The Best of: Turin

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The Independent Travel

The host city of the Winter Olympics in 2006 makes a great base for those who want to combine the majesty of the mountains with the latest in urban chic.

The host city of the Winter Olympics in 2006 makes a great base for those who want to combine the majesty of the mountains with the latest in urban chic. Head for its grand Baroque arcades or visit the transformed Fiat factory and you will soon discover that Turin is every bit as stylish as its nearest neighbour to the west, Milan. The difference, as the Turinese would have it, is that their style is less brash - one reason for this may be the imposing presence and beauty of the Alps which can always be seen in the distance. Like Milan, Turin is an industrial city but, perhaps because of its quieter nature or the false perception that it must be one big Fiat factory, it receives far fewer foreign visitors, and only a handful are British. Yet Fiat, which owns Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, has played a large part in attracting some of the world's greatest designers and architects. Their legacy includes some of the most astonishing buildings you are ever likely to see.

Best hotel

The clear winner is the five-star Meridien Lingotto Art + Tech (00 39 011 664 2000; www.lemeridien-lingotto.it), an ultra-modern hotel designed by Renzo Piano - co-designer of the Pompidou Centre in Paris. It is situated inside Fiat's old Lingotto factory, which is now reborn as an arts, conference and shopping centre covering 250,000 square metres. Piano has incorporated glass lifts that speed guests upwards from the minimalist steel and marble lobby. If that doesn't knock your senses sideways, then the multi-jet power shower in your room certainly will. Add to that a wall-mounted plasma screen TV, internet connections for your laptop, hi-tech dust-free carpeting and, best of all, the use of Fiat's old rooftop test track (as seen in the original version of The Italian Job) as an exclusive jogging circuit and you see why double rooms begin at €170 (£117).

For non-joggers prone to vertigo, Hotel Boston on Via Massena (00 39 011 500359; www.hotelbostontorino.it) is a stylish but more homely alternative right in the city centre. There are fine examples of modern art everywhere from the small but striking reception to rooms typically furnished with stripped, lime-washed, Shaker-style furniture. Doubles from €150 (£103).

Best restaurant

La Pista (00 39 011 631 3523; www.lapista.to.it) on top of the Lingotto building combines the finest cuisine in Turin with panoramic views of the city and the Alps beyond. The restaurant's exclusive feel is enhanced by the journey up the ramp through the converted factory to a parking space on the roof. You will find people talking in hushed tones while enjoying some of the best food on the planet. The risotto al Castelmagno (a local cheese) is sublime. Sweets are presented on a suitably shaped Fiat engine component. Expect to pay €25 (£17) for three courses without wine. Turin is celebrated for its ice cream and chocolate and, if you go to Café Fiorio (00 39 011 817 0612) under the arches on Via Po, you will discover why. Founded in 1780, the gelateria, which was traditionally a meeting place for the cognoscenti, has retained its plush, period features, and is still a favourite haunt of students.

Best cultural attraction

Forget the shroud. The public are only allowed to see the original once every 25 years. Instead, head for a magnificent hilltop chateau just outside town. Castello di Rivoli's museum of contemporary art (00 39 011 956 5222; www.castellodirivoli.org) greets you with a huge Gilbert and George on the stairs and a large room which you think is empty until you look up and see the hanging horse by Maurizio Cattelan. In between, there are works by Henry Moore, Tony Cragg, Rebecca Horn,Anselm Kiefer and many more. If you don't like some of the pieces, you can marvel at the castle itself, parts of which date from the seventh century. Back in the centre of town, the Santuario della Consolata is unmissable, not only because it is dripping in marble, silver and gold and decked out with 17th-century wood carvings, but also because it contains an extraordinary collection of devotional amateur paintings in which members of the congregation are depicted being saved from death in a series of nasty accidents down the years.

Best shopping

Label-lovers won't want to wander too far from the elegant arcades and well-heeled designer shops of Via Roma. Perhaps more interesting and certainly less expensive is the massive Porto Palazzo market on the Piazza della Repubblica, behind which there is an antiques market, Gran Balon, held on the second Sunday of each month. On Saturdays, the same space is occupied by more of a bric-a-brac affair where you can find Sixties vinyl records and Seventies leather jackets.

Best sightseeing

After you have seen the art galleries and shops of Lingotto centre you have to visit Turin's landmark, the Mole Antonelliana. It was designed as a synagogue by the eccentric architect Alessandro Antonelli in 1863 but, even before it was built, the local Jewish community took exception to its odd shape and blown budgets. Now owned by the council, this 167-metre high white elephant has been given a new lease of life as the National Museum of Cinema. The Italian film industry was born in Turin and this great museum does it credit with thousands of cleverly presented exhibits. Recline on a chaise longue in the Temple Hall and gaze up at early film images projected on to the domed ceiling, then take a hair-raising elevator ride through the centre of this enormous space (there's no lift shaft) and burst out of the roof to the highest point in Turin.

Best nightspot

The coolest place in town is underneath the arches along the river Po. The Murazzi is where the most lively and up-to-the-minute clubs and bars are. A recent addition is Suite 29 (011 197 149 02; www.suite29.it) on Via della Rocca. The atmosphere in the lounge rooms is chilled, Sixties style. You almost expect to see Austin Powers sitting crossed legged and smoking a hookah. For a street-party atmosphere, plough through the crowds in the Quadrilatero Romano district where restaurants and cafés open late.

Best way to get there

British Airways (0870-850 9850; www.ba.com), EasyJet (0871-750 0100; www.easyjet.com) and Ryanair (0871-246 0000; www.ryanair.com) operate daily flights to Turin from Gatwick, Luton and Stansted respectively. British Airways return fares start at £68.40 for an Apex ticket booked online (bookings made by phone cost £15 extra). EasyJet return fares start at £31.99. Ryanair return fares are from £33.42 (for travel in December) or £23.94 (for travel in January). From Turin's Sandro Pertini airport, you can travel the 16 kilometres into the city centre by bus from early morning until midnight. Trains leave every half hour from 6.19am to 8.49pm. For more information, visit www.turismotorino.org.

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