At the crossroads of three different takes on Europe - Balkan, Roman and Germanic - Trieste has a distinctive character that's forged by its geography. It can throw up a massive Orthodox church one minute, pompous Habsburg architecture and espresso-drinking fashion obsessiveness the next. But with the Adriatic Sea looking impossibly blue, and mountains curving around the city, Trieste sure looks good.
Trieste is the sort of city you mooch around in, rather than hurtle between a list of must-sees. And, luckily, a series of utterly splendid 19th century cafes are on hand to aid this process. The Caffe degli Specchi on main square Piazza Unita d'Italia is a classic case in point. Dozens of chairs for coffee-slurpers are lined up outside while ridiculously OTT dangly glass light fittings, a piano and red leather everything can be found inside. And the cakes ??? oh, good heavens, the cakes ??? See caffespecchi.it
Nowhere is Trieste's mix of cultures more obvious than its food scene. Hearty pork and beef dishes dominate in some restaurants, elegant fish dishes in others. The latter is well represented by third generation family seafood joint Al Bagatto. Mains cost about ???28, and often throw in some rather unexpected tastes - such as the sea bass with mint and coffee seasoning. See albagatto.it
It's a long slog uphill past the semi-ruined Roman theatre, but the views from the bastions at the Castello di San Giusto are worth it. Sea, mountains and city congregate for a perfect picture. The entry ticket for the castle also gets you into the lapidarium, where an atmospheric dark tunnel leads to vaults full of Roman statues and mosaics. See castellodisangiustotrieste.it
For proper fairytale castledom, however, the Castello di Miramare fits the bill. On a rocky promontory, surrounded by marvellously primped gardens, it was the home of Archduke Maximilian of Austria, who became Emperor of Mexico. Outside, it's Gothic-goes-Renaissance. Inside, it's borderline absurd. Some rooms are modelled to look like posh ships' cabins, while Max's bedroom is a screamingly camp magenta and gold flamboyance-fest. See castello-miramare.it
If you want subtlety, then the Grand Hotel Duchi d'Aosta is not where you'll find it. But who cares when chests of drawers are marble-topped, rooms come bearing framed portraits of Habsburg monarchs and the pool in the basement is surrounded by a blizzard of mosaic tile art? Doubles cost from ???149. See duchi.eu
James Joyce spent ten years in Trieste, teaching English, writing his first two novels and lounging around in cafes. The Museo Joyce tells the story of the Irish author's spell in the city. See museojoycetrieste.it
David Whitley travelled at his own expense.