On the border of Slovenia, charming Trieste, Italy is about an hour or so between Ljubljana and Venice and an ideal base for exploring the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. A short flight from London, it’s also a great destination for a weekend break. Beautiful Habsburg buildings, from when Trieste was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire 1382-1918, coffeehouses galore, Roman ruins and a gorgeous central square are just a few of Trieste’s many charms.
Where to Stay
The Savoia Excelsior Palace, is a Belle Époque gem with beautiful ornate interiors and a prime, riverfront position overlooking the Trieste Gulf. Built in 1911 to accommodate the Hapsburg court and dignitaries, when the Savoia opened it was described as “the most important and luxurious hotel in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.” With its imposing white façade, the hotel is an excellent example of the first grand hotels built at the turn of the 19th century.
The interiors are equally impressive, from the grand staircase and the vast skylight with original 19th century stained glass, to the collection of Liberty and Empire style furnishings, including luxurious silks and velvets in mauve, royal blue and emerald green. Sixty period pieces of furniture were carefully restored in recent years, using the original drawings made for the Savoia Excelsior Palace between 1910 and 1912. Chairs, console tables in Liberty-style, mirrors, chests with inlaid rosewood and gold leaf finish, as well as bronze decorations, have been returned to their former glory.
The 144 generous guest rooms and suites blend classic elegance with contemporary details, including monogrammed velvet cushions and lush marble bathrooms. Many rooms have seafront views, some with terraces. Overlooking the harbour, the hotel’s Savoy restaurant has a range of superb pastas, seafood and traditional local delicacies. Chef Andrea Stoppari, a Trieste native, has based his menu on best local best products, focusing on fish dishes like Seabass tartare with ginger guacamole, or Cuttlefish julienne over a purple-potato and green-asparagus mousse.
Another excellent hotel choice is the Grand Hotel Duchi D’Aosta, a Relais & Chateaux property on the Piazza Unità d’Italia. A real beauty, this 5-star boutique hotel, on one of the most lovely squares in Europe, is an ideal starting point for exploring the city. The hotel was built in 1873 on the site of a 14th-century lodging for merchant sailors, adjacent to the Inn of Customs Duty (or Port). Famous guests have included Admiral Horatio Nelson, Lady Hamilton, Queen Maria Carolina of Naples, and in more recent times, Francis Ford Coppola.
The 42 rooms and suites all have an eclectic, sophisticated style, some have views of Piazza Unità d’Italia, the others of the Gulf of Trieste. The excellent onsite restaurant Harry’s was opened in 1972 by Arrigo Cipriani, of Harry’s Bar in Venice.
Downstairs is a real gem of a pool and spa, inspired by the ancient Roman baths. Petite but perfect, with beautiful wall paintings, mosaics and marble columns, there’s also a sauna, steam room and jacuzzi.
Where to Eat
Harry’s Bistrò in the Grand Hotel Duchi D’Aosta is one of the city’s top dining destinations. The surroundings and atmosphere are really special and the mediterranean menu is outstanding. The seasonal menu can include a divine seabass ceviche, calamarata pasta, orzotto with scallops, a simple linguine with butter, anchovies, spicy taralli, broccoli and sweet garlic and Wagyu, black garlic, leek, caviar and chorizo.
Brunch with jazz at Tommaseo Coffeehouse is an absolute must. Founder of the historic Caffè Tommaseo, Thomas Marcato started the cafe to sell a unique dessert: ice cream. Caffè Tommaseo was the meeting point of many writers and artists including James Joyce. Today its weekly jazz brunches featuring local musicians attract locals and tourists alike. The brunch menu offers a good, reasonably priced choice of breakfast and lunch dishes, along with the option of bottomless prosecco.
Go to Arcoriccardo ristorante for awesome pasta dishes like macaroni with red shrimp, or egg pasta with sea bass ragout, rocket pesto and armagnac, but be sure to see the Roman ruins beneath the floor and an arch outside to inside. Built in the 1st century BC, the Arch of Riccardo is one of the main Roman monuments in Trieste. It was a door in the city walls as it was located on an ancient Roman road.
Popular Italian gourmet chain, Eataly offers three restaurants in its large complex on the waterfront. The Wine Bar Pane & Vino is a great spot for simple pasta lunch. For fish lovers Osteria del Vento offers seafood specialties, while La Barcaccia offers daily delicious recipes prepared with the catch of the day.
What to See and Do
Trieste’s history is all about coffee. The city’s port is where most of Italy’s green (unroasted) coffee beans still arrive. A free port for coffee imports from the 18th century onwards, the port of Trieste is still the busiest in the Mediterranean. As a result, the city has numerous historic coffee houses that were once the haunt of great writers such as James Joyce, Italo Svevo and Umberto Saba. Tommaseo, Caffè degli Specchi, Tergesteo, Stella Polare, Torinese, Pirona and Caffè San Marco are just a few to visit. Buy a five euro “Trieste loves coffee” carnet from the tourist office that allows you free coffees in most coffee shops.
Trieste is home to Illy, Italy’s biggest coffee brand, which also supports education, research and innovation related to coffee and offers a variety of professional courses at its in-house University of Coffee. The family-owned business was founded in 1933 by Francesco Illy, who invented the illetta, the world’s first espresso machine in 1935. In 2021, Illy opened a café in the lovely art deco Palazzo Berlam.
Book a walking tour and see the Roman remains, including walls, arches, and at the foot of its hill, the ruins of an amphitheatre. An FVG card (Friuli Venezia Giulia) allows free entry to the main sites in Trieste. The castle on the hill is a must, especially for the best views of the city. The tour will include mention of a famous former resident, James Joyce and take you past places he lived or visited. His 3rd floor flat is above what today is a Zara. There’s a bronze statue of the writer on the Ponte Rosso bridge over the Canale Grande. James Joyce lived in Trieste with his wife Nora on and off for 16 years from 1904. He loved the city which was so free and liberal in comparison to his native Ireland. He wrote Dubliners, Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and parts of Ulysses here, worked as a teacher which he hated and as a freelance reporter for Il Piccolo.
The FVG card also allows entry into “Frieda Khalo: The Caos inside” showing the life, history and creativity of Frida Kahlo through hundreds of personal photographs, author’s portraits, letters, diary pages, dresses and jewels inspired by the artist.
Museo Revoltella is a fascinating, multi-floor former mansion owned by Baron Pasquale Revoltella (1795-1869) who left it to the city in his will. The upper floors of the museum display 19th- and 20th-century Italian paintings and sculpture while the opulent lower rooms from the vast ballroom to the Baron’s private apartment and the ornate library are packed with decorative arts and books. There’s a modern art gallery on the third floor showing temporary exhibitions.
Trieste has an abundance of independent shops. Vud design is a studio and shop owned by two former architects offering custom-made, unique cutting boards, furniture and decorative objects. Fabtailors is a beautiful atelier that produces tailor made garments from shirts to suits and coats. They also produce hand made bags and accessories. The made to measure service by Franca and Fabrizio Pizzioli is equal to any you’d find in London or Paris at a fraction of the price.
Collanevrosi by Ludovica Fusco is a lovely jewelry boutique with contemporary handcrafted designs. Minimalist designs feature geometric shapes in rose gold, brass or wood. The owner of the perfume shop near the canal Profumeriaessenze is excellent at suggesting scents best suited for any customer. For pastries and chocolate, Pasticceria la Bomboniera has been pleasing customers since 1836 -a real delight.
Savoia Excelsior Palace, Riva del Mandracchio, 4 34124 Trieste, Italy. Double rooms from £150/night
Grand Hotel Duchi D’Aosta, Piazza Unità d’Italia 2, Trieste 34121. Double rooms from £200/night