Turin (called Torino in Italian and, just to clarify, not called “Turino” in any language worth speaking) was my first long-term home-away-from-home. I spent nearly two years in the city, growing to love its chocolate gelato, hot chocolate, chocolate pastries and infamous chocolate spread (you know what I’m talking about). After you’re all chocolated out, here are some things to do in this Northern Italian gem.
Go to church. I think visiting the Basilica of Superga was one of the first even-slightly-adventurous things I did when I was living abroad. The church is located atop a hill near Turin, and is accessible by car or old-fashioned railway. I took the train up one chilly weekend afternoon, hoping that I’d be able to check out the site and then walk down to civilization. I asked at the information station and they assured me that the path was open, even telling me the number of the path to follow and how long it would take me to reach the bottom. I set off on my merry way, following the marked path down a somewhat steep hill, when after about forty-five minutes I came upon a sign. “Danger! Wild Boars!”
Are you kidding me? Wild boars? I might know how to deal with the cougars and bears native to my home country’s forests (panic, scream and cry until a man comes and helps), but I don’t know how to deal with Italian wild boars! I continued further down the path, with much trepidation, until suddenly, the path stopped. “Path closed.” Suddenly I found myself in wild boar country with no path to follow. In retrospect, heading back would have been the logical thing to do. Instead, I just kept walking through the pathless forest. Eventually I came to a chain-link fence, which kept me from continuing on my downhill trajectory. I followed it for about half an hour until I hit a road. Unfortunately, the road was blocked by the fence. Miraculously, a car happened to approach right at that moment, and as the gate opened to let the car through I made a run for it. Freedom at last! I followed the road down to the base of the mountain, discovering I’d come down the wrong side, and ended my now-evening with a walk around the base of the hill back to the bus stop that would return me to my youth hostel home. I think I might be making Superga sound really horrible, but you should go! It’s a church! There are wild boars! There is a miniature train!
If churches aren’t your thing, what about castles? Turin used to be the capital of the Duchy of Savoy, and those French royals sure knew how to build a castle. My personal favorite was always Castello di Rivoli, located to the west of the city center and housing an amazing contemporary art museum as well as a Michelin-starred restaurant. In the picture here you can see La Mandria, a park built on the former hunting grounds of the Savoy’s palace in Veneria Reale (I was never a fan; the name reminded me too much of venereal disease). Stupinigi was another amazing palace located south of the city center, and for those too lazy to drive twenty minutes there is also the magnificent Palazzo Reale, along with its hand-me-down little sister Palazzo Madama, right in the city center.
No trip to Turin would be complete without a visit to some of the city’s spookiest locales. One of Italian cinema’s greatest masterpieces, and one of my personal favorite films- Profondo Rosso– was filmed in Turin in the 1970s. I didn’t know this when I moved to Turin, however, and you can imagine my surprise when I happened to be walking down the street, only to find myself in the very piazza where David Hemmings was relaxing when he happened to look up and see a Swedish psychic being murdered in a window above him! I actually might have peed my pants a little. Later, I discovered the beautiful Villa Scott, which also played a pivotal role in the film; it’s walking distance from the city center on the opposite side of the river, at Corso Lanza 57.
Eat. My arrival in Italy came only a few weeks after I discovered a love for salad. One of my first dinners was at Brek, an Italian cafeteria-style restaurant that puts pretty much every other cafeteria in the world to shame. Yes indeed, that is a salad with mâche, potatoes roasted in olive oil, grated carrots, lentils and cannellini beans. And yes, I’m also eating that salad with a heaping bowl of gorgonzola-sauced pasta. With walnuts. And extra cheese. It may also be true that I’m drinking it with Fanta Orange (only because there was no Fanta Limon). And while Brek may be the answer to all your cafeteria dreams, Turin has something even better. I’m not talking about Nutella, I’m talking about an aperitivo. Techncially, an aperitivo is a pre-dinner drink that’s supposed to stimulate your appetite. In my world, and the world of most young foreigners in Turin, an aperitivo is a ridiculously overpriced sugary cocktail that comes with access to all-you-can-eat Italian deliciousness. Sure, you’re paying seven euro for a crappy caipiroska because the bar doesn’t have any tequila. Or rum. But the most popular bars with aperitivo hours will also have everything from roast chicken to pasta to grilled vegetables to cheese plates to desserts for you to nibble on as you drink. Make like the Italians and eat a few sensible bites of each dish (you know their moms have a pot of spaghetti waiting for them at home) or make like an underpaid foreign worker and take three heaping scoops of everything… before going back for more. I wish I had a photo of any of the great aperitivo spreads I sampled while in Turin, but I think I was already taking so much food that I didn’t want to draw more attention to myself by taking photos too! More casual bars often serve aperitivos earlier, while trendy places will keep their buffets out until long after the sun goes down. I traveled all over Italy and I always felt like Turin offered the best aperitivo options by far, so check them out!
Although I usually prefer to travel with a Lonely Planet guide, for Turin I strongly believe Time Out Turin is best.