Florence, Venice and Milan all have their undeniable attractions but for me Turin or Torino is the Italian city that steals my heart.
Torino is beautiful, with a very unique character. One of Europe's great cities and the city to visit if you want to discover an Italian city unchanged by tourism.
The city's setting is breathtaking!
Lying in a valley, surrounded by an alpine backdrop and world famous ski resorts; Turin is overlooked by a hill that is as beautiful as anything in Tuscany.
Adding to the charm are the numerous rivers flowing through the city including the mighty Po.
Torino was the first capital of Italy and was the home of the Savoy kings.
Retained is a regal character with wide squares, arcaded avenues (so royalty could walk without getting wet!) and of course the palaces, Palazzo Reale, Palazzo Madama, Reggia di Venaria (the best of them all) and Stupinigi.
Palaces here are an equal to anything that Versailles and Paris can offer and are now UNESCO World Heritage sites. Visit all of them, I still visit regularly and I am still making new discoveries.
Turin's Shroud, housed in the Duomo next door to Palazzo Reale, is a must on any Turin tour but only if you are lucky enough to visit during one of the periods when the shroud is open to the public.
You'll want to get the most out of your time in Turin so you'll need a hotel in the right area. There are two hotels in Torino that I always recommend to friends and family. They both offer good quality accommodation in the right part of the city.
The next best Turin hotel is the Principi di Piemonte - a great location right in the heart of the city and large well furnished rooms make this a very good second choice... if you can't get into the Grand Hotel Sitea.
Turin has one of the richest selections of museums and art galleries to be found in any Italian city. The range is huge and for a more complete guide visit my Turin Museums section.
Some of the most famous are the Egyptian Museum of Piedmont, the Biblioteca Reale with one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous works, the Modern Art Galleria d'arte Moderna, the Automotive Museum and the Cinema Museum in the Mole Antonelliana (Turin's Eiffel Tower).
Pretty obscure, but worth a visit, are the puppet and fruit museums.
Get yourself the Torino card. It's the perfect way to tour the city. You'll get free entrance to many museums, castles, exhibitions etc. and discount travel on the train up to Superga as well as for the panoramic lift up to the top of the Mole Antonelliana.
Recommended is the Torino Tram Restaurant. This is a beautifully restored tram that is now a restaurant. It takes you on an evening tour of the city while you get to enjoy a five course meal, great wines and listen to live jazz - definitely the refined way to see the city.
The best way to really get to know the city though is to tour Turin on foot. Two of my favorite walking tours are the
Torino's Parks (view article) are excellent too. I have spent some of my happiest moments with my family picnicking, strolling the leafy lanes and enjoying the crowds and laughter of children at many of the parks. They include the largest urban park in all of Italy.
Don’t miss the breathtaking Basilica of Superga - built in 1706 to celebrate the victory of
Duke Amedeo of Savoy over the French. It is definitely one of Italy's greatest Cathedrals.
I ALWAYS take
visitors up here and the view is magnificent – one of the best in Europe.
You really can see for ever – the whole of Torino stretches out below
you and snow covered Alpine peaks rise up in the
The Basilica is also a shrine to soccer fans as one of Italy's greatest sports teams of all time (Torino FC) was wiped out here in a plane crash in 1949.
To get here either drive or take the little old train (built in 1884) up from Turin . The 3km trip winds through the dense vegetation of the hill and offers panoramic views of the city falling away below.
Another great thing to do, if you don’t mind rustic accommodation, is to spend a night with the Friars, these Friars look after St Mary of Superga and it is a moving experience to spend the night with them. They are very happy to offer hospitality to pilgrims. For more luxurious options check out Turin's hotels here.
In my younger days a trip up to Superga at the end of a romantic evening was great. However, more popular for romantic couples is the Colle della Maddalena. This is the other main peak above Torino offering equally as great views but also a night club/bar and restaurant.
From designer boutiques to quaint shops that have been around for centuries, Turin offers the dedicated shopper a paradise. In some ways it is even better than shopping in Rome or Milan as prices are often lower.
Many of the best places to shop, including Via Roma and the outdoor markets, are mentioned in my wife's Turin Shopping Guide. It's a must read before you visit.
Now the best part of all – the food. This is undoubtedly the city with the best food in the entire world, the best coffee, the best chocolates and some of the best wine.
This is an unbiased opinion from someone who is not originally from Torino and from someone who has been to all the great cities of Europe... me!
Forget about anywhere else Torino is the place to come to eat. It is impossible to eat better – have a look at some of the recipes in my Piedmont cooking section.
From Wine to Piedmont Truffles or from Chocolate to Bicerin ( a Bicerin consists of three decadent layers of melted chocolate, coffee and steamed milk), a week is not enough.
Torino is also the birthplace of Lavazza coffee, Vermouth, grissini bread sticks and the Slowfood movement.
Torino chocolate is so good that it deserves a separate section and my guide to Torino's chocolate heaven is a must read.
Don’t miss enjoying an aperitivo - a Torino tradition. This is an art that the Torinese have perfected and seeing they invented Vermouth it is not surprising. The best place to try the classic aperitivo of the Turin tradition is at one of these cafes.
Follow the aperitif with dinner at one or other of Torino's historical and traditional restaurants. The best, in my view, is Del Cambio but it is expensive. The San Giorgio restaurant in the ancient medieval castle built in 1884 for an exhibition or sume such thing is also good. The best is to spend most of your time in the more “real” restaurants I recommend nearer the bottom of this page:
Ristorante Del Cambio piazza Carignano, 2
One of the best in town. It has been around for over 250 years so has definitely stood the test of time – a favourite of Cavour but it is expensive and you need to book.
San Giorgio (behind the Borgo Medioevale) This is definitely worth a visit – set in a medieval castle built in 1884. The castle was built for an exhibition and was kept afterwards. It is a faithful reproduction of an actual castle – with strolling minstrels and little artisan shops within its walls. The restaurant creates a great medieval atmosphere and serves good traditional Piemont cooking.
Taverna dell’Oca via dei Mille, 24 tel 011 837547011 837547
Reasonably priced and a great place to try ancient recipes from all of Piedmont
Imbarco del Re “da Perosino” viale Virgilio, 53 tel 011 657362011 657362
Great views of the Po and great traditional cooking.
Some must try dishes are the Bagna Caoda - made from olive oil, garlic, and anchovies. A great first course and typically of Piedmont are Agnolotti, similar to ravioli and filled with meat, cheese and spinach –served with a roast meat sauce this is absolutely fantastic.
Another classic dish to try is the Bollito Misto – it needs to be eaten and can’t really be described - beyond saying that it is legendary in Piedmont. Wash it all down with a bottle of Piedmont Barolo, a great red wine and perhaps Italy’s best wine. End off with Panna Cotta or Zabajone. A great sample menu of Piedmont is this menu and more traditional Piedmont recipes can be found under my Piedmont recipes section .
The restaurants I mentioned above are all pretty well known and in some guidebooks. Now I am going to let you into a secret – please don’t tell the locals I told you!!
These are my absolute best, entirely authentic great restaurants. None are expensive but I can guarantee you that you will eat well.
See you soon in Turin!
For information on flights to Torino click here.
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