All eyes on Turin

From coffee and chocolate to first class museums and world famous football teams, Turin has it all – and a lot more besides says Kaye Holland If you’re low on ideas for a weekend get away this winter, may I suggest Turin? The Italian city is often overshadowed by Florence and Rome and true, Turin doesn’t have as many standalone attractions as its southern cousins. But it’s high on atmosphere and its easy going grace marks it as special.

Turin – the fourth largest city in Italy – was also the country’s first capital but it was hosting the winter Olympics in 2006 that helped put Turin on the map.

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While Turin does have street life par excellence, if you’re visiting in February – a time when being indoors is what matters most is – I’d recommend checking out some of the city’s fine museums. If you only choose two, opt for the 18th century Museo Egizo – home to some of Europe’s most important ancient Egyptian treasures – and Mole Antonelliana. The latter is a symbol of Turin – indeed its 167m tower once appeared on the Italian two-cent coin. Mole Antonelliana was originally intended as a synagogue when construction began in 1862 but was never used as a place of worship and today is home to the Museo Nazionale del Cinema. This is the place to take a tour through cinematic history – you’ll get to see Peter O’ Toole’s robe from Lawrence of Arabia and the coffin used by Bela Lugosi’s Dracula.

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Following a hefty dose of culture, you’ll need a large cappuccino to put some pep in your step. Happily the capital of the Alps has plenty of gorgeous cafes where you can get your caffeine hit. Even if you’re not a fan of coffee (maybe you’re from Mars or something), these historic cafes are worth a visit for their architectural excellence and people watching opportunities (the effortless chic Turinese gather here to gossip on a daily basis and in doing so put on an unintentional show). Standouts include Caffe San Carlo, with its sumptuous chandeliers, in Piazza San Cafe and Fioro – a favourite hangout of Mark Twain. Here you can try Bicerin – a to die for concoction of coffee, cream and chocolate.

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For Turin is the town that introduced chocolate to the world: in 1678 Madame Royale granted the first licence to Turinese chocolate maker, Gio Antonia Aria, and it wasn’t long before the area became known for gianduja – the triangular chocolate hazelnuts that inspired the creation of Nutella. Turin’s tourist office sells a ChocoPass, which includes tastings at several of the cities famous chocolate houses.

Every March the city celebrates all things cocoa related for a fortnight during CioccolaTO. The festival’s location changes every year but expect chocolate making demonstrations, tastings, sculptures and scores of stalls selling chocolate.

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Chances are your food orgy will be tempered by another vice: shopping. There are two streets worth knowing about, namely Via Roma and Via Garibaldi. If you’re feeling flush, Via Roma is thronged with enough upmarket boutiques and bars to keep you contented for days. On a budget? Go to Garibaldi – reeling as it is with more affordable choices.

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Food aside, the Turinese are fanatical about their football. Turin is home to two teams – take a bow Torino and Juventus. While the world watches Juventus – aka one of the most successful teams in football history- the Torinese tend to favour Torino FC. Be prepared to battle for a ticket to a big game but if you get one – particularly to see the two sides play each other in what is referred to as the Derby della Mole – you won’t be disappointed. Make no mistake: watching a match at the Stadio Olimpico di Torino is akin to a quasi religious experience.

What Turin doesn’t have is crowds. Bizarrely when compared to the likes of Venice and Naples, the city doesn’t get many visitors – wonderful news for those who enjoy exploring a city without the tell tale flags in the air of tour groups. That said with so much on offer, I suspect it won’t be long before the secret is out: Turin truly personifies la dolce vita and as a place to Easy-jet off to for the weekend is really rather doable.