48 Hours In Turin

There's a lot more to this Italian city in the foothills of the Alps than fast cars and a religious relic, says Aoife O'Riordain
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The Independent Travel



Cheap flights from Luton are about to start to this magnificent city. Turin is gearing up to host the Winter Olympics in 2006 (so get there now before everyone else does) and the Salone del Gusto food festival takes place in the city's Lingotto Fiere from 21-25 October. This is the biggest event for the Slow Food movement, which began in the nearby town of Bra. The fair is open 11am-11pm from Thursday-Sunday and 11am-8pm on Mondays, admission €20 (£14). For details call Tourism Turin on 020-8371 8540 or see www.turismotorino.org.


Next Thursday, easyJet (0870 600 0000; www.easyJet.com) starts flying from Luton to Turin, while British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) flies from Gatwick and Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) has services from Stansted. Turin's airport is 16km from the city centre at Caselle. Buses (00 39 011 300 0611; www.sadem.it) depart every 45 minutes, and terminate at the Porta Nuova railway station. Single fares cost €5 (£3.50) and must be bought in advance. A taxi costs about €45 (£32).


The Swiss architect Le Corbusier described Turin as: "The city with the most beautiful natural location". Lying in the foothills of the Alps, it became the official residence of the Royal House of Savoy in 1536 and was also the first capital of Italy after reunification in 1861. At its centre is the city's main square, the Piazza Castello - a fountain-dotted expanse surrounded by Baroque architecture and the imposing Palazzo Madama and Palazzo Reale. It is approached from the south by the gracious, arcaded via Roma. To the west, via Garibaldi marks the beginning of the atmospheric narrow streets of the Roman section of the city. As Turin is preparing to host the Winter Olympics in 2006, you will have to dodge the city's extensive programme of roadworks. Turin's main tourist office is housed in the Atrium, Piazza Solferino (00 39 011 535 181; www.turismotorino.org). It opens 9.30am-7pm daily. The good-value Turin Card gives access to over 120 museums as well as unlimited use of the city's public transport system. A card valid for 48 hours costs €15 (£11); €17 (£12) buys a three-day pass.


The super-slick Meridien Lingotto Art & Tech at Via Nizza 230 (00 39 011 664 2000; www.lemeridien-lingotto.it) is in a section of an old Fiat factory, which was adapted by Italian architect Renzo Piano. Double rooms cost €160 (£108) per night with breakfast. In the centre of town is the Hotel Victoria at via Nino Costa 4 (00 39 011 561 1909; www.hotelvictoria-torino.com); double rooms start at €163 (£115), breakfast included. Turin also offers some good-value B&Bs. The centrally located Casa Marga at via Bava 1 bis (00 39 011 883 8927) charges €60 (£43) per room per night.


Turin's most recognisable symbol is the 167m Mole Antonelliana at via Montebello 20 (00 39 011 576 4733; www.gtt.to.it), a cross between the Eiffel Tower and the Chrysler Building, that was originally conceived in 1863 as a synagogue. Make the dizzying ascent in its glass lift to the viewing platform 87m up for great views of the city, the river and the Alps towering in the distance. It opens 10am-8pm daily except Mondays (Saturdays until 11pm), admission €3.62 (£2.60).


Start on the banks of the river Po at the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele. On your left you will see the 19th-century church of Gran Madre de Dio. Continue across the bridge to the arcaded Piazza Vittorio Veneto 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, one of the city's Roman gates. This is the site of what is said to be Europe's biggest market (daily except Sunday), selling everything from fruit and fish to clothing and household items.


Turin is littered with historic cafés. Call in at the richly embellished Caffe Torino on Piazza San Carlo 204 (00 39 011 545 118) for a plate of agnolotti - a Piemontese dish of ravioli stuffed with roast meat.


Most shops open at 10am, close for lunch around 1pm and reopen from about 3-7pm. Turin's most expensive shops are under the arcades of via Roma. Other shopping thoroughfares are via Po and via Garibaldi. You will also find a few gems such as the historic confectionery shop Stratta on Piazza San Carlo 191 (00 39 011 547 920; www.stratta1836.it). Do not leave without a box of Guijandotti sweets - a Torinese invention of chocolate and crushed hazelnuts.


Turin gave the world Martini and Vermouth; the latter was invented in 1786 by Antonio Benedetto Carpano. Order a glass of Carpano (a type of Vermouth) for €4.15 (£3) at the Caffe Mulassano (00 39 011 547 990) on Piazza Castello, which has a fabulous Art Nouveau interior - but do as the purists do and forgo a slice of lemon.


Eating out in Turin is all about indulgence. The classic Torinese restaurant is the elegant Ristorante del Cambio at Piazza Carignano 2 (00 39 011 546 690). It oozes a formal grandeur of days gone by with acres of gilt, mirror and stucco and specialises in Piemontese classics such as bagna cauda (raw vegetables served with a hot dipping sauce of olive oil, garlic and anchovies) and risotto al Barolo (the rich local wine) for around €60 (£42) per person. Le Tre Galline at via Bellezia 37 (00 39 011 436 6553) offers a more laid-back approach in the trendy Quadrilatero Romano for €40 (£28). Sotto la Mole at via Montebello 9 (00 39 011 817 9398) is, as the name suggests, under the Mole and offers simple but delicious cooking at a reasonable €20 (£14). Bear in mind that nearly all restaurants in the centre close on Sunday nights.


The world's most discussed relic, the Shroud of Turin, is no longer on display. But at Turin's cathedral you can gaze at the satin-covered box that it is kept in (behind the requisite toughened glass) and inspect a smaller copy hanging on the wall. A full-size copy is also on display in the quieter octagonal Baroque church of San Lorenzo on Piazza Castello. Mass is celebrated here on Sundays at 11am, noon and 7pm.


One of few places that offers Sunday brunch is another of the city's historic cafés. Pepino 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.


Between the Ponte Umberto I and the Ponte Isabella 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. On the banks of the river you will also find a replica of a 15th-century Piemontese village, built for the Italian General Exposition held in the park in 1884.


Catch the number 15 tram from Piazza Castello to the base of the Sassi-Superga (00 39 011 576 4733; www.gtt.to.it) funicular. The steep 3km ride takes you up the hill to the spectacularly situated Basilica of Superga (00 39 011 899 7456). The funicular operates 9am-8pm daily except Wednesdays, though on weekdays a two-hour lunch break is taken from noon to 2pm; late opening is on Tuesday, 7pm-midnight. Return fares cost €3.10 (£2.20).


The Museo Egizio via Accademia delle Scienze (00 39 011 561 7776; www.museoegizio.org) is the second most important museum of Egyptian artefacts outside The Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Highlights of its collection include a granite statue of Rameses II. It opens 8.30am-7.30pm daily except Monday, admission €6.50 (£4.60). The Museo Nazionale del Cinema (00 39 011 812 5658; www.museonazionaledelcinema.org), housed in the Mole Antonelliana, contains five floors of exhibits dedicated to all aspects of celluloid history - including Marilyn Monroe's bodice. It opens 9am-8pm daily except Mondays (late opening on Saturdays until 11pm), admission €5.20 (£3.70).


Sit, with a postcard of the Mole, behind one of the marble-topped tables in the atmospheric wood-panelled surroundings of Al Bicerin at Piazza della Consolata 5 (00 39 011 436 9325; www.bicerin.it). Sip the house drink, a Bicerin - a waistband-busting concoction of coffee, chocolate and cream - as you scribe.


No one can deny the huge influence that Fiat has had on Turin. Visit the newly regenerated former Fiat factory, the Lingotto complex. Among its shops, cinemas and hotels you will find the Pinacoteca di Giovanni e Marella Agnelli (00 39 011 006 2713; www.pinacoteca-agnelli.it) - known locally as the "jewel box". It contains 25 priceless works from the Agnelli collection, including pieces by Canaletto, Picasso, Dali and Matisse. It opens 9am-7pm daily except Monday, and admission is €4 (£3).