Much more than Italy's regal seat, this grand city will fill your days with culinary, architectural, and historical riches.
Grand piazzas and majestic palaces - Turin was built as a Roman colony on the River Po and fashioned 1800 years later as the seat of Italy's royal family, the Savoy. You'll notice their influence in the sheer proportions of Turin's Baroque buildings and piazzas.
Turin's enormous main square, Piazza Castello, is lined with a royal palace, a theatre house and contains a small castle.
Piazza Castello is named such after two central Roman towers dating back to100BC were transformed into a little 'castle' by Marie Jeanne of Savoy who was known as 'Madama Reale'. The Palazzo Madama now hosts an important art museum, Museo Civico d’Arte Antica, and regular shows.
The Savoy family worked on transforming Turin from 1559 into the seat of the Duchy of Savoy, from 1861 to 1865 Turin became the first capital of the Unified Kingdom of Italy. The Savoy were a tumulous family with a history of family disputes and seeming corruption but their desire to turn Turin into a capital of arts and culture paid off; Turin now stands as the Capital of the northern Piedmont region, housing The National Cinema Museum in the city’s iconic building, the Mole Antonelliana, which also happens to be the world’s tallest museum. Savoy Palaces have inscribed part of Turin in the World Heritage List, the city also boasts the second biggest Egyptian Museum in the world, after Cairo.
If you love the Renaissance, much of central Turin was built from the 16th to the 18th Century. It's an eye-popping architecturist's day-dream of Baroque, Rococo, Neo-classical and Art Nouveau just to walk the majestic streets. Switch senses from visual to taste and stop off for gelato or Turin's own little drink, 'il bicerin'. It means little glass in local dialect and was a favorite among Italian and European aristocracy in the 19th century, fashioned from espresso coffee, bitter chocolate and whipped cream. Turin has the highest number of cafés per capita in the world. Its plethora of historically significant cafés on Via Po and on Piazza San Carlo became popular safe havens for revolutionaries, intellectuals and artists such as Nietzsche, Puccini, Rossini and Cavour to gather, sip on coffee blends, eat chocolate and plot historical changes for the unification of Italy from1848 to1870, known as the 'Risorgimento'. Find Art Nouveau decadence in these exquisite establishments: Caffè Fiorio, Al Bicerin and Caffè Mulassano, making sure you order tramezzini from its maker. It was here in 1926 that the 'between course', tramezzo, was christened by Gabriele D'Annunzio as an idea brought back from the United States by the Nebiolos inspired by the club sandwich. Caffè Mulassano's signature tramezzino is truffle and bagna cauda.
Turin sits between the Alps and the Monferrato hills, this majestic city has created world-famous delicacies of which Gianduja has to be mentioned first.
When cocoa was scarce during the Napoleonic Wars, Turin's chocolatiers headed to the hills where hazelnut trees grow in abundance. They created a magical mix which transformed into Nutella, originally named pasta gianduja, and into the little ingot-shaped bars we know as Gianduiotti.
There's a strong flavour of chocolate in Turin, you'll notice it everywhere including in the traditional drink 'bicerin', undoubtedly worth a try.
Bagna Cauda is a cream of anchovies, garlic and olive oil, meant as a dip for raw and cooked vegetables which features throughout the city.
L'aperitivo is a nationwide time of day but here in Turin, it seems to be perfected. Stroll the streets of the Quadrilatero Romano, the old medieval district renewed. Its tiny streets are packed with aperitvo bars and small local artisan shops, you'll be transported to another era stepping onto Piazza Emualel Filiberto, its buzzing heart. Sip on a Negroni, a Spritz or a cool glass of local Piemontese wine.
MoleCola is an Italian Coca-cola whose fame has spread beyond Turin since 2012 when it was originally produced.
Truffles are the main reason we visit Turin, oh, and the museums of course. Our favourite time of the year to visit is late Autumn. The hills are tinged with gold and white truffles are in season! The Tartufo Bianco di Alba is this region's pride and joy. We adore spending time in the city and then exploring the rolling hills in search of agriturismos and restaurants serving, did we mention, truffles? Only a slight obsession here... See our suggestions for where to spend a hazy, truffle-imbued afternoon in true Piemontese style.
Grissini Torinesi are something of a staple on Italian restaurant tables. You'll find them in slim, portioned packages amongst other potential breadsticks and probably have never paid them much thought. But the next time you sit down to dinner, give your bread-stick basket a good going through, these fine, golden grissini pack a thin but crispy punch which, once you start munching, you'll find hard to stop.
Always step into a bread shop when exploring a city or town. It's such a succinct way to delve straight into a local culture. Bread is the simplest, most traditional and basic of foods yet it imbues so much character. Turin's local cuisine features a small, particular type of pizza, baked in a pan, aptly named Pizza al Padellino (pan) or Pizza al Tegamino (small saucepan). You'll find these in pizzerie but also in panifici or paninoteche. When we visited the Egyptian Museum, we knew the queue was infamously long, however, not that long. After hours of waiting with hungry children, we sent off an exploring party for supplies who stumbled upon a tiny paninoteca with a queue that moved much quicker than the museum's. Our successful adventurers came back smiling, with beautiful filled focacce and Turin's authentic pizzette, making the long wait quite tasty and memorable in the end.
The Egyptian Museum, holding the extensive Book of the Dead, is incredible and well worth a visit but, as mentioned before, the queue is as megalithic as the memorabilia. Get there as early as humanly possible and if need be, make the wait worthwhile with the divine panificio El Pan, just around the corner, off Piazza San Carlo.
CioccolaTÒ, a two-week chocolate festival in November, runs with the main Piedmontese chocolate producers and international biggies like Lindt, it fills Piazza San Carlo to the brim.
The Porta Palatina is the original roman entry gate to the ancient city of Julia Augusta Taurinorum, now Turin. See its glory with the remains of a Roman amphitheater nearby for a grounding break from Baroque.
Turin is also home to the Italian automotive industry, with headquarters of Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo. L'ingotto is a stylish piece of reminiscent 1920's architecture with an ingenious architectural plan using its five floors as production stages. Built as a factory for Fiat, raw materials would come in at ground level and the vehicle levelling up until the finished automobile appeared on roof level, where a test track awaited. The stunning 500m long avant-garde building almost fell into ruin but luckily has been saved and updated to house a hotel, shopping mall and many bars with its signature race track a standing icon one can actually visit.
Agriturismo La Luna Nera is in Cortazzone, a small village 60 minutes east of Turin. We stumbled upon this place during a truffle-based wedding party one Sunday afternoon. Ushered upstairs into a grand wood-beamed dining hall while the exuberant wedding continued below us, we were told tartufi bianchi were the theme of the day's lunch. After the indulgence of a 15-course feast stretching over an entire afternoon, we bought a couple of truffles for the ride (of course we did) and went for a walk in the setting Autumn sun before heading back home. Keep an eye on their website for seasonal local ingredient-themed meals and be sure, if you do stop off, to meander the stunning countryside for a real feel of this rural area.
We've never seen it but the Shroud of Turin is clearly quite significant as well as Leonardi da Vinci's alleged self-portrait in the Royal Library of Turin with his revolutionary codex on the flight of birds. There's so much to see in Turin and always more to go back to see, it makes the perfect city break with any extra days spent exploring the surrounding region of Piemonte's beautiful bounty.