Eyes, ears and screens will be on Turin this weekend as the city shines in opulent Italian style as the inaugural host of the Eurovision Song Contest.
The annual extravaganza of song, dance and cultural expression (never political expression…much) zips from town to town annually and this year the wind machine is blowing it back to Italy for the first time in more than 30 years. The Italians chose their first capital, Turin, to host the event. We made our way to Turin for an advance visit and we’re back this week. So if on-air glimpses of the city tempt future travel, here’s a royal city to explore at the foot of the Alps.
Rome, for all its ancient beauty and splendor, was neither Italy’s first choice as a capital nor its second. Turin was the first capital of a united kingdom of Italy in 1861, so you’ll find a city similar in size to Dublin, endowed with all sorts of sumptuous residences and palaces, its historic buildings and museums full of works of art and lavish goods of yesteryear, while the luxury cafes in the squares still serving royally favored recipes.
Under the seat of government of the Duchy of Savoy, which originated in France and was based in Chambéry but later moved its seat to Turin, Turin became the de facto capital. Four snappy years later, Turin was out and Florence had the hot new coordinates until six years later Rome took over the mantle and the rest is history.
Savoy history is so central to Turin that it’s the best place to start marveling at the wonder and majesty of the Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale di Torino). Located downtown, climb Baroque marble staircases and sip in saloons with floor-to-ceiling tapestries and paintings, marvel at gold-gilt bathrooms and banquet rooms with traditional silver cutlery. Don’t miss the entire wing dedicated to the Royal Armory.
Another holdover from the Savoyard dynasty is Merenda Reale, served in Italy like the equivalent of Britain’s afternoon tea via France. From its beginnings at the Savoy court to the present day, it’s still a phenomenon in Turin, a modern interpretation served in many of the grand cafes – or opt for a seat at the apothecary-like treasure trove, The Tea. For around €10-12, nibble on a tiered selection of biscuits, cakes, breads and pastries while sipping tea or coffee, just like the Savoyards do.
When it comes to coffee, espresso is king after a certain hour of the day (this is Italy, after all), but you’ll discover a phenomenon in Turin that might stall you. “Is that an Irish coffee?” You may be wondering. The Bicerin (pronounced like a bitch with an “in” at the end) looks similar but is a unique combination of coffee, hot chocolate and whipped cream that’s served across the city, but the originator is Caffè al Bicerin 1763. Check it out over This small, candle-lit parlor is for you. Just don’t call it mocha.
Lavazza, the world-renowned coffee company, was founded in Turin more than 125 years ago and still calls the city home, just one of the names synonymous with Turin. Others include Carpano, the world’s first brand of vermouth, and of course Fiat, the iconic, zippy Italian automaker with an acronym for a name (the T in Fiat stands for Torino). The Lingotto industrial district south of the city center is Fiat’s core area. Visit the former factory in the Lingotto building (now the headquarters and shopping center), where on the upper floors you will find the Pinacoteca Agnelli, a museum dedicated to the history and development of Fiat, as well as some of the Agnelli families’ most valuable paintings. The former outdoor rooftop test track will soon open as a High Line-style public garden, where you can also test drive your electric models.
Also in the Lingotto district, in the former Carpano factory, Eataly distills Italian cuisine, ingredients, service and gastronomic heritage into one gigantic retail restaurant. Torino was the first location of the food phenomenon in 2007 and since then it has had more than 40 locations worldwide, many of them across Italy as well as in New York, London, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Paris. As Piedmont is also the region where the Slow Food movement began, it’s clear that the Piedmontese value their culinary credentials, so where better to get a plate of pasta with a glass of Nebbiolo, or buy some prosciutto?
Northern Italian cuisine and Southern Italian cuisine feel like estranged cousins. They share certain spaces, attributes, and sometimes even walk and speak the same way, but they just don’t agree. butter and lard in the north, olive oil in the south; strong cream sauces and meaty ragù in the north, juicy, spicy tomato sauces in the south; Alpine on one side, Mediterranean on the other. In Turin we seem to eat a lot of the same dishes. The classics seem to be served anytime, anywhere. They have your vitello tonnato/sometimes vitel tonné (thinly sliced veal with tuna sauce, surprisingly hearty) and agnolotti (folded stuffed pasta with a rich, steamed filling, often dressed in a sauce-like broth), bagna càuda (a vegetable dip, like a fondue , except for anchovies and garlic) and gianduja – the novel way northern Italians made chocolate, which was popular in the 19th century. The classics endure and in Turin they stay.
Tre Galline is a restaurant that has forgotten whether it takes its name from the street it’s on or if the street took its name from the restaurant; that’s so long ago Translated as “Three Hens”, here you’ll find some of the best iterations of the classics the city has to offer – they’ve been here for more than 500 years, so you won’t find any clutter. With heavy timbers and traditional tablecloths, it feels like an alpine retreat, complete with cheese trolley.
On the other side of the scale, contemporary Piedmontese is on the Consorzio’s menu. Awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand for quality and value for money, this cool, modern dining room serves current classics with an edgy wine list featuring heavy hitters and “fine” natural wine finds. For casual bites, Berberè is the piece by name in town, a sourdough pizzeria founded in Bologna by two Calabrian brothers and now with two outposts in Turin, as well as in Florence, Verona, Rome and London. The Quadrilatero, the old Roman quarter, is an ideal place for restaurants and bars.
If Turin should be symbolized by a building, then it is the Mole Antonelliana. Built at the beginning of Italian unification and originally conceived as a synagogue, the “Mole” (as the locals call it) was completed just before the beginning of the 20th century and is one of the best vantage points in the city. Today it houses the National Museum of Cinema, which is worth a visit in its own right. Ride the elevator to the 85m high panoramic terrace for a bird’s-eye view of Turin.
Here you can really appreciate the uniqueness of the city, from its proximity to the Alps on one side and the Po River on the other, and the city’s beginnings through the well-preserved red-brick Roman Gate Porta Palatina (1st century). to modern structures such as Juventus’ Allianz Stadium and the PalaOlimpico (a purpose-built arena for the 2006 Winter Olympics, which will host Eurovision this week). As the city sprawls far and wide below, punctuated by piazzas and palazzi, it’s clear to see why it received royal recognition and capital city status.
Take three: Torinese Grand Cafés
Giuseppe Carpano (nephew of the founder Antonio) dates from 1899 and has a remarkably well-preserved interior. Here he perfected his vermouth creation. Take an aperitivo hour here. Piazza Vittorio Veneto 5#
It is said that the tramezzino (or what we know as a sandwich) was created and first served here in Italy, in this tiny café, which has survived almost entirely for 100 years. Piazza Castello 15
With its sweeping staircase and luxe Belle Époque style, spend an hour or two enjoying a truffle or two of the many truffles, pastries and cakes lined at the glass counter. Piazza San Carlo 204
Ryanair flies from Dublin to Turin. Passengers can then take the train/bus connection from the airport to Torino Porta Susa. Milan is a 60-90 minute train journey away, with both Ryanair and Aer Lingus flying from Dublin to Milan airports (Malpensa, Linate, Bergamo) several times a day. Ryanair connects Cork and Milan four times a week and Ireland West (Knock) and Milan twice a week.
Where to sleep
In the event of an outbreak, book a stay at the five-star Grand Hotel Sitea (grandhotelsitea.it), just off Via Roma, with an award-winning restaurant and chic cocktail bar. Hotel NH Turin Santo Stefano (nh-hotels.com), right next to the Roman remains of the old town, is a few minutes’ walk from the Quadrilatero and the Palace, while the designer hostel Combo (thisiscombo.com) offers a more budget-friendly option without sacrificing style and cool, communal hangouts.
Russell and Patrick’s trip was organized in part by Turismo Torino e Provincia. Visit www.turismoturino.org for more information
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/europe/the-gastrogays-guide-to-turin-italys-eurovision-city-is-a-must-for-food-lovers-41638716.html The GastroGays guide to Turin: Italy’s Eurovision city is a must for foodies