancholy, that’s offset by the good cheer of the residents. Formerly the most important port of Austria Hungary, a major centre of trade and banking, and only a part of Italy since 1954 (it was a free city after WWII), it has lost much of its former importance, but none of its beauty. Like Genova on the opposite coast, it sits betwixt great big wooded hills and the sea, and still has the huge railyards of olden days. The architecture is somewhat neoclassical and grand, borrowed from Vienna, but there are smaller streets and townhouses, as well as some modernist buildings.
The food is varied – between the standard of a sea town, fish particularly tartare, and the more robust Slavic fare, sausages, boiled meats, cabbage, pickles, mustards, often eaten standing up at “buffets”. But the wines are the real draw – Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and particularly the Carso, which surrounds Trieste on both the Italian and Slovenian sides, provide for very good whites. More importantly, there are a disproportionate number of winemakers trying biodynamic or archaic (ie ageing in amphorae) techniques, such as Radikon, or Kante, which can be dear, but producers like Zidarich make more affordable wines (with the indigenous Vitovska grape as well as others, like Malvasia). Good place, but very busy, to try is the enoteca Osteria Da Marino.
The city’s real culinary passions seem to run to pastries and coffee. Superb strudels, cakes, etc., served in grand cafes. We liked the San Marco which seems still to be a bit of an artist/writer hangout, albeit with unforgiveably bad espresso. On the Via Duca D’Aosta there was a very good bakery, and across the street a little bar/restaurant called something like Bar Motonave (the steamship) which was cheap, delicious, and filled with old men playing cards. Further along the street (Duca D’Aosta) towards town, a popular hot-chocolate spot, Chocolat, which neighbours a specialist in fish aperitivi/crostini.
We were the sole diners one night at Ai Fiori, where the service was gracious, the bill pricey, and the food refined. After an (excellent) meal eaten in aristocratic isolation, we ran next door to the enoteca which was super-lively.
Highly recommended is an excursion to Duino Castle, where Rilke wrote his poems as a guest of the Thurn-and-Taxis family (still there). Check when the castle is open, but a particular treat is to see the old Duino Castle, dating from the 11th century versus the more sprightly 1389 neighbour. There is a very pleasant walk on the cliffs above the Adriatic.
If interested, Jan Morris, James Joyce, Italo Svevo have quite a bit more to say about Trieste, and the biography of art dealer Leo Castelli gives great context: the city in the twilight of the Empire, and particularly of the Jewish experience there.