Despite appearances to the contrary, Turin's NH Santo Stefano is a new-build. After many years as a Second World War bombsite (RAF pilots were looking for the Fiat factory) and then as a car park, this isolated spot in the city's historic centre was turned into a hotel for the 2006 Winter Olympics.
The architect is Roberto Gabetti of Gabetti and Isola, a local firm that has led the retreat from acontextural (and sometimes just plain nasty) Italian modernism. His creative flourish was to build the hotel's lobby as an echo of the red-brick Roman Porta Palatina opposite, but instead of filling in the floors above reception, Gabetti left the tower empty save for a spiral staircase that winds gradually up towards the fifth floor.
Up here there is an open-air "Vista Panoramico" offering a splendid view across the city's exposed Roman remains, the campanile of the cathedral and the Italian Alps beyond. It's a dramatic touch that may well have cost the hotel 10 bedrooms, but the impact is well worth the loss of income.
The rest of the hotel is arranged around an inner courtyard known as the Cloister, which is filled with white garden furniture in anticipation of warm summer evenings. Santo Stefano is very much a businessman's hotel in what is very much a businessman's city, but its designer flourishes raise it well above the norm. The bar looks like a library and has books in glass cases that you might want to read. The spa is based around a Moroccan-style hammam with a timetable explaining which nights are misto and which women-only.
For cultural tourists Santo Stefano's great advantage is its proximity to the major sights. The cathedral with its world-famous Shroud is two minutes' walk away. Beyond that, several royal palaces and Teatro Regio are just round the corner.
There are 125 rooms spread across five floors. The fifth is definitely the best, with lofty rooms under steep wooden eaves. Room lighting is provided by freestanding Tisettanta or Flos lamps made in Italy; great for atmosphere but switching each one on when you get back in can take a while. Most of the furniture is also locally sourced; sturdy beds by Altrenotti and armchairs and curtains by Rostagno. Bathrooms favour grey Italian marble tiles. Toiletries are NH's own Agua de la Tierra brand.
The food and drink
The ground-floor restaurant looks on to the Cloister and does an adequate buffet breakfast, but the decor is bland and doesn't encourage lingering. For lunch and dinner there is a menu dégustation of three courses, water, glass of wine and coffee all for €28 (£25). The bar provides snacks from 10am (when breakfast ends) to 1am and is much better on ambience. A chicken salad costs €10. Piedmontese wine (very good reds, indeed) starts at €14 a bottle.
Expect to pay €42 a head without wine for a meal if you're not opting for the menu dégustation.
Use of the hammam is €34 during the week and €38 at the weekend. There is free internet access by cable in all rooms, but the connection is variable.
There's good access throughout the hotel for guests with disabilities; both lifts will accommodate wheelchairs. Children and small pets are welcome. There is a €20 charge per stay for pets. Children up to the age of 12 years stay for free if they share their parents' room.
Double rooms from €164 B&B. There are discounts for anyone aged under 30 or over 60. However, be warned, your passport will be checked on arrival to make sure you qualify.
NH Santo Stefano, Via Porta Palatina 19, 10122 Torino (00 39 011 5223311; nh-hotels.com).Reuse content