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Those who think of Italy often identify it with the wonderful Tuscan hills, the artistic treasures of Rome, the enchanting landscapes of the Dolomites or the sea of Sardinia, but let’s not forget that there are places of extraordinary beauty even outside the “classic” destinations.
Piedmont is one of these places, with its cities of art, its mountains, castles and parish churches that are immersed in hills and enchanting landscapes, that produces wines and foods that the whole world envies.
For those who choose to visit Piedmont for the first time, Turin is a must. History has made this Piedmontese main town, the first capital of Italy, and embellishing it with Baroque palaces, splendid museums, ancient squares and historic cafes that give it a unique charm.
The first capital of Italy, Turin is a city rich in history, museums and places to see, both for those looking for a quick visit and for those who prefer to enjoy the atmosphere that the city can offer by staying longer.
It is a living metropolis, day and night, with trendy bars and shopping streets, excellent restaurants and many curious destinations to discover.
Turin is literally crowded with exhibitions and places to visit: from the Egyptian Museum, the most important in the world after Cairo, to the Mole Antonelliana, the symbolic monument of the city, where the Cinema Museum is located, passing through the Museo del Risorgimento, where was the first parliament of the Kingdom of Italy, and through numerous art galleries and collections.
A residence of nobles and sovereigns, Turin is famous above all for the beautiful residences that hosted the Savoys and their entire court. Whatever direction you want to take, Piazza Castello is the starting point. From here you can reach Royal Palace and all the museums of the Polo Reale with great ease, or the nearby via Roma and via Garibaldi, true shopping centers in Turin. There are plenty of places to visit, or alternatively you can stay in the square, where street artists and musicians from all over the world perform every day.
Visiting Turin without stopping at the Royal Palace could be a serious mistake. The city was the residence of the Savoys, the sovereigns of Italy for centuries and you cannot leave it without having immersed yourself, at least once, in the splendor that distinguished the court. The beautiful white façade of the building, elegant and sober, conceals rich eighteenth-century halls, ancient paintings and furniture made by the greatest Piedmontese master craftsmen.
Opposite the Museum of Antiquities, Turin offers a real archaeological park, where you can admire the foundations of ancient Roman buildings. Not far away, the Porte Palatine, standing for two millennia, are among the last remains of the walls that enclosed the city at the time of the Emperor Augustus.
Located in the center of Piazza Castello, Palazzo Madama is certainly one of the things to see in Turin. In ancient times it was the Casaforte of the Acaja, a noble family allied with the Savoys, as demonstrated by the imposing walls and tall towers, but later became the residence of Madama Cristina of France, and of all the most important “madame” of the royal house. The eighteenth-century facade designed by the architect Filippo Juvarra is one of the most beautiful examples of that era.
Not far from the Royal Palace, the Cathedral of Turin is the main place of worship in the city, and a feast for those who love art and architecture, with its elegant white facade, the dome of Guarini and the high bell tower. The cathedral also houses the periodic expositions of the Holy Shroud, and a permanent exhibition dedicated to the most fascinating relic in the history of Christianity.
The history of Italy would not be the same without Turin, and Palazzo Carignano allows us to retrace the events that characterized the Independence Wars and the birth of the Italian kingdom. The ancient building was in fact the seat of the first Parliament of the unified Italy and houses inside an interesting museum dedicated to the Renaissance.
Although the historic center of Turin is very large, its heart remains the Quadrilatero. The space formerly delimited by the Roman walls of the city is today the liveliest place to find trendy bars and tasty aperitifs. Via Garibaldi, which joins Piazza Castello to Piazza Statuto, is also a real natural shopping center, not to be missed by shoppers.
Of all the buildings that inhabited the Savoys, the most famous is that of Reggia di Venaria, absolutely one of the most beautiful places to visit in Piedmont. Although the story was not so gentle with this marvelous complex, which was unfortunately transformed into barracks and stripped of many of its riches, the Royal Palace, with its immense gardens, not only preserves its charm intact, but has been entirely redeveloped and houses today an interesting museum, as well as temporary exhibitions, shows and events.
Even if Turin is a big city, those who love nature need to do only a few kilometers because not far from the Reggia di Venaria, in fact, there is Parco della Mandria, a green lung and a naturalistic oasis, ideal for a long ride, a walk, or to observe closely the main species of birds that inhabit Piedmont.
Smaller, but no less famous or enchanting, the hunting lodge of Stupinigi is located not far from Turin, in what were once the woods and the Savoy estates. The elegant façade, the two wings that open to its sides and the beautiful dome surmounted by the bronze deer are one of the symbols of the city and its royal residences.
The Turin suburbs also host one of the most important automobile museums in the world. The modern architecture of the building encloses cars of all ages: a path not to be missed that goes from the first pioneering experiments of the industry to the most modern examples of automotive design, passing by cars that have really made history.
Moving a little further from Turin you will come across the Racconigi castle, more “young” than the other Savoy residences, and therefore perfectly preserved. Inside, time seems to have stopped: every piece of furniture is still as the kings had left it.
Sacra di San Michele, is one of the symbols of the Turin mountains and of the entire region. The ancient Romanesque monastery, clinging to the rock, rises majestically over the surrounding valleys, a masterpiece of architecture and faith so unique as to leave you literally breathless.
Turin is also famous for having hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics, whose competitions were held in the mountains of Val Susa and Val Chisone. It is therefore no coincidence that the Piedmontese slopes are among the most loved by skiers, who in winter can find the best slopes in what is called the Milky Way, the most important ski area in the region.
Nature and history intertwine not only in the mountains, but also in the hills surrounding Turin and an example is the small but picturesque Ivrea, famous above all for its traditional Carnival of the Oranges, but also the heart of the Canavese, a land rich in castles, historical mansions, paths and woods that gather around the numerous lakes that characterize the landscape.
Turin and the surrounding mountains were once connected by the Via Francigena, the road traveled by pilgrims on their way to Rome from France and through Piedmont. Places of artistic and historical interest can be found along all these routes, which today can become the ideal way to discover churches, monuments, testimonies of the past, but also charming villages and, why not, village festivals and traditional dishes.
Turin is located 250 meters above sea level, at the foot of the Alps, in a rather favorable position in the Po valley, especially in summer. In fact, in summer the temperatures are slightly less sultry than in the rest of the territory. Winter is cold and wet, even if the mists are less frequent considering the Po valley standard.
The best times to visit Turin are spring and early summer, particularly from mid-April to mid-June. September is also a good month. However, some rainy days must be taken into account in both periods.
In summer it can be very hot, although more rarely than in the rest of the Po valley, in fact there may be several acceptable days, especially in June. To be taken into consideration also, in late spring and summer, sudden afternoon or evening thunderstorms.
The city of Turin is on a human scale, not too big and not too small, and the city center is the ideal place to stay during the holidays. In the whole center you will find restaurants, clubs and many services for tourists.
In this area there are many accommodation for all budgets such as luxury and non-luxury hotels, bed & breakfasts and hostels.
If your interest is in nightlife, the preferred area is the Roman Quadrilateral located in the western part of the historic center.
Generally the railway stations are always the ideal place for the connections with the public transport. The main station of Turin is Porta Nuova and in this area there is the underground and the bus terminal that the lines cover the whole city. From Porta Nuova you can reach the center on foot in less than 15 minutes and it is a good location to stay.
The Porta Susa underground station is less than two kilometers north of Porta Nuova. This area is perhaps quieter, but it is closer to the historic center and even in this case you can reach the main tourist attractions on foot. Accommodation prices near the stations are lower than in the historic center.
Wherever you are in Piedmont, whether you are looking for a fine restaurant or a simpler tavern, you can’t mess with good food. The gastronomic tradition of the region is absolutely inimitable, the typical dishes are many and all excellent, as well as the raw materials: from seasonal vegetables to cheeses and cured meats. Meat is the main dish of the entire Cuneo area, while Turin has an unbeatable tradition for desserts and chocolate.
Piedmontese cuisine is a cuisine rich in flavor and with a strong and decisive taste. There are many meat and game dishes, stuffed and tasty pasta, delicious and rich appetizers, and all served with a good regional wine from Piedmont.
In particular, the Piedmontese cuisine that is eaten in Turin suffers from a double influence that makes it even richer and more varied: here, in fact, the deep peasant tradition of the region and the refined tastes of what was once the Savoy Court are joined, obviously without ever forgetting the influences from nearby French cuisine.
Among the typical dishes of Turin there is certainly Bagna Càuda, a garlic-based sauce, extra-virgin olive oil and desalted anchovies, in which to dip raw and cooked vegetables. In addition to taste, its traditional nature lies in the ritual, because it is a dish that involves collective sharing.
Certainly to not miss are two first courses truly exceptional: the tajarin, thin egg noodles, and the agnolotti, a characteristic pasta filled with meat. Compared to stuffed pasta from other areas of Italy, agnolotti are characterized by the use of roasted meat for the filling. According to tradition, the Piedmontese agnolotti can be prepared with roasted meat sauce, with butter, sage and Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano, with Piedmontese meat sauce and in meat broth.
Veal with tuna sauce is one of the symbolic dishes, which has crossed the regional borders to become a classic throughout Italy. A must of Piedmontese cuisine that has stimulated the imagination of many chefs.
The great classics to combine with an excellent red wine from Piedmont are Piedmont mixed fried, probably the most traditional of typical dishes, it was prepared following the slaughter of the animals, when to waste as little as possible they also cooked all the entrails; great Piedmontese mixed boiled meat, a second dish made using different cuts of beef, veal and capon and to make it even richer they add pork and sausages which must be boiled separately.
Coffee, chocolate, milk and syrup: these are the ingredients of the most traditional Turin drink, the Bicerin (“bicchierino” or small glass in Piedmontese). The original recipe was born right next to the sanctuary of the Consolata, in a small nineteenth-century restaurant called Al Bicerin. Nothing has changed since then and the small cafe is still in its place, with its ancient marble tables and the unmistakable taste of its warm drink.
If you have the chance, Turin has a lot to offer.
Thank you all for reading.
Join me next time and let’s discover another easy but super delicious recipe.
And if you enjoy traveling as much as I do, you may visit my other posts and discover our world one step at the time or one airplane at the time 🙂
Photo credit: Google Images, edited by Popsicle Society