December 2020: Russian avantegarde; Ligabue and a weekend in Trieste

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Exhibitions in December:

Exhibitions in December:

Divine e Avanguardie: Women in Russian Art.  Palazzo Reale, Milano; from 15 January to 5 April, 2021, www.divineavanguardie.it.  From inspirational muses and icons to heroines and the producers of numerous masterpieces.  This exhibition explores the concept of Russian Art and the fundamental role of women in this country with ninety works being exhibited in Italy for the first time, including masterpieces by Kazimir Malevich, Natalia Goncharova and Alekstandra Ekster.

Ligabue:  Giving Vioce to Nature.  Palazzo Tarasconi, Parma, til 30 May, '21; www.fondazionearchivioligabue.it.  Antonio Ligabue is considered one of the most important Naïve painters of the last century.  His love of nature and style of painting recall Henri Rousseau although he had a turbulent life and only gained recognition shortly before his death.  He spent many years as a vagrant, wandering along the Po River painting.  This exhibition present eighty-three paintings and four sculptures and show his love of nature.

Ottone Rosai:  Masterpieces between the Two Wars.  Palazzo del Podesta, Montevarchi (Arezzo, Tuscany); until 31 January 2021.  Ottone Rosai (1895 – 1957) was a master of landscape painting, who applied the innovations of his age through the lens of 14th century Tuscan art.  All fifty of the paintings in the exhibition come from private collections, including ten that were thought ot have been lost.

Paolo Roversi: Studio Luce.  Al Mar-Museo d’Arte; Ravenna; until 2 May 2021;  www.mar.ra.it.  Paolo Roversi was born in Ravenna in 1947 and has lived for many years in Paris.  This exhibition presents over two hundred images of such legendry divas as Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Monica Belluci as well as portrait of artist/friends including Robert Frank and Peter Lindbergh.

Hidden Italy Weekend: Trieste, where Central Europe meets the Mediterranean.

Hidden Italy Weekend: Trieste, where Central Europe meets the Mediterranean.

Breaking news!  Italy doesn’t finish at Venice!  The area between Venice and the Slovenian border is filled with Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (FVG), one of the most fascinating and pleasant places to explore in the whole of Italy.  It borders with Austria to the north and Slovenia to the east, the point where the three great cultural groups of Europe (Latin, German and Slavic) converge, not always with peaceful results.  With five languages, Alpine mountains, fertile plains and a long stretch of Mediterranean coastline, is a great place to visit.

Trieste, the capital of FVG, is fascinating microcosm of the region.  It is a port of around two hundred thousand people, that was ruled by Austro-Hungarian Empire for over five hundred years.  Trieste has always been a melting pot of Latin, Slavic, Germanic, Greek and Jewish cultures, a place where Central Europe meets the Mediterranean.

A thriving multicultural port that was built on shipping, insurance and commerce, it was the end of the ‘Maritime Silk Trail’ with connections stretching through the Suez Canal and the Middle East to India and the rest of Asia.  It lost its much of its strategic importance in 1918 when it was taken off the defeated Austrians and handed over to Italy but it has regained much of its mojo in recent years when the Cold War ended and the east opened up again.  Trieste remains one of my favourite Italian cities, a great place to spend a weekend, particularly in winter.

How to get there:

By car:  Take the A4 autostrada, that starts in Turin, crosses northern Italy, passing Milan and Venice and finishing at Trieste.  Once at Trieste, take the Lisert exit.  The city centre is another 20 kms along the superstrada.  By train:  Trains run frequently from Venice-Mestre railway station, the journey taking from 1.5 to 2 hours.  By air:  Trieste’s Ronchi dei Legionari airport is 35 kms from the city.  There are regular train and bus connections.

Where to stay:

The Hotel Duchi d’Aosta (Piazza dell’Unita d’Italia).  This elegant and welcoming 5-star hotel, set in an 18th century palazzo overlooking the central square of Trieste in the heart of the city, drips with history.  On ground floor, opening on to the piazza is Harry’s Grill, opened in 1972 by Arrigo Cipriani, where breakfast is served.

Hotel James Joyce (Via dei Cavazzeni).  James Joyce lived in Trieste from 1904 to 1915, writing his masterpiece ‘Ulysses’ here.  This 3-star hotel is on a lane in the heart of the old city, has simple rooms in a building dating from 1770.

Albergo Nascosto (Via Venezian).  The rooms of this residence/hotel are comfortable and convenient, handily located in the centre of the city.

Hotel Continentale (Via San Nicolo).  In times past, this hotel was a popular watering hole for James Joyce and his friend Italo Svevo.  It was completely renovated in 2003 and its restaurant and bar have become a popular meeting place for the citizens of Trieste.

Where to eat:

Ai Fiori (Piazza Hortis).  This charming restaurant offers the freshest seafood in town and has a fine wine list.  It is on a quiet street in the old town just around the corner from the port and has a pleasant outdoor dining area in Piazza Hortis.

Al Bagatto (Via Venezian).  Possibly one of the best restaurants in town, this small family-run place offers dishes such as scampi in a salt crust, a mixed seafood fry-up that is remarkable for its lightness, a local version of sashimi as well as a wide choice of fine local wines and spirits.

Suban (Via Comic).  This is a classic local restaurant, slightly out of the centre, which has its roots deep in the city’s Austro-Hungarian traditions, specialising in meat dishes.

Buffet da Bepi (Via Cassa di Risparmio).  A ‘buffet’ is a sort of traditional fast-food restaurant opened in 1897, with plenty of fried food and bain-maries full of steaming morsels ready to go.  It has rather uncomfortable indoor and outdoor tables that are always full, particularly at midday when it is crowded with office workers.  Great fun and very tasty food.

What to do in Treiste: Friday and Saturday

What to do in Treiste: Friday and Saturday

Friday evening:

Check in to your hotel and then head out for an aperitivo and an early dinner.  If you are staying at the Hotel Duchi d’Aosta, go down to Harry’s Grill.  You can have a light meal at the bistro or really go for it and have a slap-up dinner at Harry’s Piccolo, a two Michelin-starred restaurant within the restaurant.

Saturday morning: explore the city centre and citadel.

The centre of Trieste is the Piazza dell’Unita d’Italia, a vast square surrounded on three sides by handsome neo-classical buildings (including the Town Hall) most built, or remodelled, in the 1800s in Trieste’s mercantile glory day.  The fourth side opens to the sea, the source of the city’s wealth.  The piazza is the best place to start your walking tour of the city.

On the far side is one of Trieste’s great treasures: the Caffe degli Specchi (the Caffe of Mirrors).  Trieste (as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) has had a long relationship with coffee, starting the 1700’s.  This elegant café was founded in 1839 and is one of number of similar historic cafés throughout the city (including the airy Caffe San Marco; Caffe Tomasseo, the oldest and the gorgeous arte-nouveau Caffe Cattaruzza).

After an expresso (café nero in Triestino) head down the lane to the Teatro Verdi (a mini-version of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala) and then walk through the Galleria Tergesteo (a mini version of Milan’s Galleria) and into the Piazza della Borsa, the city’s financial centre.  From here there is a small ‘porta’ between a clothes shop and a pizzeria, known as the Portizza, which, until 1784, was the entrance to the ghetto, the place confinement for the city’s very important Jewish population.  Today the ghetto, what’s left of it, is a very pleasant tangle of small streets filled with shops and restaurants.

Behind the ghetto, at the foot of the hill of St Giusto, is the Roman amphitheatre, excavated in the 1930s by Mussolini who wanted to celebrate the city’s ancient origins.  From here there is a steep climb up through twisting streets to the top of San Giusto hill, the city’s highest and oldest point.  On the way, you pass the imposing Baroque façade of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore built by the Jesuits in the 17th century.  Under the church are the Jesuit Cellars, a creepy network of dark corridors which finish at the Camera Rossa (the Red Room) once seat of the Inquisition, visitable by appointment.

The Cathedral of San Giusto sits at the top of a long, steep paved road, where once the Roman temple to Jupiter and Minerva stood.  It’s a strange amalgamation of two earlier churches that were mashed together in the 13th century.  The top of the neighbouring belltower (built on the remains of the Roman lookout tower) has fabulous views over the city and the port but don’t go up there on the hour (as I did once) as there are five very large bells that make a hell of a racket.

Next to the cathedral, is the castle, an enormous building that has evolved from the original Roman fortification under different rulers: first Venetian rule in the 1300s,then the Habsburgs in the 1500s, the French in the early 1800s and finally the Germans in the 1940s.  It has a very interesting museum and a simple café/restaurant with a fabulous location on the bastions.

Between the castle and the cathedral is a large open space lined with rows of ancient columns, the remains of the Roman Basilica, once a vast 90 metres building.  At the end is a large Fascist monument to the fallen.  Behind this, a long, monumental set of stairs takes you down the other side to the ‘new town’.

In 1728, Trieste was declared a tax-free zone and became the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s principal trading port.  Prosperity and expansion followed.  To accommodate this, Empress Maria Teresa commission a new town, laid on the flat behind the port in a sensible grid fashion.  The ‘Borgo Teresiano’ became the city’s commercial centre.  It is still the commercial centre with offices, upmarket shops and posh homes, a good place to mooch and shop.

The highlights of this area are around the Canale Grande, a long canal that carried ships and goods into the heart of the city.  These days, it’s a buzzy area filled with expensive shops, outdoor bars and restaurants.  Nearby is the stupendously decorated San Spirdione, the main Serbian orthodox church, whose interior is covered in beautiful mosaics and a chandelier donated by the Czar of Russia.  Near to this is San Nicolo, an equally ornate church servicing the Greek community.

A great place for a coffee or a light lunch is the Caffe Stella Polaris (Piazza Sant Antonio) which was opened in 1765.  It has a long history of artists and writers, including James Joyce who lived in the ‘hood and liked to drink here.

Saturday afternoon:  the old town, a bit of culture and a walk along the waterfront.

After lunch in the Borgo Teresiano, return to the main square, Piazza dell’Unita d’Italia, and keep going in the other direction down Via Cavana into the heart of the ‘old town’ of Trieste.  This is a lively area of small lanes, hidden squares, art galleries, restaurants and bars.  Pretty busy during the day, it really comes alive at night.

Apart from the pleasure of wandering around the streets and lanes of the district, the star turn is the Rivotella Museum of Modern Art.  This marvellous palazzo dates from 1858 when it was built for Baron Pasquale Rivotella, who converted it into a museum of modern art in 1872.  In 1963, it was completely renovated by celebrated architect Carlo Scarpa and was only finished in 1993.  Today the museum has six floors and holds over three hundred and fifty paintings and sculptures.  It includes spaces dedicated the historic apartments of the baron, spaces for the permanent collection and spaces for temporary exhibitions.

On the way back into the centre I would suggest a long walk along the waterfront, starting at the Molo Fratelli Bandiera (Fratelli Bandiera Wharf), the eastern end of the port.  At the tip of this is the Lantern, a lighthouse.  If you are visiting in summer, you might consider having a dip in the historic baths next door, which was opened to the public in the late 1800s.  Known colloquially as El Pedocin (or the lice-factory, as the snobby elite named it) is a local institution and is still segregated between the ladies’ baths and the gentlemen’s bath.

Heading back towards Piazza dell’Unita d’Itali, you’ll pass the Museum of the Sea, dedicated to the city’s maritime history.  You will also pass the new Eataly Emporium, a three-story building on the water dedicated to the glories of Italian food.  It includes fresh food markets, a large store selling produce and wine from all over the peninsula as well as a number of restaurants and eateries.

Finally, just past Piazza dell’Unita d’Italia you come to the Molo Audace (Audace Wharf) a narrow finger wharf that that juts nearly two hundred and fifty metres into the harbour and seems to be an extension of the piazza.  It was named after the troop-carrier that brought the first Italian soldiers to occupy the city in 1918.  It is a popular place to stroll after dinner, offering a spectacular view back over the city.

What do to in Trieste on Sunday

What do to in Trieste on Sunday

Miramare Castle: visit a real fairy-book castle

Archduke Ferdinand Maximillian Hapsburg was the younger brother of the Austro-Hungarian emperor, Franz Joseph.  When he was nominated admiral of the imperial navy, he decided to move to Trieste.  He built this castle a the home he shared with his childhood love, Carlotta.

Spectacularly located on the coast, 8 kilometres from Trieste, this beautiful castle is the finest of the house-museums in the city.  It is surrounded by large formal gardens and rises in a splendid position at the end of a peninsula.  With its furniture, paintings, porcelains and ivories, it is a superb example of a 19th century aristocratic residence.  Notices in each room describe the contents.  The huge throne room has an elaborate Gothic-revival ceiling.  The park has fine trees and an Italianate garden.
Unfortunately, Maximillian’s story did not finish well.  He and Carlotta lived at Miramare until 1864, when his brother offered him the position of emperor of Mexico (the Hapsburgs had long tentacles).  In 1867, he was captured and executed by republican rebels.  Carlotta abandoned the castle and returned to Vienna.

There are regular buses to Miramare.  It is an easy eight kilometre walk along the waterfront or you could also ride a bike there (for bike rental, see the details below).

Muggia:  A slice of old Venice in Trieste

One of my favourite excursions in Trieste is to catch the little ferry from the port, across the bay to Muggia, a delightful fishing-village that is almost completely surrounded by Slovenia.  It takes half an hour and tickets can be bought on the ferry.  Muggia was founded by the Venetians in the 12th century, a trading enclave.  It is a very picturesque town, which wraps around a small, closed harbour, a small enclave of La Serenissima in the Slavic world.

Muggia has a very interesting Gothic cathedral and its own castle.  Like Venice, it has its own Carnevale celebrations, which includes costume parades, dances in the square and a food festival.  In the summer you can swim in the bay.  There is also a twelve kilometre loop walk that takes you into Slovenia and back again (details of which can be found at the excellent tourist office in Piazza dell’Unita d’Italia).

Muggia has an excellent seafood restaurant, which some say is the best in the region, called Trattoria Risorta (Riva de Amicis), well worth the ferry ride alone for either lunch of dinner.

Go cycling in the Val Rosandra:

Trieste is surrounded by an area known as the Carso, a rugged limestone plateau that runs all the way to Slovenia.  Leaving from the centre of Trieste, the Girodano Cottur Rail Trail (named after a local cycling hero) goes all the way to the Slovenian border, twenty-one kilometres away (and beyond) following a decommissioned railway line that connected Trieste with Hrpelje in Slovenia.  It was designed for steam trains and so has a very gentle gradient.
The well-marked trail, which has both cycling and walking paths, starts in the suburb of San Giacomo, behind the castle.  It’s a bit busy getting out of the centre but once at the city limits you are quickly emersed in the Val Rosandra Nature Reserve.  On the trail you pass through wild forests, numerous galleries and cross five long viaducts.

The trail finishes at Draga, a tiny village, a kilometre from the Slovenian border, where there is a terrific little hotel/restaurant called the Locanda Mario (www.adrilup.wixsite.com/locanda-mario-2/galleria ) which has an excellent restaurant offering local specialities such as pumpkin gnocchi, roast lamb, game as well as frogs and snails for the more adventurous.  There are a number of simple but comfortable rooms upstairs, all very reasonably priced.  You could lunch here and pedal back in the afternoon or stay the night and head back to Trieste the next morning.  How good would that be?

Bike-sharing Trieste (BiTs) has ten bike stations throughout the city and has one hundred and thirty bikes available (106 regular and 42 electric).  These bikes can be easily hired by downloading the Bicincitta App or go to www.bicincitta.com to register.  This will also enable you to use the same service throughout Italy.

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August 2021: Impressionists, Damin Hirst and a weekend cycling around the heel of Italy

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