DC’s Excellent Italian Adventure
When Hannibal’s Elephants came across the Alps in 213 BC this is where they came to and destroyed the town. In Torino they remember it as if it was yesterday, and to this day you won’t find elephants on the streets.
Strategically located and surrounded on three sides by the “Choir” of the Alps where two rivers, the Dora and Stura, join the Po this is the roman garrison town of Augusta Taurinorum, which in 1563, Duke Emanuelle Filberto made capital of Savoy and in 18th Century his successors (who were now also Kings of Sardinia) rebuilt as a Royal Capital in the baroque style to make it unique among Italian cities which by contrast are medieval or renaissance in character. This was the capital of Piedmont a powerful kingdom which defeated the French and Austrian armies and which was Britain’s ally in Crimea. Today it boasts 11 royal palaces including 6 surviving on the outskirts (of the original 9) providing the “Crown of Delights” surrounding the city. The Savoy palaces on their own are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This was the city which made Italy a nation. The nexus of the Resurgimento where in 1861 the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed in the courtyard of the Palazzo Carignano, the first capital of Italy, the home of Camillo Cavour, the city which lead the fight against the Lombard’s, Venetians, Austrians, Papal States and the Bourbon Kings of Naples and Sicily to unite Italy in 1870 under a Savoy monarch, Vittorio Emanuelle, Re d’Italia.
This was not, eventually, a good career move for the Savoy’s, (Obit 1946) but the many plaques you’ll see in the city to partisan fighters against fascism attest to its role as the centre of the resistance and after the war the new Princes, the Angelli’s and Benedetti’s, created modern Italy with, as always, the powerhouse of change being in Piemonte, FIAT (Fabariccia Italiano Automobili a Torino) and IVECO in Torino and Olivetti in Ivrea, 50 kms to the North. http://www.regione.piemonte.it/
Welcome to this special place, Torino, no mean city brimming with confidence in the 21st Century and host to the 2006 Winter Olympics. www.torino2006.org
Take the airline run by an Irish Accountant www.ryanair.com or if you must www.easyjet.com and fly (hopefully) over the Alps and land at Caselle, 10 kms NW of the Centro. The train is an option as it goes to a station called Susa, which is near the Piazza Statuto on the edge of the historic centre, Centro Storico. The alternative is the SADEM bus (blue), which goes to Porta Nuova Station at the other end of the central area but for around 25€ you may prefer to take a taxi to the door and orient yourself on the way. First go to the tourist desk (If your hotel isn’t giving you one as part of the deal) at the airport and buy a 3 Day Torino Card for 20€ each. This is a stormer as it gives you free transport and free entry to all the attractions and significant discounts on lots of other stuff. If you take the Airport bus it gives you 25% discount but don’t put the time on the back until you first use it.
Porta Nuova Station
Check in, sort out, as you will not be back to your hotel ‘till eve. Head down to Porto Nuova and straight in front of it is Torino’s showcase, the Via Roma, which goes for just under a mile to the centre of the city, the Piazza Castello. Gently perambulate your way down the Via Roma, which has on both sides arcades known as “Porticos”. There are over 12 miles of arcaded shopping streets in Torino providing better shopping than Milano as you can frequently see the magic words “Salde” – a Sale!
Halfway the road widens into the impressive Piazza San Carlo. The cafes here have a high pose factor (and prices to match!) but you may risk a pit stop for a coffee and a modest pastry! Rejuvenated continue and at the top of the Piazza take a diversion to the left into the Galleria Federico, yes the minis did come thru here in “The Italian Job”! Note the art deco “Lux” cinema. Art Deco was also an important influence in Torino in the 20th century with many fine buildings in this style. At the other end of the Galleria rejoin the Via Roma and shortly you will be in the Piazza Castello.
Ecce, to the right, the Palazzo Madama and the Via Po, to the left the Via Garibaldi, the main (pedestrianised) shopping street and the royal church of San Lorenzo and in front of you the symbol of Savoy absolutism, the Palazzo Reale. To the left and behind the royal palace you will find the medieval Duomo where you’ll also find the Sacra Sidone (The Shroud of Turin). They are all open late and you should visit them in the order listed (remember FREE with your Torino Card) starting at the Madama (Dowager) Palace where the ground floor is glass and covers the Roman excavations and the back wall was one of the original roman gateways. When you come out of the Duomo look down to your right and you’ll see the Porte Palatine, another 2,000-year-old gateway.
Other attractions you may wish to revisit here another time are the Royal Armouries and the gardens behind the palace or go to a show at the important Teatro Regio, which often has operatic productions.
For now, satiated with sight seeing, head down the Via Garibaldi for a drink and refueling. This is the main shopping drag so no doubt you’ll plan to return on Saturday. The area to the right of Garibaldi is the medieval quarter where you’ll find most restaurants. To your right you will come to Via Della Consolata (It frames the obelisk you will see as you look down it in the Piazza Savonia). Head down it until you come to Chiesa Della Consolata. Head into this atmospheric church for a few minutes, it is the Mother Church of the Salesian Order and contains the tomb of St. John Bosco and the Archbishops of Turin in hugely ornate side chapels. Come out of the church and turn left going past the famous Café Bicerin. www.bicerin.it/eng This has given its name to the local speciality drink, an over rich mix of two types of chocolate, espresso, liqueur and double cream – for another day!
Shortly you’ll come into the Piazza Emanuelle Filberto. On the right you’ll find Pastis an atmospheric Café/ Bar where you will retire for an aperitif. Note the free food table, most bars have FREE food between 6 and 9, (Tavola Caldo) you can help yourself (or in some places they bring a platter down to you) if you are having a DRINK i.e. alcohol, not just coffee. Also if you have “Café a banco”, standing up at the bar it is normally half price.
Fortified, head across to Pautasso.
(Opens at 8 but call in when you arrive in the square to book a table). This is a type of restaurant called a Bruschetaria, so it does pizzas and bruscheta as well as a selection of main dishes. Order the “Menu Degustimento” @ €20 and you can’t go wrong, as it is an excellent introduction to the regional cuisine of Piemonte. They will offer deserts (dolci) but it is not included and you may be too full! Get a taxi back to the hotel; you are not savvy enough yet to use public transport!
First thing take a cab ride (c. €10) to Stazione Sassi. Here every hour on the hour (use your Torino Card) you can take a wonderfully restored funicular railway 3km. (with equally wonderful views) to a basilica built on top of a mountain 425 metres high, Superga. (Note: Make sure you go first thing in the morning as the railway stops for c. 3 hours in the middle of the day but this doesn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere). Built in thanksgiving for the relief of the siege of Turin in 1706 this is a special place. At the top admire the vista over Turin and the “Choir of the Alps”. Visit the basilica designed by Filippo Juavarra, Court Architect to the Savoys. To the left enter the Royal Tombs of the House of Savoy and afterwards visit the monastery including the room of the popes with c. 290 pictures of Popes through the ages, an ideal place to interview Ian Paisley! Afterwards take the short and rewarding walk around the Basilica, at the rear is the monument to the Torino FC Team who perished in 1949, having just won the European Championship in Lisbon, when their plane crashed into the mountain in fog. Invigorated by the mountain air (and not crashing your plane) head back down on the funicular, every hour on the half hour.
Walk across the road from Sassi station and take the number 15 Tram into town. It will eventually turn off from the river into a wide arcaded piazza (Vittorio Veneto) . This narrows into the Via Po, get off at the first stop here and go up any of the streets to the right. This is the university quarter and you are looking for Antonelli’s pile – Mole Antonelliana.
You won’t be able to miss it at 167 M high, the highest brick building in the world and the building Walt Disney should have built! Antoinelli was an architect who got carried away on his commission for a synagogue (The rabbi remarked that they wanted a building in which to worship God, not to walk up to him!) and the city took this over from the now bankrupt Jewish community (Still a big Jewish community in Turin of which Primo Levi is their most famous son). This wondrous building is the symbol of the city. Enter and take the crystal lift to the viewing platform for a wonderful view of the city as well as the strange sensation of going thru a 65m high hall suspended just on wires. Afterwards tour the most amazing museum of cinema in the world, DON’T MISS!
Before or after there are plenty of cafes in the vicinity. Go back to the Via Po and head along the porticos towards the Piazza Castello. As you enter the piazza turn left down Via Lagrange and walk down 200m to Museo Egizio – the largest Egyptian museum outside of Cairo. After this also take time to look into the Galleria Sabuda, (right beside the museum) the art collection of the Savoy’s.
Also on Via Lagrange is a big shopping centre, maybe a marker for tomorrow. Head back down to Piazza Castello and on your right you will see the Palazzo Carignano. You should visit today or tomorrow to view an impressive Royal Palace, The original Italian Parliament Chamber and the Museo del Risorgimento, which to the Italians is something of a secular shrine.
That night head down to Il Ristorante Carmen in the Via Manzoni. http://www.mangiarebere.info/pizzerie-torino.html This is off the Piazza Statuto at the end of the Via Garibaldi with friendly staff and live music. Good basic Italian food – pizza Euro 4 and home made ravioli etc. The owner, Dario Colle, has travelled all over and says that he only ended up married to his wife (Carmen) because of Irish food! He is collecting Euro coins – the Irish 5 cents I gave him resulted in 2 free liqueurs – excellent value. The restaurant doesn’t look that impressive from outside but don’t let that put you off – they have live music downstairs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Afterwards if you fancy a post prandial “volta” turn right and head the short distance to Via Cernaia. You’ll know you’re there when you go thru the arches onto the porticos. Turn left and take a gentle stroll along the porticos passing by the Citadel which is all which remains of the huge fortress of Turin (You can visit the Citadel and the tunnels underneath at the Museo Pietro Micca). It was demolished along with the old walls and gates (At P. Statuto, Porta Nuova, P. Venetto and P. della Republica) when the Savoy’s rebuilt the city in their image in the C18. The porticos will lead you atmospherically to the P. Castello where you can demonstrate your newfound confidence by taking the No. 4 tram to Porta Nuova!
Your day! Go shopping or catch up on some of the places you missed or go to the exhibition of African Art, (the biggest in Europe this year). If you want to head out of town you could go to the Savoy’s Versailles, the Palazzo of Stupinigi 11 kms south of the city (No. 63 bus one stop past Mirafiori (The FIAT works) and then No. 41 to Stupinigi (For the 41 you need to buy 2 0.90c tickets each at a newsagent (look for the ATM sign) in advance), a visit to the huge motor museum or a Trip around town on the Tourist Bus. It’s your day!
Palazzina di Caccia di Stupinigi
That night find your own restaurant and let us have the details for our next trip!
Last day! Boo Hoo! Taxi or bus back to airport. Hotels have 12 check out so time for gentle stroll and soak up atmosphere for last time. Head past front of Porta Nuova Station along Corsa Vittoria Emanuelle II towards river to Parco del Valentino where you’ll find the Orta Botanico, Valentine Castle and Borgo Medieval village and Castle as well a views along the river Po and across to the Capuchin monastery.
Hotels: 3 Star
Dock Milano, Via Carnia www.dockmilano.com
Big but cosy and well located (In Cento Storico near Piazza Statuto and Porto Susa station) Art Deco Hotel
Artua’ y Solerino, Via Broferio www.itwg.com
Family hotel (say hello to Dario & Nadia) on top floor of C19 Palazzo in excellent position just off Piazza Solferino
Hotel: 5 Stars
Meridien Art + Tech, Lingotto
If you want some real swank try the “hotel” with a racetrack on the roof as featured in the “Italian Job” – The historic FIAT works with the 1 km test track is now the Meridien Lingotto, a showpiece conversion by the architect Renzo Piano which also features a conference centre and the Angelli Art Collection in a superb “pod” on the roof, and all surprisingly inexpensive thru the weekend deal on the Turismo Torino website.