Earlier this year, Turin kinda stole my heart. I’d grown up hearing about the industrial north and Piemonte which conjured only images of grey, dull and boring. Then I got there and every single myth was dispelled.
The first capital of Italy, Torino was once ruled by the French and influences can be seen throughout. From the wide boulevards and ornate buildings and architecture through to the cafe culture that forms a part of the Torinese psyche; here you don’t take your coffee in a hurried mess at the bar like in Rome. In Torino, you sit and sip, while perhaps even reading the daily newspaper. The city sits within a region that actually doesn’t even know food and wine that aren’t quality. In fact Piemonte produces the largest number of DOC and DOCG certified wine in all of Italy and exports to the world. From Barolo to Barbaresco, Dolcetto to Moscato d’Asti. This was the region where the Italian Slow Food Movement was born and where the DOC White Truffle of Alba hides. It’s a region that oozes style, class and quality and if you’re lucky enough to visit Turin, here are my 10 must do’s!
1) Turin Epicurean Capital
Try to organise your trip around the premiere culinary event, Turin Epicurean Capital. The annual event organised by talented gourmand, Lucia Hannau, is a 3 day series of roundtables and food events geared to promoting the city as one the world’s culinary capitals. I was honoured to have facilitated one of the roundtables this year and thanks to Lucia was able experience Turin in a whole new way.
2) Experience the cafè culture
Do as the locals and enjoy a long leisurely coffee at a cafe. The cafes in Turin are like no other – many of them (some of the famous ones are Caffè Torino, Caffè al Bicerin, Caffè San Carlo and Baratti & Milano) – are adorned with chandeliers, shiny wooden touches, high ceilings and come complete with wait staff in tux and white gloves. They are classy and sophisticated and usually have light meals, desserts and chocolate on the menu.
3) Palazzo Madama
This was the first seat and senate of the Italian kingdom. Palace turned museum space, it features a cafe like no other with floor to ceiling windows that look out on to Piazza Castello and a rooftop viewing area with stunning views of the historical centre. The interior of Palazzo Madama is simply stunning, ornate gold and regal. It’s one of my favourite spaces in Turin and with Turin Epicurean I got to see a dining exhibition featuring cutlery, crystal and porcelain. 4) Eat Gianduiotti (plural!)
You can’t leave Turin without eating gianduiotti. These bite-size, upside down boat shaped hazelnut chocolate pralines are my weakness. The Baratti & Milano brand is first class and one of the most famous, but they can be found all over the city. I bought ‘some’, plus a spreadable version (oh even though Nutella originates from and is produced in Piemonte, the Piemontese snub their nose at it and eat this instead) which has actually changed my life.
4) Enjoy a stay in an elegant hotel
The Best Western (Plus) Hotel Genova is perfectly located literally across the street from the Porta Nuova station (Turin’s central station). It breathes olde world and you enter through a series of porticoes. Featuring elegantly appointed rooms, free wifi and a substantial breakfast, this is my new favourite in Turin. 5) Explore the Museums
Turin truly is one of Italy’s art cities. This time round I was treated to a world spices exhibition at the Museum of Oriental Art and the last time I was in town I explored the statues, sculptures and artefacts at the new Egyptian Museum which features the largest collection of Egyptian art outside of Egypt. Art lovers will revel in the cultural and art opportunities in Turin. 6) Eat – lots
Eating well here is the privilege of many. The Torinese are quite spoilt when it come to food. Think Enotecas (wine bars) serving up prime charcuterie and cheeses and boasting wine lists that read like an awards count and restaurants that showcase the very best of local produce and the regions’ culinary prowess. For a light lunch or aperitivo head to Cantina Torino or Banco Vini e Alimenti. For unpretentious, innovative, local cuisine, you can’t beat Ristorante Consorzio. A couple of things your must try include Piemontese beef tartare, vitello tonnato, a veal carpaccio style dish served with a tuna and caper mayonnaise, and agnolotti Gobbo, pasta usually filled with veal, pork and rabbit and served in a simple butter sauce (if Bologna is the capital of tortellini, then Piemonte is home to agnolotti). For risotto that will have you rolling out (I couldn’t finish a half portion), head to Il Vicolo (Via Melchior Gioia 3). The pork sausage and burrata one was divine and there are at least 15 to choose from! If ethnic food is your thing why not try Turin’s newest and only Vietnamese restaurant, Trattoria del Vietnam. Family run, authentic Vietnamese cuisine – don’t miss the rice paper rolls here!
7) Drink (lots)
I challenge you to not find a good drop of wine in Turin – in Piemonte for that matter. This regions list of wines reads like a list of winners at the Oscars. Think Ruchet, Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto d’Alba, Moscato d’Asti, Barbera – I could continue. For a glass or more, my favourites are Cantina Torino or Banco Vini e Alimenti.
8) Try Bicerin
Bicerin is the warm drink of choice for the Torinesi. Part coffee, part hot chocolate it’s simply to die for and can be sampled in just about any cafe. The one at Clarissa (Piazza Vittorio Veneto) is pretty special and the one pictured below at Cantina Torino, had a swig of alcohol in it.
9) Visit the Prochet store
If you want to be blown away by pretty, visit the Prochet store right in the heart of Turin where they have been selling crystal, fine porcelain, homeware and decorative pieces since 1861. The tea sets and hanging chandeliers blew me away. 10) Indulge your sweet tooth
Saved the best for last! If you haven’t realised sweets are my thing then you don’t know me or perhaps this is the first time you’re reading this blog! Of course when I discovered that Turin is a sweet lovers’ paradise I just had to visit to taste for myself! If the gianduiotti weren’t enough, the Torinesi are skilled at pastry making and gelato. Head to Clarissa (Piazza Vittorio Veneto) for cakes (the strawberry tart is pretty special); Gelateria Miretti (Corso Giacomo Matteotti) for the most amazing Malvasia wine flavoured gelato and the historic Pepino (Piazza Carignano) for your run-of-the-mill classic homemade gelato.
Ok. Now, I want to go back and do it all over again!
Signing off from Trastevere,
Acknowledgements: Part of my recent trip to Torino was covered by Turin Epicurean Capital. Big thanks to Lucia Hannau for her commitment and tireless efforts and to Roberto Anino, the President of the Federalbgerghi Torino (Turin Hotel Association) for sponsoring my stay at the lovely Best Western Hotel Genova (thanks too go to Mr Fabio Borio). All thoughts and views expressed and images are my own – nobody tells me what to write.