From capital of Italy’s first king to World Design Capital, Turin is a city on the move. If you’ve had enough of Venice’s waterways, Rome’s history or Florence’s delights, then head for Turin. Italy’s first capital has all the hallmarks you’d expect of a great Italian city – culture, art, museums, great architecture, shopping and wonderful food.
There’s a freshness about Turin as – over the last decade – the city has been gradually reinventing itself.
It was the World Design Capital in 2008, when 150,000 designers from 50 countries gathered to create innovative designs ranging from fashion to furniture.
The city’s Baroque piazzas glitter with avant-garde decorations and outdoor photography and art exhibitions provide a buzzy atmosphere to its historic piazzas.
Compared to the 19th-century, its quite a different scene. Back then, visitors to Turin rubbed shoulders with dashing dukes and lavishly dressed court ladies of Italy’s royal family.
These days, travellers seeking luxury are more likely to rub shoulders with the city’s high society in the ski resorts of the Italian Alps. Or dine in a Michelin-star restaurant patronised by the kings of the industrial era, the mega-rich dynastic families such as Agnelli (Agnelli), Lavazza (Lavazza) and Ferrero (Ferrero) who produced Fiat cars, coffee and chocolate for the world.
If you love coffee, you’ll be pleased to discover that the northern city is home to the world-renown Lavazza (Lavazza) coffee brand. And Turin also has many talented chocolate makers.
Turin is also the birthplace of vermouth and where Gresini breadsticks were created for a Duke of Savoy.
A new Turin
Once every two years, in October, gourmands will gather to celebrate the Slow Food movement at a mega festival called Salone Internazionale del Gusto.
The 2006 Winter Olympics rejuvenated the city, as factories became designer precincts. And around two million square metres of abandoned industrial areas were reinvented as contemporary public spaces.
The 1920s Fiat Lingotto (Lingotto) factory was transformed (Renzo Piano’s design) into a contemporary multi-functional space with an international convention centre, concert halls, theatres, the Gallery 8 shopping mall and hotel.
Guest rooms at the four-star NH Torino Lingotto hotel still have the original Fiat factory glass walls.
You can fly to the rooftop restaurant, La Pista (La Pista), by helicopter and explore the test track where Michael Caine’s team raced around in Minis in the film The Italian Job.
Even though the city is regenerating at Ferrari speed, there’s no better way to soak in the city’s soul than to stroll around the historic city centre.
What to do in Turin Italy
As I amble beneath kilometres of sheltered porticos admiring the majestic architecture, I’m struck by the grandeur of it all.
When Emmanuel Philibert (Emmanuel Philibert), the Duke of Savoy, moved his capital here 1562, he began building grand architectural palazzos in colossal dimensions that unashamedly ignored space and cost.
The architectural legacy left by the Savoy family is a vast network of historic royal buildings now listed as UNESCO World Heritage.
I start at the main palace, Palazzo Reale (Palazzo Reale), once the official residence of Italy’s kings, and then make my way to the stately Palazzo Madama (Palazzo Madama), where I walk on the glass floor above Roman ruins.
Turin’s Historic Cafes
One of my favourite activities is sipping bicerin, the city’s signature drink of hot coffee, chocolate and cream, while soaking up the majestic mood of Turin’s historic cafes like Caffé San Carlo.
This cafe was once the favourite haunt of writer Alexandre Dumas. Then there’s Caffé Fiorio, where statesmen Cavour (Cavour) and Garibaldi (Garibaldi) plotted the future of Italy.
Decked out in gold and crimson, with ornate marble tops, chandeliers, frescoes and mirrors, these grand cafes were the heart of Turin’s social, political and literary activity.
Museums in Turin
Turin’s museums are a sure indicator of the city’s affluence. The Museo Egizio has the largest treasure trove of Egyptian artefacts in the world outside Cairo. There are halls filled with giant sphinxes, statues of Egyptian kings, mummies and ancient papyrus scrolls.
The towering Mole Antonelliana building is home to Museo Nazionale del Cinema. Turin was the centre of Italy’s film industry until Mussolini moved it to Rome. In keeping with the city’s contemporary design theme, the museum is ultra modern and a true indulgence for cinema fans.
While in Italy head to nearby Switzerland for a lovely mountain experience in the Jungfrau Switzerland.