Turin is an Italian city like no other and arguably one of the most underrated. It sadly comes pretty far down the list behind other Italian “must see cities” which is a good reason in our book to go there. Yet you’ll find an honesty that is harder to experience in the more popular destinations like Rome, Venice and Florence. If architecture is your thing, there is plenty of it from renaissance, baroque and rococo to neo-classical styles. There is an edgy vibe equally as fitting of Gotham City as it is of fairy tales. Except Batman has a much better tailor in Italy. In order to love Turin the trick is to really live it and not just visit, no matter how much time you have. That’s because its magic doesn’t lie in one or two attractions alone. Its magic lies in the entire spirit of the place.
WHERE TO STAY
You’ll find this boutique hotel in the historic centre of the city in an area with restricted traffic (you know hot the Italians like to test their horns out). It’s behind Piazza Castello and close to Via Roma. All of the most important museums and galleries are within easy walking distance. Think chic but not cheap. And only a hop, skip and a jump from the Shroud of Turin.
Located in the historic centre of the city, this is a great base for getting about town. Not the smartest hotel, but if you are looking for smart – book a flight to Venice. An array of art covers every wall so you can tick off your first gallery without leaving the hotel. The breakfast is good (not amazing) so we recommend going to a local cafe for some real Italian Espresso action.
Boutique B&B at its best. Turin is not filled with the best hotels, so we think this apartment is a much better option. Very good breakfast (homemade cakes and warm bread rolls – bye bye diet), free wifi and in the most perfect position – with views of the city and the alps.
This hotel is housed in a grand 19th Century mansion. It mixes contemporary Italian design but with an edge of 19th Century glamour. The dining room has a rather spectacular colourful stained-glass dome ceiling. It’s in a great location and only a couple of hundred metres away from Porta Nuova station. The rooms are also pretty spacious (for an Italian hotel anyway!)
WHERE TO EAT
As the inventors of the aperitivo, Turin is one city where snacks and cocktails before dinner are essential not optional. Tucked away on Piazzo Vittorio this trendy little bar is a fantastic place to have aperitvo. Keep focused though, with a huge selection of food, it easily turns into dinner. And there are so many more restaurants for you to try…
We believe you shouldn’t judge a bar by it’s front door – unless it’s formica. While there are more cafe’s in Turin than there are traffic lights on the Embankment, Caffe Fiorio is quite the institution. If you didn’t know the history it would be easy to pass it by. Especially as the front room is nothing particularly spectacular. All the magic happens in the back-rooms. Ornate chambers adorned with velvet upholstery will have you purring, with fine gold detailing and chandeliers to add a bit of sparkle. This cafe dates back to 1780 and was frequented by the Who’s Who of Turin. Rumour has it that even the King of Piedmont-Sardinia, before starting his morning audiences, used to enquire what was said at Fiorios.
The fashionable Pastis is kitted out with retro 1950’s décor and also has a gallery that promotes up and coming artists. It’s a Mecca for the young and trendy types, so you should fit right in. Until 8pm it serves aperitivo and then turns into a restaurant offering some lighter meals that are more typically Sicilian cuisine. No website but you can find it here in Piazza Emanuele Filiberto.
WHAT TO DO
Hang out in Piazza Saluzzo, San Salvario
Standing around in a giant square (even a “square” that’s actually a quirky octagonal shape) may not sound like the best evening out ever but by night this historic piazza really comes alive. Italians gather here to talk, drink and enjoy the long summer nights. There are a few bars scattered around the square but once you’ve got your drink do as the Italians do and take it out into the street. During the summer you will often find a classic Italian film projected onto the wall with groups of people sitting around, half watching but still half chatting. Hanging out in Piazza Saluzzo is an example of how the residents of Turin really live their city, and there is an undeniable buzz about the place.
Climb up to Monte dei Cappuccini
For great views of the entire city you don’t need to go far. Monte dei Cappuccini (or Santa Maria del Monte) is a 17th Century church that sits on a hill overlooking the River Po near the bridge of Piazza Vittorio Veneto. The real prize though is the lookout from the paved terrace in front. From the elevated position you see the whole cityscape and the Alps towering in the background. For those wishing to burn off an indulgent gelato, you can hop up the hill. Or drive after a particularly good lunch.
There is a strong culture of cinema in this city as it’s home to the National Museum of Cinema. These are not your regular multiplexes. We’re talking about some of the most romantic cinemas you are likely to go to. Some films are in English and the subtitles are a great way to brush up on your Italian. Cinema Centrale is usually your best bet when seeking an English speaking film, but if you can go to Cinema Romano, it is truly charming!
Take a cruise on the River Po
We don’t as a whole encourage Cruising. But Turin is unique as four rivers flow through it, earning it the rather original nickname: ‘The City of Four Rivers’ (clever darlings). Take a slow cruise (they don’t do fast) down the river. Some boats depart just north of Parco del Valentino on Corso Cairoli. Parco del Valentino is the huge city park and well worth a visit anyway.
Brush up on your Italian, or at the very least learn a few words. Whilst the Italians are always impressed by anyone who makes an effort to speak the language you will find that more true in Turin. As it is less on the tourist trail you will encounter more people whose English is not so hot. And don’t worry my dears, it means for some reason they are overly impressed when English speakers try and murder their beautiful language! Not that there is anything murderous about your Italian.
The best mode of transport is your feet. The standard Roman grid layout of the streets in Turin makes it very easy to navigate. Most of the main attractions and areas are only a maximum 30 minute stroll apart. It’s also a good way to see all the parts of the city you would only stumble upon if you were passing.
Contributors: Traveller Louise Jackson