CityProfile: Turin, Italy

Dear Friends & Readers,

This week I bring you a City Profile that is really special to me. The author, Assunta Della Morte is a colleague who I met during her trip to New York last year.  She is a Southern girl (as in South of Italy, of course) and so it was friendship at first sight. Assunta is not only a great writer as you can see below, she is also a wonderful photographer… you should see the pictures she took in New York, she makes even the grittiest corners of the Big Apple look magic! When I asked her to write about her favorite city (after NYC, of course) she mentioned Torino and told me she would give the readers of my blog some tips to visit the city as locals. So here is Assunta’s Torino….

SP: First off let’s introduce Assunta to my readers.

ADM: My name is Assunta and I was born in Naples. For working reasons in the last 10 years I have lived in Milan. It is a temporary situation because I dream of moving to New York. I have a modern conception of life and relationships. My  mind is always active and always busy, even if it’s only to make castles in the air. My style is based on a personal instinct, an extraordinary sensitivity that allows me to identify myself emotionally in others. If there was a category, I would like to define myself an investigator of the “human soul”. I am passionate about love, friendship, poetry, but at the same time defending the law and democracy. I like playing the piano and reading. I love art, music, the beauty of nature and the trips that offer a vent for my adventurous and enterprising nature. The family is important to me and I love Alice, my niece, as for me she is a real miracle.

SP: we should also tell them how we met, right?

ADM: I met Serena at work, during a trip to New York and I liked her at first sight. I had the impression of seeing her as a part of me. Serena  and I  are talkative and curious; we have an exceptional memory and we are very persistent in  everything is interesting for us; we are open to innovations and changes. We enjoy cooking, reading, shopping and traveling. Serena is an inexhaustible source of stimulation and inspiration for me. Just a shame that New York is not around the corner. Currently, I live in Milan so she should visit  (or tell her boss to send her over)more often.

SPWhy you are a specialist about Turin?

ADM: Turin is the city where I would live if  I did not want to move to New York. I lived in Turin for one year in 1998, but in the last 14 years I  have gone back whenever I can . Turin is a city of first times: my first time away from home, my first job, my first love… Turin is a lively, active and vibrant city. Known as ‘Torino’ in Italian, Turin rests beside a scenic stretch of the river Po in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. Although it is the birthplace and centre of Italian industry, mostly closely associated with giants such as FIAT, it is nevertheless a graceful city of wide boulevards, elegant arcades and grand public buildings. It’s Italy’s fourth-largest city and has an illustrious past, resulting in elegant squares, world-class museums and historic cafés, flanked by some 18km of colonnaded walkways. In recent years it has been transformed from an industrial city to cradle of culture and tourism. When I am in Turin, I go to the discovery of its streets, squares, cafes and historical monuments: just after sunset, the city is embraced by a soft light coming from the lamps, creating a muffled atmosphere and unique setting. The charm of Turin, extraordinary testimony of a “real past”, reveals  itself walking around the city. Near unforgettable monuments, masterpieces by great architects, I discover the new exhibition spaces, new forms of artistic and cultural needs of a contemporary Turin. The city of Turin is a unique heritage of history, museums, traditions and modernity.

SPWhere should you stay while visiting Turin?

ADM: There are many options depending on the budget but I selected few that are conveniently located and I like the most.

  • Holiday Inn Turin City Centre  is located in Turin’s Porta Nuova Station neighborhood, close to Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Egyptian Museum, and Galleria Sabauda. Nearby points of interest also include Valentino Castle and Valentino Park.
  • Town House 70 is situated in Turin’s historic centre, behind Piazza Castello and close to Via Roma.
  • Hotel Victoria is located in the cultural and commercial heart of Turin, within easy walking distance from theatres and museums, shops and restaurants. More than a hotel this meublè is reminiscent of a private home, warm and cozy, with a fireplace. It has a small garden and a wellness center with a large indoor pool.

SP: and now my favorite part: where to eat in Turin?

ADM: Piedmontese cousine is great and you would have a great time in Turin. Here are my favorite places

  • Tre Galline, an informal restaurant where you often see politicians and journalists eating lunch. It’s still going strong after nearly 450 years and is the spot for traditional Piedmontese fare – delectable truffle dishes, or bollito misto, a meaty boil-up with various sauces. Try the vitello tonnato, a multi-layered dish of veal topped with capers and tuna in home-made mayonnaise. The bue brasato (braised ox) is marinaded in red wine and herbs for several days before being roasted, producing a delicious sauce. In winter, it offers a rich primo piatto of ravioli stuffed with black truffle paste. In season, white truffles, a precious and rare produce of the Piedmont region, are shaved onto undressed pasta and weighed to determine how much to charge.
  • Vineria Tre Galli is an offshoot of Tre Galline that attracts a hipper crowd with such new-wave dishes as octopus with stewed spring onions. This upmarket vineria is the place to try wines from all over Italy accompanied by excellent food. Try the bagna cauda, a thick garlic, milk and anchovy dip served with raw vegetables and toasted focaccia.
  • Arcadia, in Piazza Castello near the Subalpina Gallery is an elegant and sophisticated restaurant, made of marble and columns. You can eat excellent Italian and Piedmont cuisine. Since 1995 also offers a wide range of high quality sushi.
  • Eataly, a selection of in-house restaurants which sells delicacies from all over Italy. You may know the NYC incarnation of this establishment, so why not try the original?
  • Finally, L’Arte Del Pane in via Po 25, a traditional family bakery with the best fresh grissini, and trust me you have never had something so crunchy and delicious!

ADM: Turin has the most deep-rooted café culture of any Italian city. If you are looking for the “Cafe’ Society” experience, much like Paris, here are some suggestions:

  • Baratti & Milano. The delights of this belle-époque bar begin outside, in themed confectionery-filled window displays that are veritable works of art. Inside, there’s hardly a square inch which isn’t filled with Baratti & Milano’s signature pastries and chocolates. Very good are the bignoli, glazed pastry cases filled with flavoured cream, or the gianduiotto, soft wedges of chocolate and hazelnut paste.
  • Caffe al Bicerin. Filled with boiserie panelling, this café opposite the church of La Consolata has changed little since a major makeover in the early-19th century. When it first opened the café was patronised by politicians, philosophers and writers – Alexandre Dumas and Friedrich Nietzsche liked to pen their works here. Nowadays, the crowd is less elite but no less committed to this café’s trademark bicerin, a steaming coffee, chocolate and cream concoction guaranteed to stave off the Piedmontese chills. Behind the marble-topped counter, glass jars hold jordan almonds in beautiful pastel colours.
  • Caffe Fiorio. In business since 1780, it had been the political heart of pre-Unification Piedmont, the place where the liberal movers and shakers met, drank and decided the fate of the nation. Fiorio’s cone with gianduia ice cream and whipped cream is superb; but all the gelato is good. The recipes are secret, but the owner will reveal that all the eggs he uses are free-range, all the fruit is squeezed on the premises, and that he still uses a 30-year-oldCarpigiani Cattabriga gelatiera, the Ferrari of ice-cream machines.
  • Pepino. When Mister Pepino came up with the idea in 1937, it must have seemed revolutionary: an ice cream on a stick that could be eaten on one’s evening walk. The ice lolly’s original Italian name was gelato da passeggio, or ‘strolling ice cream’, but Pepino dubbed his creation il pinguino (the penguin), and it can still be purchased in the elegant bar that bears his name, on piazza Carignano. Vanilla, hazelnut and chocolate are the classic flavours; violet and lemon sorbets are among the more exotic variations.

SPWhat to See and Do in Turin?

ADM: The must-do in Turin is to immerse oneself in the city’s architectural masterpieces and the daily life of the inhabitants of Turin.

You might want to visit and stay awhile at the Piazza Castello and Palazzo Reale, the center of the city.  Grand architectural works also encircle the piazza to which tourists can easily walk. One of them is the Palazzo Madama, which boasts of beautiful Baroque architecture, including a very grand and sweeping staircase. The Piazza Castello is built right at the center of the city and is the converging point of three boulevards, Via Roma, Via Garibaldi and Via Po. It was once the headquarters of the mighty Savoy dukes and was ordered built sometime in the 16th century by Carlo Emmanuele I.

Right smack in the center of Piazza Castello is the grand Palazzo Madama, which has a Roman gate, a castle that was built in the mediaval era with an interesting Baroque façade. Teatro Regio, Royal Library, Armeria Reale and the Palazzo Reale surround the Madama.

Mole Antonelliana, named after Alessandro Antonelli, the architect who designed the building was erected in 1863 to serve as a Jewish synagogue, although it was never used as such. Disagreements between the Jewish community and the architect and lack of funds due to revisions in the design prompted the community to abandon the project. It took 26 years to complete the massive building, which, together with its spire, stands at 167 meters tall. It is a very imposing building that lords over the Turin skyline. Today the Mole has been converted into a national museum for Italy’s cinema. With its great height, the Mole Antonelliana holds the distinction of being the world’s tallest museum. If you are not afraid of heights, take the 29-second elevator ride up to the viewing platform 85 meters above ground. From there you will be able to have a 360-degree view of the city, including the Alps.

Piazza San Carlo, also known as the “drawing room of Turin,” a charming Baroque square with the two churches of San Carlo and Santa Christina, plus a museum, is also worth visiting. The square was once a market where wheat and rice were sold. Today it is a sprawling square with historical edifices as well as modern cafés, pubs, restaurants and shops. The square is hailed as one of the most elegant and beautiful in Italy as it was built with harmonious proportions and had been laid out perfectly. At the center of the square is a bronze statue of Emmanuel Filbert riding a horse and in the act of putting back his sword into a scabbard.

The Shroud of Turin has a separate Baroque-style chapel called the “Sindone Chapel”, sometimes called the Guarini Chapel, after its architect, Guarino Guarini or by its Italian name, Cappella della Sacra Sindone.

Another church, the Basilica of Superga is also quite magnificent and is where many Savoy family members were interred.  From its steps travelers will reach a deep ortico before they can enter the inner sanctum of the basilica. This imposing structure has an impressive, high-tamboured dome as well as symmetrical belfries standing on each side of the church. This is also where the entire Torino FC team’s plane crashed in 1949, leading to the loss of thirty-one fine football players. The basilica is located at the edge of the city on top of a hill.

You can also view parts of Egyptian culture by visiting the Egyptian Museum or Museo Egizio in Italian. Located at the Piazza Castello, the large building has an impressive collection of great Egyptian artifacts and shows the history and culture of ancient Egypt from its prehistoric origins to the time when Egyptians switched from paganism to Coptic Orthodox Christianity. The large collection is second to the number of antiquities from Egypt that is owned by the Cairo Museum.

Meanwhile, walking around Il Quadrilatero is a great way to get happily lost in the city, this area is a maze of backstreets and one can find splendid churches and sprawling markets here.

ADM: I also have some seasonal suggestions for the readers so they can travel like locals any time of the year!

  • Christmas Lights: At the beginning of November every year, Turin’s Christmas lights go on. But these are not your common or garden snowflake-and-Santa illuminations. They are part of Luci d’artista, an initiative launched in 1997 by the city council to extend Turin’s growing role as a collector and promoter of contemporary art into the ephemeral sphere of winter illuminations. Each year, one or two new artists (most recently Jenny Holzer and Jan Vercruysse) are asked to come up with an installation in the medium of electric light; there are now more than 20 of these. Some, like Rebecca Horn’s eerie blue haloes circling the hilltop Cappuccini church on the east bank of the Po, are site-specific; others move location from year to year.
  • Gam (Galleria Civica D’arte Moderna E Contemporanea). Houses an impressive collection of 19th and 20th century art, with over 15,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, installations and photographs, in addition to a large collection of drawings and engravings. The collections mainly document Italian art, in addition to pieces by Andy Warhol and Antony Gormley.
  • The Parco del Valentino.  It is Turin’s Hyde Park or Central Park. Its centrepiece, the handsome Castello del Valentino, a 16th-century Savoy residence, is off limits to visitors because it now houses the Architecture Faculty of the Politecnico di Torino. But there are plenty of other corners of this riverside park (Po) that are worth exploring, from the Orto Botanico, founded by Vittorio Amedeo II in 1729 as a garden of medicinal herbs, to the Giardino Roccioso, a green declivity which in 1961 was turned into an Alpine-style area of rocky rills spanned by little wooden bridges. The park’s highlight, if only for its curiosity value, is the bizarre Borgo Medievale. This is a life-size reconstruction of a rural Piedmontese village from the 15th century, complete with drawbridges and crenellated towers.
  • Il Lingotto (Fiat Factory).  Built in 1920, the enormous Fiat (Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino) factory is a modernist masterpiece. The building itself was designed as a machine, the cars would be pushed upwards floor-by-floor during each stage of assembly, until the finished models arrived on the roof for a test drive. Fiat was owned by the late Gianni Agnelli, seen as the most powerful man in Italy. Il Lingotto has now been remodelled by the architect Renzo Piano into a hotel and leisure complex, with a rooftop restaurant, La Pista
  • The Pinacoteca Giovanni E Marella AgnelliThe Fiat Factory now houses this art collection, showcasing the Angelli family’s works of art collection. There are only 18 pieces on display, but they include masterpieces by Canaletto, Renoir, Gauguin, Picasso, Matisse and appropriately, Italian futurist Gino Severini, who like the Agnellis, loved machines.
  • Museo Nazionale dell’automobileAfter a recent revamp, this museum houses a fascinating collection of cars, from a steam-driven landau to zooty modern racers, often displayed as part of art installations.
  • Reggia di Venaria RealeThe Palace of Venaria is a former royal residence located in Venaria Reale, near Turin, in Piedmont, northern Italy. It is one of the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy, included in theUNESCO Heritage List in 1997, and one of the largest royal residences in the world, comparable in size and structures to those of Versailles andCaserta (though the latter’s park is far larger). The name itself derives fromLatin, Venatio Regia meaning “Royal Hunt”.

SP: After all this sightseeing I am ready for some shopping and you are quite an expert on this topic. So what should I buy in Turin? 

ADM: Chocolate of course! Ask most Italians what they associate with Turin, and after getting Fiat, Juventus and the Mole Antonelliana out of the way, they will almost certainly plump for gianduia. This chocolate-and-hazelnut paste has achieved international commercial outreach in the form of Nutella, a brand owned and marketed by Piedmontese food company Ferrero. But it is at its most exquisitely more-ish in the solid, wedge-shaped gianduiotti handmade by a number of the city’s top chocolatiers. A good place to start the search for the perfect gianduiotto is Confetteria Stratta, a historic confectioner in the city centre and a chocolate box in itself. It also does great pralines and candied fruit creations. Another ultra-traditional temple of chocolate is Peyrano, worth a visit on Sunday morning just to see Turin’s upper crust stocking up on beautifully wrapped packages to take along to that important lunch party. Among Peyrano’s specialities are alpine, cuplets of gianduia filled with a liqueur made to a secret recipe. These are my favorite purveyors:

  • Confetteria Stratta: Piazza San Carlo 191 (+39 011 547920)
  • Peyrano: Corso Vittorio Emanuele II 76 (+39 011 538765,www.peyrano.com)

ADM: If you are looking for non perishable presents then I suggest a stroll in Via Roma where the most important fashion stores are.  Otherwise you should visitThe Gran Balon Market. One of Italy’s great antique and bric-a-brac markets, the Gran Balôn takes place on the morning of the second Sunday of every month in a warren of streets around via Borgo Dora, north of Porta Palazzo. More than 200 dealers pitch their stalls here; some even make the journey from France. Come early, around 8am, for the cream of the crop. The same streets host the Balôn flea market every Saturday – a less exalted but equally enjoyable version of the Gran Balôn. Via Borgo Dora also has a good scatter of permanent antique shops.

Have fun in Torino!