We all know the big hitting destinations to visit, but at Folkdays, we’re always searching for great places that aren’t necessarily the obvious pick - lesser known, overlooked, underrated. So when we decided to take a trip to Italy last month, we skipped over Florence, Rome and Venice - lovely as they are - and decided to investigate Turin. We were not disappointed.
Turin is considered, even by most Italians, to be an industrial city with little to offer due to its history as a centre for automobile fabrication. What an oversight! Having been Italy’s original capital and with its undeserved reputation, Turin is blessed with more elegance and less tourists than most cities of its size and historical stature making it a great city visit and immerse yourself in the joy of Italian architecture and history without being surrounded by endless camera snapping and umbrella waving tour leaders.
We were introduced to the city by a group of like minded locals who know our general requirements of any trip: the best in local speciality food, drink and culture, plenty of walking, some one-off gems, and of course a little shopping. Strolling through Turin from breakfast to lunch to coffee to aperitivo to dinner (it’s a strenuous schedule), you can really see the influence of so many people and groups of peoples, from the cool covered arcades erected to shield the resident monarchy, to the amazing synagogue in what used to be the Jewish sector, there isn’t really a street of the central city that wont deliver some beautiful square, statue, edifice or detail. And in addition to all that the immediate city has to offer, Turin is situated directly between the Ligurian Sea and the Alps. We decided to leave the beaches to the Italians on their summer break, and instead headed into the mountains for a couple of days in Sestriere. Sat just before the French border, there are countless trails through the hills, valleys and mountains, as well as great foraging (we effortlessly discovered wild arnica) and small farms selling ricotta so fresh it’s still warm.
If all that hasn’t tempted you, the following recommendations will have you booking a flight, pronto!
Via Berthollet, 9
If you find yourself missing Berlin, then head to DDR bar. Aside from the name and the intention to recreate a slice of the German capital’s style, this bar has the perfect mix of original design pieces, artwork, friendly staff, locals talking at Italian drinking volume (LOUD!) and absolutely the finest aperitivo buffet we saw in the city. If you’re not familiar with the custom, in countless bars across the city, you don’t just receive the regular small bowl of antipasti with your early evening drink, but a plate and access to a whole spread to pick at. If you don’t get carried away and fill yourself before dinner, you’re doing a better job than we did!
Piazza Carignano, 8
Turin has birthed many ideas and products throughout its history, and one such item is the iced lolly / popsicle / ice cream on a stick. Its first incarnation was an instant classic, and is still available all over the city: the “Pinguino” was originally only available as vanilla ice cream on a stick, coated in chocolate, but now comes in a glorious range of flavours. It also kicks all other choc ices in the face with its perfect balance of flavour and texture. Sometimes the original really is the best.
Piazza Vittorio Veneto, 4
This place doesn’t require a lot of thought: it’s located at the top of a square with a stunning view across the river to the Gran Madre church and Turin’s lush green hills. The menu is packed with simple, no fuss northern Italian classics, and the kitchen use the produce respectfully giving each ingredient room to shine.
Since coffee and cafe culture is such a cornerstone of Italian culture, and Turin has such a wealth of cafes to suit all moments in the day when a coffee is appropriate or necessary, here is a selection of our favourites from around the city. As far as we could find, all cafes in Turin make beautiful coffee and at a reasonable price, so even if you throw a stone and just go to the first cafe you find, it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed!
Via Berthollet 30g
One of the only new school coffee shops we came across in Turin, Orso is a sweet and welcoming cafe where you can get find a cold brew and when you’re done, walk through the internal door and get a great ice cream next door.
Bistro Torrefazione Samambaia
Via Madama Cristina, 20
If however, you’re more of a fan of the old school, you absolutely have to take a coffee and a Gianduja at this bistro. It’s packed from floor to ceiling with cafe ephemera from past eras, and the staff and clientele follow suit.
Piazza Vittorio Veneto, 5
Before losing his sanity, Friedrich Nietzsche would often frequent the still standing Caffé Elena. Since the weather was fine when we visited, we sat at the open french windows sipping “cafe shakerato” with ameretto, and cooled our feet on the marble floor while we people watched the Torino natives.
Caffè al Bicerin
Piazza della Consolata, 5
You absolutely can’t go to Turin and not stop by at Al Bicerin for a glass of Zabaoine. This warm whipped mixture of egg, sugar and sweet wine isn’t really the right drink for a summer’s day, but it’s an addictive treat all the same. If you really can’t stand the idea of the drink, you can also have it in cream form in pastries available all over the city.
Piazza Castello, 15
This place is bit of an obvious one, but it absolutely deserves the attention. It’s a tiny, decadent cafe, and the staff uphold the manner and dress (white suit and apron with black bow tie) of the generations of coffee makers who served before them. You don’t even need a coffee here, but it’s absolutely worth sticking your head through the door to drink it all in.
Only in Turin…
Il Balon and Porta Palazzo Markets
Whether you just want to have a stroll and gawp at how much more beautiful vegetables grown with natural methods are, or you’re on the hunt for something curious and amazing to take home from your trip, Il Balon and Porta Palazzo will keep you busy. The second Sunday of the month is the best time to go, when Il Balon market turns into Il Gran Balon, but on any other Sunday it’s still a gentle and interesting place to walk and enjoy the social atmosphere.
Basilica di Superga
In my opinion, no visit to an Italian city would be complete without visiting at least one church, cathedral, castle or palace per day. Not everyone is as obsessed with marble as I am, but visiting Turin without taking time to ride the tram up to the Basilica di Superego (after which the locally produced footwear is named) would be criminal. For three euros you can climb up to the roof for an almost 360 degree view looking down over the whole of Turin and beyond to the mountains on a clear day; the green forested hills to the rear, and even down into the private interior courtyard of the still operational convent. Taking a stroll round the exterior path around the hill, you will also find a memorial to the 1949 Torino FC team, who were all killed when their plane failed and crashed into the foundations of the Basilica.