Joyce's Trieste: A trip through Italy's enchanting literary city
Literary Travel Special
Joyce's former home is an enchanting Italian city and the ideal literary break for Peter Geoghegan.
Set the Mood
James Joyce is indelibly associated with Dublin. The author's literary name, however, was made in Trieste - where he lived for over a decade and wrote A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, most of Dubliners and the outline of Ulysses.
Geographically, the city is barely in Italy, but Italian customs predominate - none more so than the early evening aperitivo.
To kick off your literary visit, claim a table on Caffe' Rossini's floating deck (via Rossini 8) as the sun sets over the Canal Grande. On the adjacent bridge stands a bronze statue of Joyce, looking serious, with a book under his arm.
Joyce in Europe, circa 1918. Photo: Getty
In real life Joyce was less scholarly: within hours of arriving here, in 1904, he was sitting in jail - after getting involved in a fight between English sailors and locals.
The city is calmer these days, but still has a wild side. Among fashionable Triestinos, Via Torino is the place to go for a postprandial cocktail. The scene is set.
Perched on the Adriatic, a few kilometres outside the city, Miramare is a castle fit for an emperor, in this case Maximilian, brother of Austria's Franz Josef, and his wife.
Built in 1860, it's a testament to the wealth of Trieste at the height of the Austro-Hungarian empire: lavish interiors, including a crimson canopied bed given by Napoleon III to the royal couple, and a lush 22-heactre garden.
Today, it's a museum (castello-miramare.it; €8) - but amid the opulence lies a darker legend. A local curse claims that anyone who sleeps at Miramare will die a violent death in foreign lands. Maximilian himself was executed in Mexico, having never actually lived in his fairytale palace.
Trieste is a city that revels in its old world feel, and nothing feels quite as sepia-tinged as the tram that for more than a century has connected it with the hillside village of Opcina.
For less than €2, take the 20-minute ride in a wood-panelled carriage. Disembark at the towering stone obelisk to get a spectacular view over the city. A narrow coastal strip, never more than a few miles wide, is all that connects the Trieste with the body of Italy. To the east, see the karst landscape of Slovenia; south is verdant Croatian Istria.
While in Trieste, check out the bijou Joyce Museum (museojoycetriest.it).
Excellent guided tours of Joyce's Trieste also run regularly from the tourist office, a stone's throw from Piazza Unità d'Italia.
Trieste is also a boon for history buffs.
The city was the jewel in the crown of the Hapsburg Empire before being handed to Italy, first in 1919 and again in 1954. Look out for traces of this cosmopolitan past, especially in the Greek and Serbian Orthodox churches and the old Jewish ghetto.
For a proper slice of Joycean Trieste, check into the Victoria Hotel (hotelvictoriatrieste.com/en). Joyce lived with Nora Barnacle and their family in an apartment here over a century ago - today, it's a well-appointed boutique hotel, just a 10-minute walk from the Piazza dell'Unità d'Italia. The lobby is filled with ephemera, including early editions of Ulysses, and rooms are available from around €79.
Trieste is not a city for the spendthrift. Excellent seafood comes at a price, and even an espresso in one of the city's grand literary cafés - Tommaseo on the waterfront is the liveliest - will leave little change from a five euro note.
Get There & Around
Trieste is served by Friuli Venezia Giulia Airport, around 35km from the city centre. Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies from London Stansted, or both it and Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) fly to Venice, a two-hour train ride away.
If you're feeling adventurous, a ferry runs twice a week from Pula in Croatia (directferries.co.uk; 3 hours; €25pp). See also visit-trieste.it.