PWk: Prod, Tlk: GS2, Datacash: Live
Once home to the Italian royal family and capital of Italy, Turin’s regal elegance and olde-worlde charm is still very much in evidence. Its rich architectural heritage, baroque churches, elegant palazzi and charming piazze overlooked by the dramatic Alps make this one of my favourite northern Italian cities. It is no wonder Agnelli, the founder of Fiat, built his motor car empire here. The city is also known for its world-famous black and white striped football club, Juventus, the mysterious Holy Shroud, being the birthplace of Italian cinema, the excellent chocolate, the gourmet food and the Slow Food movement – this for me is Italy at its best!
With such a rich history, there is lots to do and see whatever your interests. If you enjoy visiting museums and galleries, then you’ve hit the jackpot with Turin. From the motor car museum to the largest Egyptian museum outside of Cairo, there is something for everyone. My favourite is the Museo della Sindone, housed in the crypt of Santo Sudario church. Whether you are a believer or not, this is a fascinating documentation of the Holy Shroud. On a recent visit, I literally did not want to leave and could have easily spent the whole day looking at the evidence of one of history’s most studied (and most baffling) mysteries.
If you want to head out of town for a bit, take the funicular to Mount Superga, not only for the beautiful basilica, but also to admire the stunning mountains and city views. If you want to explore further, why not hire a car and visit Val d’Aosta, with its pretty mountain villages, and soak up the pure fresh air of this scenic Alpine region. Or head to the vineyards around Alba and Asti to sample some of Italy’s best wines.
Turin is a must for chocoholics, with Nutella, the world’s favourite chocolate spread, originating here. Some of Italy’s finest chocolates are produced here, notably Gianduiotti, the wonderfully light, delicate hazelnut chocolates which are the city’s speciality. Turin has some of the most amazing confectionery shops and olde-worlde cafés line the elegant boulevards and grand squares of the city centre. The area around Via Po and Piazza San Carlo boast some of Turin’s most historic cafés, where you can soak up the literary atmosphere the city was famous for – these cafés were once frequented by philosophers, composers and authors. Be sure to try the city’s famous hot drink, bicerin. Made with espresso coffee, chocolate and milk, it makes the perfect mid-morning or afternoon tipple as you sit and watch the world go by.
It is hardly surprising Turin has its fair share of gourmet and Michelin-starred restaurants, being situated in Piedmont, home of the white Alba truffle. For local specialities, try this exclusive fungus with tajarin (a type of pasta) or agnolotti (filled pasta), or with risotto. As a starter, you may want to try bagna cauda (a dip made with garlic, anchovies and cream) served with an array of fresh raw vegetables. As a main, you could opt for bollito misto, a grand dish of different cuts of boiled meats served with root vegetables, with salsa verde (a tangy green sauce made with capers, gherkins & parsley) and freshly made horseradish sauce. Or perhaps a traditional fritto misto, consisting of deep-fried pieces of meat, offal, vegetables. Even fruit and amaretti biscuits are added – it is said you have to include over a dozen different ingredients for the dish to be truly Piedmontese! Look out for dishes with frogs, especially in risotto, as the region is famous for both. For dessert, try classic zabaglione or bonet, a flan-type amaretto pudding, as well as anything with chocolate in it.
And with all this delicious food, good wines are a must, with some of Italy’s best reds (Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera and Nebbiolo) being produced here. For whites, go for Gavi di Gavi, and for sparkling, Asti Spumante.
With all this good food and wine, it is no wonder the Slow Food Society was born in Turin. Founded in the late 1980s in a protest again fast food, its aim was to preserve traditional cooking methods, ensuring what we eat does not harm the earth and is good for us. Turin hosts the largest Slow Food festival every two years. Only artisan producers with an ethical way of production are allowed to exhibit. Known as Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, it should be a must in every foodie’s calendar! It used to be held in an exhibition hall, but since 2016 is being held in various city locations, such as parks, palazzos and theatres. Unfortunately, I missed this last event, but am already planning my visit for 2018.
If you can’t wait that long or don’t make the Slow Food exhibition, then Porta Mercato, one of Europe’s largest food markets, is a must. Open every morning, you will find all sorts of Italian and multi-ethnic produce. The area I particularly like is the one specially reserved for local farmers and artisan producers, where you get the best in seasonal and local produce.
With so much to offer and such a short flight from the UK, Turin should be on everyone’s wish list for a long weekend. It can also easily be combined with pretty Lake Orta or Maggiore for a longer stay holiday, or if you prefer the sea, the stunning Ligurian coast is not far away.