With direct flights from the UK, taking around two hours, Turin is a convenient destination for a long weekend. Originally laid out by the Romans, the streets still follow the same grid pattern, and the centre is compact enough to explore on foot.
This was a Royal city, first the capital of the Kingdom of Savoy and then, briefly Italy’s first capital, before becoming an industrial powerhouse in the 20th century. These days the factories are silent and the pedestrianised centre is full of museums, galleries, cafes and restaurants.
Showing the influence of Hapsburg Empire, the city is endowed with ornate historical cafés similar to those in Vienna. Their interiors are a riot of gilded upholstery, chandeliers, wooden panels and long mirrors. Ava Gardener and James Stewart were regulars at the Café Torino and Baratti & Milano is famous for its thick hot chocolate. Café Mulassanoinvented the Tramezzino in 1926, the Italian take on a crustless triangular sandwich and they still serve around 40 varieties at around 4€ each.
Gelateria Pepino was founded in 1884 by an ice cream maker from Naples but the present shop dates from 1929. The grandfather of the present owner, Edoardo Cavagnino, came up with the idea of putting gelato on a stick in 1935 but it was sloppy and difficult to eat. He solved the problem by coating it with chocolate to keep it cool and the first Pinguino or Penguin went on sale in 1939. It originally sold for one Italian Lira, the price of a cinema ticket, and claims to be the world’s first choc ice. Of course it was a tremendous success and they are still making it today in five different flavours.
If you really want to get an idea of the quality of the region’s produce, then you won’t be disappointed at the Porta Palazzo Market, located in Piazza della Repubblica. With over 800 stalls, it’s one of the largest open air markets in Europe and is open Monday to Saturday. There are also three market halls dedicated to fish, meat, cheese and bread and a farmers’ market with around 100 stalls selling fresh produce.
Nearby is the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile with over 200 vehicles from Italy and the rest of the world on display. The museum dates from 1932 but was extensively refurbished in 2011 and is imaginatively laid out on three floors, using sound and light to enhance the experience. It’s a journey through the history of the automobile, from the earliest models to cars of the future. Don’t miss the 1892 Peugeot and a 1980 Ferrari 308. There are also sections dealing with car design and environmental issues.
The elegant 17th century facade of the Palazzo Reale and the splendour of its numerous, richly furnished rooms, reflect luxurious life at court and centuries of history of the House of Savoy. Don’t miss the Armeria Reale, the Royal Armoury, with a long gallery of armoured knights sitting on full sized stuffed horses, including King Carlo Alberto’s favourite animal. Adjoining the Reale is the chapel where the Shroud is kept, but it was closed for repairs when I visited.
The Museo Egizio has the largest collection of Egyptian artefacts outside Cairo. King Charles Emmanuel III started acquiring objects in 1753, but it was King Carlo Felice who established the present museum in its 17th century Palazzo. There are three floors exhibiting over six thousand objects. Highlights include a granite statue of Rameses II and the 3500 year old Ellesija Temple, saved from Nile flooding and moved here in 1966. The Tomb of Kha is the museum’s centrepiece, containing sarcophagi, statues, furniture and food for the afterlife, including salted meat and bowls with remains of tamarind and grapes.
The pagoda-like spire of the Mole Antonelliana stands out on the Turin skyline and it was originally built as synagogue in the 19th century. These days it houses the Museo Nazionale del Cinema with over 7,000 films in the library, a collection of 150,000 posters and various bits of cinema history, including Marilyn Monroe’s bodice. Five floors document the story of the movies and themed exhibitions include Love and Death and Horror and Fantasy, all with film sets, photographs, designs and sketches. Take the glass lift up 87m to the top of the spire for great views of the city, the river and the Alps.
At the end of the metro, in the suburb of Lingotto, is the massive former FIAT factory, now tastefully converted by Italian architect Renzo Piano into a complex of shops, cinemas, restaurants and hotels. There’s also the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, a small gallery housing a selection of pictures from the private collection of Fiat founders, the Agnelli family. You’ll find 25 gems from the likes of Canaletto, Picasso, Dali and Matisse plus temporary exhibitions. From here you can access the rooftop and walk around the 2.5km car test track, made famous as a location for the Italian Job with Michael Caine.
Just across the street, in another disused factory, an extraordinary food hall opened in 2007. Eataly now has branches all over the world and the concept is part supermarket, part farmer’s market and part wine cellar. They offer the best local produce and there’s a whole section devoted to Slow Food. It’s not just a shop as there are also restaurants and cafes serving dishes of the day at reasonable prices.
STAY: Grand Hotel Sitea is in the centre of Turin. Prices for a double room and breakfast start from £129.
The stylish Hotel NH Torino Lingotto Congress in the converted Fiat factory, serves excellent food. Prices are around £120 including breakfast.