Clouds reflect on a canal in the middle of Trieste, Italy
Photo by vasile_pralea  –  Link

Trieste

Italy

There's something that sets Trieste apart from other Italian cities, and it's not just the fact that it's geographically isolated from the rest of the peninsula, sandwiched in the extreme northeast of Italy between the Adriatic coast and the border with Slovenia. This bustling port city seems to have unlocked the secret to happiness, its warm and friendly residents known for their laid-back demeanour and unfettered passion for life, even more so than your average Italian. Perhaps it's to do with Trieste's long and turbulent history, which began with Roman rule, followed by the Habsburgs' domination, then Mussolini's regime and finally German occupation. Trieste wasn't returned to Italy until 1954, and consequently, the city is characterised by an exotic and enchanting mix of Italian, Slavic, Germanic and Greek cultures.

Trieste's diverse background can also be seen in its architecture, a melange of grand neoclassical buildings interspersed with World War II monuments, Roman walls and a medieval old town, all set along the Adriatic coastline. In the middle of it all lies the Venetian-style Gran Canal (Canale Grande), Trieste's most defining feature, which is lined with lively restaurants and bars. Have a wander around the area, soak in the atmosphere, and see for yourself why the city has long been a magnet for artists and philosophers like James Joyce and Sigmund Freud.

In 2012, Trieste was voted the world's most underrated travel destination by Lonely Planet. You'll just have to plan a trip there yourself to see if you agree.

What to see

Piazza dell'Unita d'Italia - Trieste's magnificent main square is the beating heart of the city, ringed on three sides by grand historic buildings, its south side open to the sea.

Castello di Miramare - This neo-Gothic castle, a remnant of Austria's rule, sits on a rocky outcrop a few kilometres outside of town. One particular highlight is the 22-hectare garden, which is filled with rare and exotica flora.

Old Stock Exchange Palace - The 18th-century Trieste Commodity Exchange resembles a Greek temple, flanked by Doric columns and shell pink in colour, making it impossible to miss as you walk around town.

Roman theatre - Dating back to the 1st century AD, Teatro Romano is right in the city centre. In the summer months, it hosts various musical and artistic events.

Faro della Vittoria - 'Victory Lighthouse' is open daily, and entry is free. Climb to the top for sensational views over the city and sea.

Coffee culture

Thanks to its former status as an Austrian seaside escape, Trieste has a coffee culture not unlike Vienna's, with a selection of belle époque cafes seemingly designed for coffee-drinking and philosophical discussion.

To get a taste, head to one of the establishments near the Grand Canal and the waterfront around Corso Italia. Caffe Tommaseo is a classic favourite, open since 1830.