Of all the major Italian cities, perhaps the most underrated one is Turin (or Torino in Italian). While most have probably heard of its eponymous shroud, many people may not know much else about it.
Did you know Turin was the first capital of unified Italy, the epicenter of Italian cinema, the birthplace of Nutella, home of Fiat, and the main city in the region where wines such a Barolo originate?
This city is an amazing place of history and beauty, nestled against the Po river and sitting at the foot of the Alps. read on to find out about Torino and why you should visit Turin.
A brief reason why to visit Turin
Much like the other large northern Italian city, Milan, Torino is an industrial city. Home of various successful industries, including Fiat, Torino is a prosperous city with large boulevards and grand buildings. This stands in contrast to most Italian cities which are dense and sometimes chaotic, with
Torino is a city laid out with a plan. Furthermore, services in the city run well and don’t suffer the infamous inefficiencies of other Italian cities. Unlike Milan, however, it does not have obvious signs of industrial decay and is stunningly beautiful, being mostly without the impact of large factories and industrial pollution.
Don’t be fooled by Torino’s looks and the quality of its infrastructure and public services, it still has the beating heart of Italian culture. Food and wine abound, with ample nightlife and public art, music, and festivals aplenty.
In many ways, Torino is a place to get authentic Italy without many of the common nuisances that tourists experience. Yet somehow, it still does not draw the large crowds of other cities, making it a calmer experience.
If you are seeking a true Italian experience, without the chaos and crowds, in a city resplendent in the grand European boulevards and architecture you would expect of somewhere like France, Torino is one of the few places to find it.
Reasons to visit Turin (Torino)
- Food / Aperitivo
- Turin Jazz Festival
If you are interested in European history, Torino has plenty. It was originally in an area controlled by Celtic peoples known as the Taurini, from which the name Torino is derived. It represented the border between the Gaulish and Roman empires and still has the Roman fortifications to prove it. Hannibal passed through with his army of elephants. It was among Napoleon’s first conquests in Italy, but now the city owns the all of the artifacts Napoleon plundered from Egypt, on display in their Egyptian Museum.
Torino was also the first capital of reunified Italy under the rule of the House of Savoy. The city is full of palaces and opulent structures to visit from this time period. It is also home to one of the most precious artifacts in Christianity: The famous Shroud of Turin. It is purportedly a burial shroud of Jesus, with an imprint of his image left permanently in the cloth.
The shroud has proven frustrating to scientists, although it is still widely believed to be a forgery. It is unclear when it first appeared, but it certainly existed by the end of the 14th century. It is now kept in the Duomo in Turin.
However, it is typically kept in a box which may not be seen into. It is unveiled every few years and is sometimes removed to travel to other places in the world.
Hannibal passed through this area on his way to sacking Rome, attacking the inhabitants there. Within a hundred years, the city came into the Roman empire as it sought both to expand and to create large buffer zones from enemies attacking its capital. This is believed to be around 27 BC.
Torino represented the edge of the empire for a substantial period of time. It is close to the French border and the historical territory of such Roman adversaries as the Gauls, Franks, Lombards, and Ostrogoths, all of whom fought over the region. To this day, old Roman fortifications are still visible in the city, although obviously in a state of ruin. A great place to see some of these ruins is just outside the Duomo (the main cathedral).
Much later in history, Italy consisted of various conflicting city states. In the 17th century, a separate kingdom, with its capital in Torino, was formed. It was called the Kingdom of Sardinia and ruled by the House of Savoy.
In the 19th century, Italy was first subject to Napoleonic conquest and then later freed of it. In reunification, the house of Savoy was chosen to head the Kingdom of Italy, which is state immediately preceding the Italian Republic of today. The capital was chosen to be Torino and along the way they received the Egyptian treasures Napoleon had claimed as spoils. They are on display in an Egyptian Museum in Torino to this day.
Chocolate in Turin
Do you like chocolate and you’ve already crossed Brussels off your bucket list? Then try Turin’s chocolate. Torino often claims to be the inventor of the chocolate bar. What is certainly true is that they pioneered certain types of chocolate, which are still very influential today. In Torino, one can find many chocolatiers offering exciting traditional and artisanal chocolates.
The most traditional chocolate from Turin is gianduja. This chocolate is made with hazelnuts to add volume and thickness, as hazelnuts are plentiful in the region. If you eat gianduja, it may taste familiar. This is because it is the inspiration and the basis of the recipe of Nutella.
While visiting Torino, make an effort to visit one of the local chocolatiers to try it out. My favorite is Guido Gobino, which makes a mix of both traditional and more experimental chocolates.
Another typical beverage from Turin is bicerin. This drink is an espresso with chocolate and milk, typically taken in the morning. This can be found all over Torino in cafes. However, Caffè al Bicerin has been making the drink since the 18th century, and some believe it was invented there.
Wine in Turin: Piedmont Wine
Torino is located in the Piedmont region which encompasses the Asti, Alba, and Langhe regions, which are incredibly famous wine regions. The star grape of the area is undoubtedly the Nebbiolo grape. This is the grape used in most of the red wines in the region. Here I have ranked them in terms of quality (and a dash of personal preference).
While there is a fairly strong consensus on the endpoints of this list, locals may debate their preference of those wines in the middle. Asti is home to some famous whites as well, such as Moscato.
While these wines can be found cheaply all over the city, I can personally recommend the Demarco Enoteca next to the Porta Palazzo (which I will say more about later). If you are lucky, you can these wines directly from the producers who often come into town to sell at local markets. At minimum, you’ll want to bring home some wine from your visit to Turin.
It’s easy to visit the Piedmont region from Turin as a day trip. Asti is one of the main hubs for wine in the Piedmont wine region. From Asti, it’s easy to do tastings. The train ride from Asti to Turin runs regularly and takes 35 minutes. The train ride costs between 5 and 10 euros (depending on if you choose to take the high-speed train).
Asti is full of stunning architecture and lovers of white wine will want to try Asti sparkling white wine. Similarly Martini & Rossi Asti comes from Asti if you’re interested in having a cocktail!
In case you are not familiar with the concept of aperitivo, a northern Italian phenomenon, let me explain. Generally once in week (in Turin on Fridays), all the bars have a special. If you purchase a beer, you may eat all the food you want from the buffet provided by the bar. Typically the buffet evolves as the night goes on with exhausted dishes being replaced by completely new ones.
Keep an eye out for Open, Torino’s local microbrewery, when you order your drinks. While Piazza Vittorio Veneto is a popular place for aperitivo, the absolute best is Fluido in Parco del Valentino.
Turin Jazz Festival
The Turin Jazz Festival is an annual festival where jazz artists from all over the world come to play in various locations around Torino. The biggest kicker of all: IT’S FREE!
Musicians can be found performing outdoors in Torino for the few days that the festival lasts. However, the main centers for performance are the Piazza Castello and the Piazza Vittorio Veneto. The party there can last deep into the evening with huge crowds dancing and drinking.