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Winter Weekend in Torino

torino istock image

Rome has the Coliseum, Florence has the Uffizi, Venice has the gondolas, and Capri has the Blue Grotto.  But Turin?  Turin has FIAT, you may say.  If travelers to Italy have heard of Turin at all, it is maybe because of Italy’s largest automaker.  All the better for you: the dearth of tourists makes Turin an ideal weekend destination, especially in the winter.  And you’ll soon find it to be more than just “the Detroit of Italy.”

Friday Afternoon:  Arrive in Turin on the Frecciarossa train from Milan.  Even the high-speed train signals the efficiency of northern Italy; we’re close to Switzerland here, and you can feel it in the air.  And the on-time arrivals.  From the train, you can walk to your lodgings for the weekend, the elegant and understated Townhouse 70 hotel, part of the small luxury Townhouse chain.  The hotel’s rooms are modern and well-appointed, and the central location is perfect for exploring the heart of this Piemontese city.

As in most of northern Italy, aperitivo culture is sacred in Turin.  Lobelix, a café in the Piazza Savoia just a short walk from the hotel, takes aperitivi to Alpine heights.  The two-level café spills out into the piazza in nice weather, but the spread of snacks inside is what draws crowds.  Locals quaff negronis and Prosecco while munching on a veritable buffet.  They take their snacks seriously in this town.  From canapes to cannelloni, the treats will more than tide you over for your evening stroll.

Turin is renowned for its holiday lights, and not in the tacky, National Lampoon Christmas way.  The Luci d’Artista is an initiative geared toward bolstering Turin’s reputation as a center of contemporary art in northern Italy, and the entire city glows during the winter months.  The traditional lighted signs of the city’s shops and restaurants join installation pieces with names like “Flying Carpet” and “Solar Wind” from artists such as Luigi Nervo, Alfredo Jaar, Enrica Borghi, and Vanessa Safavi.  Neon lights are suspended over the streets, strung between buildings, and you can’t help but feel magic in the air.

Saturday:  After breakfast at the hotel, you head out for some culture and history.  Turin is home to the Museo Egizio, one of the world’s finest collections of Egyptian art, courtesy of several generations of Piemontese Egyptologists who amassed a trove of mummies and other artifacts.  The museum is in the midst of continuing renovations, and recently opened the “Statuario”, an absolutely breathtaking gallery designed by Oscar-winning art director Dante Ferretti to showcase its collection of sarcophagi.  There’s even a temple transported from Egypt after the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

From the Museo Egizio, feed your appetite at the original Eataly, opened here in 2007.  Though a worldwide phenomenon now, this one-stop food emporium celebrating the gusto and grace of Italian gastronomy was born right here in Turin.  Its location in the Piedmonte region of Italy has always ensured that Turin produces (and consumes) some of the best food in Italy.  Enjoy traditional pastas and a glass of local wine downstairs in one of the restaurants, then shop for souvenirs your friends and family will really love.

The main attraction for the evening is a soccer match—but you’re in Italy, and this isn’t just any soccer match, it’s the nation’s top team,  Juventus, playing in their brand-new space-age stadium.  Like a flying saucer that landed on the outskirts of Turin, the stadium itself is a shrine to Italy’s beautiful game and its winningest team.  There’s even a museum you can visit celebrating the storied club’s 117-year history and its 30 Italian championships.  On the pitch, watch legendary European stars like Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon, and Paul Pogba—well worth the price of admission.

Sunday:  There are many beautiful churches in Turin, and you could always visit the shroud, but another pilgrimage you should make is to Caffe Al Bicerin.  At this quaint café, open since 1763, they make the traditional Piedmontese drink so well, they named the shop after it.  “Bicerin” is a piping hot combination of espresso, chocolate, and cream, drunk from a special goblet.  It’s just right on a chilly winter Sunday, a small, necessary indulgence.

From Al Bicerin, you have several choices for the rest of your day.  The first is the iconic Mole Antonelliana, the tallest brick building in Europe and certainly the strangest.  The awkwardly-proportioned dome was originally intended to serve as a synagogue, but conflicts between the architect and the community assured it would never be.  The Mole now houses the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, fitting for a city that claims to be the birthplace of Italian cinema.  Take the elevator to the top for a panoramic view of the city.

If the weather’s fine or you’re feeling fortified by your Bicerin, take a stroll through Parco del Valentino, on the banks of the Po River.  The park is home to the University of Turin’s botanical gardens and the Castello del Valentino, a UNESCO World Heritage Site from the 17th-century.  The castle once belonged to the Royal House of Savoy and now is a university architecture building.

Turin is the heart of Italy’s “slow food” movement.  Take advantage of the city’s many events and enjoy a wine tasting or cellar tour of local Amarone.  It’s the perfect day to wind down a brilliant winter weekend.

And if you’re lucky enough to have any time left, stop by that FIAT factory, Il Lignotto.  It’s a modernist landmark, and there’s a race and test track on the roof.  The entire complex has been re-envisioned by Renzo Piano as a hotel, shopping center, and collection of eateries.  Detroit should take notes.