It’s about a girl who finds a forgotten garden that nobody else knows about. It’s a tale full of mystery and adventure, one that I loved and read countless times. I always wanted to discover a place like that, and I was disappointed when I looked around the places I grew up and realized I was unlikely to ever find a hidden spot.
But I finally feel like I’ve found a secret garden!
Not in a corner of my house in Milan, but a four-hour drive away in a town called Trieste near the Slovenian border.
Trieste has a population of about 200,000. Coming from Milan (a city with six times the people), I had only known Trieste as a place that had been one of the four most important port cities of old Italy, but was now just a small city. But once I actually went there, I was treated to a series of fascinating discoveries.
The Piazza Unità d'Italia is surely the most impressive sight in the city.
The plaza is surrounded by several buildings that retain the air of Austrian rule. They’re beautifully lit up at night, which gives them an entirely different charm than they have during the daytime. The remnants of the Austrian empire can still be felt in the traditional cuisine of Trieste, which has an intriguing coffee culture worth discovering as well.
Incidentally, I was told that one of the unique characteristics of the people of the city is that they don’t stay in their homes. Meaning that they’re almost always out and about. This probably has a lot to do with the geography of the area. Trieste is wedged between the sea and the mountains, so there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy within a convenient distance. You could easily walk to the beach for a bit of sunbathing, for example, in five or ten minutes from the office on your lunch break. After five, you could spend a pleasant evening sipping a cocktail at one of the tables set up in the plazas and cooled by the lovely sea breezes, which keep things comfortable even during the hot summer months. Prices aren’t too high here either, so your apéritif could lead right into dinner and enjoying the nightlife. On the weekend you could just head into the mountains behind the town for some outdoor fun.
I’m used to living in Milan, which is flat, so just wandering around the steep inclines of Trieste’s streets had me constantly out of breath. Some of them are so sloped that even driving feels like you’re riding a roller coaster, so having a car doesn’t make things that much easier. Trieste is also home of a fierce wind they call La Bora, which can reach speeds up to 150 kilometers an hour. There are posts and ropes set up throughout the streets that you can use as handholds so you don’t get blown over. It’s yet another interesting feature of this thrilling town.
Another amazing discovery I made was that the traditional practice of separating men’s and women’s beaches continues to this day. The men of Trieste are apparently so fond of drinking that they’ll indulge morning until night, so they undoubtedly want to drink as much as they want without worrying about what their wives might say. The women, on the other hand probably want to enjoy sunbathing without being ogled at by the men. That was my conjecture, in any case, but it turns out to be nearly opposite…
My amazing trip through Trieste continued like this, finally ending up at the secret garden. I was shocked to discover that the locals aren’t even aware that there’s a rose garden boasting some 5,000 varieties of roses (the second most impressive in Europe) right in their town. Even the taxi driver had no idea!
On a hill was a structure that was originally built to house mental patients. It seems that’s the reason that the people of Trieste are hardly aware that the hill even exists. A university has since purchased the entire hill and uses the structure as a research building, but there’s no fence preventing you from entering from the outside, so it’s an area that anyone can enter at any time of day or night. At the top of the hill is the rose garden that nobody seems to know about.
At night there was literally not a single other person there.
If this were Milan, the park, the groves, and the street corners would probably be crawling with addicts and other unsavory characters—creating so many problems that they’d either have to create a curfew or close it off at night—but the secret garden quietly awaits anyone who goes in search of it.
Trieste was a town full of surprises. You’re sure to find some fresh twists if you visit!