Turin takes you in slowly, sleepily. It's still sort of the Detroit of Italy, with its car manufacturing (home of Fiat) and its roughness around the outlying areas of the city. But give it time and you will find much to enjoy. 'Turins' out, it's more than the Shroud...
At first, though, a city on the Po River and nestled close to the Italian Alps, it appears to be the slightly threadbare sister to her more contemporary sibling, Milan. Remarkably affordable a place and easy to get around, but, though sizeable and full of history, it does not draw the tourists that other Italian destinations do. Yet, it was a planned city, with boulevards and a grid system, very different from other Italian or medieval places with their crowded streets (which I sort of like--a more traditional Italian feel is in the Quadrilatero, not far from the old Roman ramparts), and many Torinese love it for that and more. Its massive royal palaces and squares reminded me of Madrid. Its formal gardens, once suitable mainly for royal strolls, are now blissfully full of families.
Our inexpensive hotel was only about two blocks from the Porta Susa train station, modern and sleek since it was built when the city hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics, but is now empty of kiosks and bathrooms (one left). We dragged our bags in the heat about two blocks to our hotel, the Torino Porta Susa. It has an ancient elevator shaft with a narrow car just steps from an outdoor, arcaded street full of fast food places with working class folks and their kids, but the neighborhood behind seemed quiet and safe.
Reception was friendly, welcoming and informative. The place was very reasonable, with breakfast included. Every morning was mild enough to eat on the pleasant second floor patio, which bridged a street below. Due to Covid, you put your order in the night before and were served your tray at the time you specified.
Foodwise, Turin is in Piedmont, home to wine, cheese, chocolate and truffles. Parmesan! Parma ham! Montepulciano d'Alba for 4 euros a glass! It is also home to Lavazza coffee and to some of the earliest chocolate purveyors. A blockade in the Mediterranean in Napoleon's time caused shortages in cocoa shipped from South America. So bakers then started cutting it with hazelnuts, plentiful in the Piedmont.. Hence, the confection gianduia (jan-DOO-ya). There would probably be no Nutella without their experimentation! Turin has been a chocolate center since the 1560s. By the 18th C, a cafe called Bicerin (Bee-tcher-EEN) (still there, with many original furnishings intact), located on a little square across from an extraordinary church, was making its specialty, a drink made from layers of coffee, cocoa/hazelnut and cream named, of course, Bicerin. The place, a bit hard to find, still makes it, and sipping one inside or out, is a decadent treat..
So is Aperitivo, basically Happy Hour, at a number of bars. Places outdo themselves offering tidbit platters that come with the price of your cocktail. You can find Aperitivo in a lot of northern Italy, even further south in parts of Florence. If you enjoy it early enough in the late afternoon, you still have room for dinner. Speaking of, our hotel recommended two restaurants in our neighborhood. We went back to one several tiimes because of the quality and value -- one night we had four courses, with wine, water and an amuse to start, all for only 25 euros each. Wow.
The fall is white truffle time. Alba (as in Duchess of), not far from Turin, is tartufo bianco central. I was tempted to try some as an appetizer or shaved on pasta, but only wanted to try something small. Truffles are strong tasting and pungent, and Jan didn't want to share! Next time.
AND, can't forget to mention Europe's largest open-air market, with a couple of side buildings, at Porta Palazzo. As a Green City Market volunteer, I love visiting city markets, in the US or overseas. This one does not disappoint, though the first day we found it, it was just closing. Clutter, a ton of discarded produce, laborers folding up portable carts and stands--pretty sad! The next time, we saw it in its glory--unending rows of perfect red peppers, lettuces, eggplants, cheeses, spices, grapes, berries of all kinds, and loads more. Plus meats and fish. All fresh, all being hawked like crazy. And, the side stalls full of affordable clothes, shoes, household items. Lotsa fun.
Milan has its Castello Sforza, and Turin has its Borgo. Built for the Turin Olympics, this little village down from the auto museum and near a beautiful city park, is set up like a medieval community, with shops and workers plying trades from blacksmithing to candle-making with, of course, touristy stuff thrown in. We just walked through and had a light lunch at the outdoor cafe there and wished we'd had more time to wander through the park that day on our way to public transit.