The Piedmont region of Italy is home to the resplendent city of Turin, where snow-capped Alps anchor the skyline in almost every direction. It was in this culinary capital along the Po River that the car known as the Fiat was born and the beverage Vermouth was invented, but the city has an alluring character and impressive history that go much deeper than that. Here are some of the many ways to discover the best of this often unsung city on a tour of Turin.
Try world-renowned chocolate
Chocolate artisans abound in Turin, a city celebrated as one of the world’s chocolate capitals, and distinguished as the first to serve hot chocolate and chocolate spread. The city’s extensive chocolate-making history dates back to the 16th century, when Turin’s Duke Charles Emmanuel I married the daughter of Philip II of Spain, and the import of cacao from Spain began. Although initially reserved for nobility, the sweet treat gained popularity among the masses in 1678, when Turin’s royal family granted the first license for a chocolate house. Today, chocolatiers such as Guido Gobino, Peyrano and Pfatisch churn out impressive artisanal creations, and the opportunity to try the city’s most notable product is literally around every corner.
Hundreds of chocolatiers from Turin and the Piedmont region hawk their sweets at this 10-day-long affair, making it the annual festival to attend if you want a taste of Turin’s world-renowned cacao creations. Here, chocolate carvings wow crowds, pastry chefs give baking and chocolate-making demonstrations and samples aplenty can be found throughout the event. No matter what, be sure to try some of Turin’s most famous confections, including milk chocolate-and-hazelnut Gianduias and layered hazelnut pralines known as Creminos.
If mouthwatering gelato is what you seek, Caffè Fiorio is a must-visit. This 18th-century hangout was a popular social spot for politicians, artists, aristocrats and intellectuals, and not only boasts its original layout and vintage furnishings, but serves some of the best chocolate gelato in the city. Pop into this old-world establishment, located under the porticoes of Via Po, to taste creamy gelato churned using a portion of condensed milk—a recipe that has remained unchanged since its conception.
Caffè Al Bicerin
It would be a missed opportunity to visit Turin without trying its most notable specialty drink, il bicherin, and Caffè Al Bicerin is the place to go to try the original version. It’s been said that this warm beverage was invented here in the 1800’s, and if you like layered espresso, hot chocolate and whipped cream, stop by for a decadent sip.
Embrace café culture
Throughout history, famous artists, writers, politicians and nobles have gathered at the many cafes throughout Turin to discuss the most pressing topics of the day, which comes as no surprise when you step inside these historic venues. The grand interiors are breathtaking and unexpected, and eating a meal surrounded by such opulence makes every bite that much better.
The dark wood, ornate bronze accents and mirrored walls of this intimate establishment give it an old-world allure, but it’s more than the Art Nouveau interior that make Caffè Mulassano a must-visit. It’s been said that the crustless finger sandwiches known as tramezzini were invented here, and the historic spot is also known to churn out some of the best espresso in the city. Stand at the marble counter to sip some caffeine poured by a dapper, bow-tie-clad barista, or sit at one of four small tables to people-watch as you enjoy a bite to eat.
Baratti & Milano
This historic locale popped up in 1858, and is situated just a stone’s throw from Caffè Mulassano. Here, crystal chandeliers illuminate Siena marble countertops and mahogany panels bear striking accents etched by Capisano, one of the early-20th century’s most famous wood carvers. Pop in to Baratti & Milano enjoy a savory meal in the elegant restaurant, buy handmade chocolates from the bar or simply admire the original furnishings—which have been protected by law since 1985, when they were deemed to hold significant historical and artistic value.
Legendary screen stars such as Ava Gardner, Jimmy Stewart and Brigitte Bardot frequented this classic cafe in the 1950s, and a visit is a chance to step into the days of old Hollywood and taste exclusive recipes that have been served since the establishment opened its doors in 1903. Sit down inside to marvel at the original furnishings, or relax on covered walkways to enjoy aperitivo and watch daily life pass by in Piazza San Carlo. Plus, if you’re intrigued by local legend, be sure to step on the golden bull imprinted on the sidewalk outside—it’s been said this will bring you good luck all year long.
Step into royal history
Italia’s royal roots can be traced directly to Turin, which was named the unified country’s capital when the Kingdom of Italy was founded in 1861. The seeds of the city’s political grandeur were planted much earlier, when powerful leaders such as Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy and Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, were born. Cavour became the kingdom’s first Prime Minster and Vittorio Emanuele its first king, and remnants from the House of Savoy’s reign through 1946 can still be seen throughout the city, where porticoes, piazzas and UNESCO-listed palaces set the backdrop for everyday life.
This 14th-century square serves as the central meeting point in the city, where two striking Savoy residences can be viewed and visited. At the Piazza Castello, see gilded coats of arms and breathtaking weaponry once owned by the Savoy family inside the Royal Palace of Turin. Step inside the palace’s 19th-century Royal Library, where some of Leonardo da Vinci’s rarest work is kept under lock and key. Or, stroll through the museum inside the Baroque Palazzo Madama before taking an elevator ride to the top floor for panoramic views of the city.
A dramatic, red-brick exterior characterizes Palazzo Carignano, a masterpiece of Baroque architecture designed by architect Guarino Guarini in 1679. It was here that King Vittorio Emanuele II was born, where the first Parliament of Italy gathered and is the current site of the National Museum of the Risorgimento. Today, the palace serves as an enduring symbol of the Savoy family’s powerful reign and the success of the Italian Risorgimento, which was the movement for Italy’s unification.
La Venaria Reale
This vast Baroque palace sat in a state of neglect for years until its eight-year-long restoration culminated in 2007. Today, the sweeping estate of La Venaria Reale serves as one of the finest examples of 17th- and 18th-century architecture and art, and is noted as one of Italy’s most popular cultural sites. The magnificent interior is only rivaled by over 120 acres of gardens, site of one of Northern Italy’s largest and most important parks: the Park of La Mandria.
See rare artifacts and religious relics
From the manuscripts, drawings and engravings housed in the city’s vast Royal Library to the astonishing artifacts found in one of the world’s most notable Egyptian museums, the Savoy kings’ and queens’ love for art and passion for collecting is evident throughout Turin.
Shroud of Turin
Although cloaked in mystery, the Holy Shroud of Turin is considered one of the most important religious icons of all time. Popes have prayed in front of it, millions have trekked to Turin to view it and today, it is distinguished as one of the world’s most-studied ancient artifacts. Many Christians believe that this linen cloth was draped over Jesus Christ’s deceased body and that the markings are actually blood stains consistent with the wounds endured during the crucifixion. While the real shroud housed in Turin Cathedral is very rarely displayed to the public, the Holy Shroud Museum puts on a fascinating, informational exhibit, and an exact replica is always available for free viewing in the Royal Church of San Lorenzo.
Egyptian art and culture is brought to the forefront at Turin’s Egyptian Museum, which was opened almost 200 years ago and houses the world’s largest collection of Egyptian artifacts after Cairo, Egypt. Although there’s not enough space for every single item to be shown, the massive treasury includes over 30,000 significant objects, and it was only recently that some artifacts previously kept in storage were put on display after an extensive renovation. Some of the must-see treasures include well-preserved human and animal mummies, the spectacularly complete Tomb of Kha, an extremely important papyrus collection and everyday items such as jewelry, clothing, makeup and wigs.
What are your favorite things to do while visiting Turin, Italy? Tell us in the comments below!