WHY GO NOW?
The first capital of Italy has been described as a sleeping beauty for its outstanding but relatively unknown Baroque palaces and piazzas and some world-class museums. Late April or May is the perfect time to visit one of Italy's most unusual cities, an architectural jewel which is home to a celebrated shroud, Juventus, Fiat cars and more than 40 museums. The vivid greens of the trees lining the Po and its riverside parks are a welcome sign of spring.
Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) has services from Bournemouth, Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and Stansted. British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) flies from Gatwick and easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyJet.com) from Luton.
Turin's airport at Caselle is 16km north of the city centre. Buses depart every 45 minutes from 6.05am until midnight for the 40-minute journey to Porta Nuova railway station (1). The single fare is €5.50; buy a ticket in advance from the desk in the arrivals hall. A taxi costs about €45.
The most relaxing way to reach Turin from the UK is by Eurostar from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord (two hours and 15 minutes) and the TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon to the city's Porta Susa station (2), taking six hours. Agencies such as Rail Europe (0844 848 4070; raileurope.co.uk) offer return tickets from £105.
A metro links Porta Susa station with the more central Porta Nuova station (1). A single ticket costs €1.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
With the Alps to the north and west and threaded by the River Po, Turin is unlike any other Italian city in its planned Baroque piazzas and arcades largely superimposed on a Roman grid. Its prominence grew in 1574 when it took over as capital of Savoy from Chambéry (now in France), soon acquiring palaces and buildings befitting its status and equipping it to become the first capital of Italy at unification in 1861.
At its centre is the city's main square, the Piazza Castello with the architectural muddle of Palazzo Madama (3) at its heart and Palazzo Reale (4), the royal palace, at its northern corner. The piazza is approached from the south by the gracious, arcaded Via Roma that passes through the ceremonial space of Piazza San Carlo (5) – flanked by houses once home to Savoyard nobility.
To the west, Via Garibaldi marks the edge of the Roman section of the city, with its atmospheric narrow streets.
The main tourist offices are at Porta Nuova station (1) (open 9.30am-7pm daily) and just where Via Garibaldi emerges from the Piazza Castello (00 39 011 535 181; turismotorino.org and torinopiemonte.com, open 9am-7pm daily). The Turin Card (comune.torino.it/gtt) gives access to over 160 cultural sites as well as unlimited use of the city's public transport system. Two days for €19, three days for €22.
Louis Armstrong has been among the better-known guests since Grand Hotel Sitea (6) opened its doors in 1925 at Via Carlo Alberto 35 (00 39 011 517 0171; tiny.cc/ ki4ia). It is 10 minutes' walk from Porta Nuova station (2). B&B starts at €184.
Equally close to Porta Nuova station at Via Angelo Brofferio 1 is Hotel Artuà (7) (00 39 011 517 5301; artua.it), located on the top floor of a late 19th-century building in a quiet street. Doubles from €120 excluding breakfast.
Quite basic but in a magnificent location is Albergo San Carlo (8), located in a 17th-century house at Piazza San Carlo 197, the city's most beautiful square (00 39 011 562 78 46; albergosancarlo.it). Doubles €85 without breakfast, but with Wi-Fi.
TAKE A VIEW
Turin's most recognisable symbol is the 167m Mole Antonelliana (9) at Via Montebello 20. This structure is a cross between the Eiffel Tower and the Chrysler Building. It was conceived in 1863 as a synagogue and has been imaginatively adapted to become the National Museum of Cinema (00 39 011 813 8511; museonazionale delcinema.org).
An €8 ticket buys you admission to the museum (open 9am-8pm daily except Mondays; to 11pm on Saturdays), as well as the dizzying ascent in its glass lift through the vast central hall to the viewing platform 87m up for great views of the city, the river and the Alps in the distance.
TAKE A HIKE
Start on the east bank of the river Po at the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele I (10). Close by you will see the 19th-century church of Gran Madre de Dio, built to imitate the Pantheon. Continue across the bridge to the arcaded Piazza Vittorio Veneto (11) and along Via Po, a favoured residential street of the 16th-century nobility. You will emerge into the Piazza Castello. Walk straight ahead down Via Garibaldi and turn right into Via Milano. Finish your stroll at the Porto Palazzo (12), one of the city's Roman gates. This is the site of what is said to be Europe's biggest market (weekday mornings and all day on Saturday), selling everything from fruit and fish to clothing and household items.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
Close to the Porto Palazzo is the Caffe Vini Emilio Ranzini (13) at Via Porta Palatina 9g – a traditional unpretentious bar/café where wild boar prosciutto or sandwiches from €2.50 can be washed down with good local wines from €5 a bottle. In the evening the bar is popular with locals for merenda-sinoira – the Piedmontese early evening equivalent of brunch.
Most shops open at 10am daily, except Sunday, close for lunch around 1pm and reopen between about 3-7pm. Turin's most expensive shops are under the arcades of Via Roma. Other shopping thoroughfares are Via Po and Via Garibaldi, which is one of the longest pedestrianised streets in Europe. Turn off it to explore such side streets as Via Barbaroux, Via San Tommaso and Via Monte di Pietà on one side and Via Sant'Agostino, Via Bellezia, Via San Domenico and Via della Consolata on the other where you can still find handicraft workshops, a welcome antidote to the chain stores.
Don't miss the marvellous Galleria Subalpina (14), a late 19th-century glass-roofed arcade on three levels with galleries, cafés and secondhand book and print shops surrounding beds of flowers. It links Piazza Castello with Piazza Carlo Alberto.
Turin gave the world Martini and Vermouth; the latter was invented in 1786 by Antonio Benedetto Carpano, whose last name is still a leading brand of the flavoured wine. Order a glass in his honour (€5) at the Caffe Mulassano (15) at Piazza Castello 15 (00 39 011 547 990), which has a fabulous Art Nouveau interior – but do as the purists do and forgo a slice of lemon (senza limone).
DINING WITH THE LOCALS
Eating out in Turin is all about indulgence, but La Badesa (16) at Piazza Carlo Emanuele II 17H (00 39 011 83 5940; labadessa.net) has an unusual slant to its menu. Its recipes are drawn from monastic tradition, but there is nothing ascetic about such dishes as ravioli Piedmont-style with meat sauce and truffle oil (€13), braised veal with Piedmontese nuts (€13) or zabaglione and nut flan (€5).
Most restaurants in the city centre are closed on Sunday nights.
SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH
On the north-east corner of Piazza Castello is the plain exterior of San Lorenzo (17), built in 1668-80 by the priest- architect Guarino Guarini to fulfil a vow made by the late Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy before the battle of San Quintino in 1557. The church goes from dark to light as you lift your eyes to the extraordinary dome with its complex web of ribs forming stars, the emblem of the House of Savoy. In a side room is a copy of the world's most discussed relic, the Shroud of Turin.
The linen cloth bearing an image resembling a victim of crucifixion is no longer on display, but at the nearby cathedral (18), also by Guarini, you can gaze at the satin-covered box in which it is kept in (behind toughened glass) and inspect a smaller copy that hangs on a wall.
OUT TO BRUNCH
One of few places that offers Sunday brunch is another of the city's historic cafés. Pepino (19) at Piazza Carignano 8 (00 39 011 542 009) serves the meal between 12.30-3pm. Finish it off with a pinguino (penguin), the original ice-cream on a stick invented by Signor Pepino, who came to Turin from Naples in 1884.
A WALK IN THE PARK
Between the Ponte Umberto I (20) and the Ponte Isabella (21) along the banks of the Po is the 30-hectare Parco del Valentino, reputed to have been Italy's first public garden when it opened in the 1860s. It contains a former royal palace, the Castello del Valentino (22), built in 1660, which is open 10am-6pm daily except Monday; admission €5. The castle is reached through the riverside replica of a 15th-century Piedmontese village, built for the Italian General Exposition held in the park in 1884; admission free. Tram 9 takes you back to Porta Nuova.
The Museo Egizio (23) at Via Accademia delle Scienze 6 (00 39 011 561 7776; www. museoegizio.org) is the second-most important museum of Egyptian artefacts outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Highlights include a granite statue of Rameses II, a huge papyrus collection and the 15th-century BC Temple of Ellessya, reconstructed within the museum. It is housed in the monumental bulk of a late 17th-century palazzo designed as a Jesuit college by Guarini. Summer opening hours from mid-June to 9 September are 9.30am-8.30pm daily, except Monday. For the rest of the year it's open 8.30am-7.30pm; admission €7.50.
THE ICING ON THE CAKE
Turin is so identified with chocolate that you can buy a three-day ChocoPass for €12 from tourist offices, allowing you to sample chocolates at the city's producers, which make 40 per cent of Italy's chocolate – 85,000 tons of it. Stratta of Turin at Piazza San Carlo 191 (24) (00 39 011 547 920; stratta1836.it) is synonymous with Gianduioitti and Turineis, delicious chocolates filled with chestnut and rum cream.
There are also tartufini – with pistachios, gianduia (chocolate and hazelnut paste) and orange. The cremino is a cube made of two layers of gianduia alternated with chocolate cream with hazelnut, coffee or Sicilian lemon extract.