The Triestine people live for the sun and the sea. With the arrival of the first day of “good sun” (tanning sun) you begin to see the march towards the sea. Like ants to a food source, the procession of ladies and men begins… All to the seaside to work on their tans. They arrive in their down jackets and are soon stripped down to their skivvies..!
Then, when summer really kicks in, towards the end of May, from lunch time until 5pm, you will find the city practically clears out. Many shops closed and you’ll often find a sign in the window with written 2 words, “Al Bagno” — which to the uninformed sounds like a bathroom break (in fact the first time I saw it I thought, TMI!) However, in Trieste it means they’ve closed shop and gone to the seaside.
It is a daily ritual and right. People who work will go early in the morning and then maybe again at lunch. Families will go later in the day and camp out for large chunks of time. Getting to the seaside in Trieste is easy.
For us foreigners, Trieste’s sea is a source of frustration. Its beautiful changing colors, sometimes turquoise and tropical, other times deep blue, beckon you, “come in for a swim”, it seems to say. But while Trieste has several “beach” options, none are actual beaches and access to the sea is not quite what we are used to. Most are concrete or stone perches with rickety metal stairs leading into the water and all are quite crowded.
The most famous “beach club” is La Lanterna also known as El Pedocin, a real icon of the Triestine landscape. They even made a film about it called, “L’Ultima Spiaggia” that was featured at the Cannes Film Festival. It is the only beach establishment in Europe that segregates men and women. The reason for this segregation has never really been explained, but the wall has never fallen and never will — one comes here to take the sun – there is no pretense, no fashion parade. On either side of the wall, men on the right and women on the left, groups swap advice, gossip and news. They play cards, watch each others’ kids and share meals brought from home. The beach itself is made up of large gravel and so you must bring your own chair or quilted mat to lay on. However, unlike at other beach clubs, there is direct access to the sea.
Just down the street from El Pedocin is the Bagno Ausonia, — unnervingly close to the spot where large cargo ships come to unload, it looks a little like a beached oil rig. Many in Trieste think that the Americans built this resort, but really it used to be 2 separate beach clubs — Sant’ Andrea the Military beach club and the old Savoia bathing establishment. The Ausonia is known as the “kids” beach club and so it is quite noisy and chaotic. It is famous for its 3 and 5 meter trampolines that overlook a “swimming pool”, (a rectangular enclosure over the sea) and every year there is a “Wacky Diving” championship called Le Olimpiadi delle Clanfe. There is no beach to talk of here, just stairs leading into the sea.
Another uniquely Triestine seaside ritual plays out in Barcola. Here, the whole length of the waterfront is adorned with “Topolini”. These are 2 level constructions that from above look like the outline of Mickey Mouse’s ears. The bottom level give you access to the “concrete beach” area with showers & bathrooms and stairs or railings leading into the sea. People come by car at 5am just to stake out their postage stamp sized spot and then wait for the rest of the family to show up by bus. The traffic is terrible at all hours of the day during the summer in Barcola with people coming by bicycle, car, motorbikes and even RVs. You will always find people on the side of the road in some phase of undress which oftentimes can be the cause of fender-benders.
Just further up the road, leading towards Miramare Castle there are 2 more beach access areas, one is called il Bivio which is really just a beachfront bar and the other is Il Sticco. Word on the street is that the spot in front of the old CALIFORNIA is particularly enjoyable…Here, the water is very beautiful thanks to its close proximity to the Miramare Marine Reserve. Il Sticco is where the Triestine “glitterati” come to hang out, they even have a “Scoglio dei famosi” a play on the popular TV show “Isola dei Famosi” (Celebrity Survivor).
Further still, just near the tiny port of Grignano, there are 2 beach clubs, commonly called Grignano 1 & 2 also known as Sirene and Riviera. Sirene has 2 pools and is also handicap accessible. Riviera, instead, is part of a hotel/spa/ beach combo open also to non-guests. Both are more quiet than the other resorts and the sea is very clean, beautiful and easily accessible.
Continuing further west up towards Sistiana there are 10 miles of road, clinging to the hard and gray rock of the Carst. Along this road you will find several parked cars, and rugged pathways leading to small inlets. Some are free like Filtri di Aurisina and The Barbary Coast (both of which which I believe a clothing optional) while others are accessible for a fee like Ginestre . While these are very beautiful, they are farther away from the city, not reachable by bus and therefore they are not really part of the Triestine concept of going “Al Bagno”.