Lucy Serlenga introduces us to the veritable charms of Turin.
What are the first images conjured up when you think of Italy? A chic gondola sailing through the Venetian lagoons or maybe Rome’s grand Colosseum soaked in all its historical beauty. I would hazard a guess that it would be unlikely and rare for a traveller and lover of Italian culture to think of Italy, and instantly think of what was the first Italian capital in 1861; Turin. Easily forgotten behind the big cities like Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan, Turin is a city very much underestimated in every sense of the word. It is a city-breaker’s playground, a city immersed in history, art, and architectural beauty.
Image The Piazza Vittorio Veneto, with the distinctive spire of the Mole Antonelliana to the right. This “Mole” (meaning a building of monumental proportions), from 1889, was built to be a synagogue but became a museum instead and is now the National Cinema Museum. The Alps rise in the distance. Turin 1984 Nathan Hughes Hamilton via Flickr
Turin is based in the northwest of the country in the region of Piedmont (literally translated as ‘foot of the mountain’, being located, you guessed it, at the foot of the mountains). Despite also being known for its industrial factories, Turin, unlike Milan, is pleasantly filled with fresh mountainous air and is draped at every corner with fantastic views of the gigantic Alps.
Image River Po. Frédérique Voisin-Demery via Flickr
Do an internet search on this city, and you’ll be bombarded with one of Turin’s most recognised landmarks; the unusually shaped pyramidal building found in the city centre. Originally intended to be built as a synagogue in the 19th century, the architectural symbol is known as La Mole Antonelliana (Via Montebello, 20). It now houses the famous National Cinema Museum, and gives tourists and locals alike the chance to take the panoramic lift – a lift which takes you on a trip up the little temple to expose a breath-taking 360 degree view of the city – a sight worth seeing.
Although the views are equally spectacular during the winter time, on the run-up to summer Turin outdoes itself in terms of beauty and serenity. Taking a stroll through the Parco del Valentino is more than just an afternoon walk. Walking alongside the river Po, enjoying an ice-cream as buskers fill the air with uplifting music, is enough to take the stress and anxiety away from the everyday obstacles we face at home. On a warm and hazy day, laying on the grass with only a book and the Po to keep you company, lost in a sublime tranquility only interrupted by greeting occasional rowers with a wave and a smile as they glide past on the river is almost therapeutic. The beauty is that spending an afternoon here does no damage whatsoever to your wallet, and eventually you will find yourself at Piazza Vittorio, where the magnificent Chiesa della Gran Madre di Dio sits, a Neoclassic-style church, which illuminates this part of the city from day until night. (visit: http://www.visitatorino.com/gran_madre.htm for more information).
Image Piazza San Carlo. Nicola via Flickr
A city break wouldn’t be a city break without a spot of shopping, and who says you need to spend a weekend in Paris or Milan to find style and sophistication? Turin’s city centre is scattered with classy shops. Via Roma, which can be easily found opposite Porta Nuova station, is the first obvious choice to go and spend an afternoon window shopping. Now taking over the title of the street best known for good taste and designer names in the city centre is Via Lagrange. Whichever you prefer, however, both streets eventually lead you to Piazza Castello. Throughout the day up until the evening Piazza Castello and Piazza San Carlo are often ignited with live music and various ‘spettacoli’ or ‘shows’. You can enjoy the entertainment while seated outdoors in the square enjoying a classic Torinese drink, Bicerin, a delicious blend of coffee, chocolate and cream, a must-try!
Many students from around Italy and Europe transfer to Turin to study at the grand Politecnico University, and that’s why you’ll find the city alive and utterly awake up until the early hours at the weekend. Fuss-free, you can spend the evening in quirky bars like Barz8, (pronounced ‘barzotto’, Corso Moncalieri), which make a drink suited to you. You only have to request for ‘something with…’ and your favourite type of fruit, and the bartender will create a unique mix of alcohol and your desired fruit, delicious but different every time.
Image white truffles. Wikipedia Creative Commons
If drinking cocktails late into the night isn’t your thing, you can always go to one of the many relaxed bars found in the city which serve aperitivo, or aperi-cena. From €7, you can order a drink of your choice and help yourself to the selection of fresh food, and even go back for seconds. You may even want to experiment and try a once in a lifetime Piemontese speciality, tartufi, or truffles, if you happen to visit in the autumn. Dogs that are specially trained to detect the scent in the soil of the Piemontese forests, a delicious delicacy not to be overlooked, hunt these precious underground fungi during the night under the full-moon. Alba is famous in the Piedmont Region for its white truffles, tartufi bianchi, which are said to be the best in Italy and grow in the clay soil that is particular to this region. Every year in Piedmont they have a truffle festival in Alba.
Whatever your intention; be it a romantic getaway, a shopping-weekend or a touristic trip into history and architecture, Turin can proudly assure you that it has it all.
More to see…
The Shroud of Turin – Although the original cloth which bears the image of a crucified man (thought to be Jesus of Nazareth) will be revealed in 2015, you can see a replica in the Museo della Sindone (Via San Domenico, 28) all year round. (visit: www.shroud.com)
Basilica di Superga – a 16 minute ride will take you to the stunning architectural Basilica, which in 1949 was tragically hit by a plane full of all 31 players of the Grande Torino football club. The Basilica’s crypts contain a great mausoleum with the tombs of the Savoy rulers. The views from here are breathtaking. (visit: www.basilicadisuperga.com for more information).
Museo Egizio – Aside from the Cairo Museum, Museo Egizio in Turin is the only other museum which dedicates itself solely to Egyptian art and culture. There are over six and a half thousand objects on display for you to see in the museum, and another staggering 26,000 objects in storage used for research purposes. (Via Accademia delle Scienze, 6).
Juventus Stadium Tour – From April 2014, the stadium is open for you to examine the club’s victories and history at the Juventus Museum, as well as having the chance to have a have a behind-the-scenes look at the stadium’s most exclusive areas. (Via Druento 153/42).