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  • Writer's pictureevelinedejonckheer

36 Hours in Turin

With the Alps as a background, Turin, Italy’s fourth-largest city, is elegant, photogenic and rich with history. Grand squares and former royal palaces abound in this northern Italian crossroads, nicknamed Little Paris, which was briefly Italy’s first capital after the country’s unification in 1861. And despite housing one of Christianity’s most solemn relics — a shroud believed by some to be the burial cloth of Jesus — the city is awash in earthly pleasures. Both gianduja chocolate and vermouth were invented there, and can be sampled among the historic coffeehouses, chocolate shops and aperitivo bars that line the city’s arcaded shopping boulevards. And especially important in the winter, an ever-expanding buffet of galleries and museums — including one of the world’s largest collections of Egyptian antiquities, a museum of fake fruit and a new contemporary art hub on a rooftop racetrack — offer respite from the cold and food for the spirit.



Friday Night

Take a (short) hike to a hilltop church

If climbing an actual mountain seems daunting, the 15-minute hike up to the Monte dei Cappuccini, a hilltop with a 17th-century church on top, will at least give you great mountain views. To the west, the grid of Turin’s streets of Baroque buildings and bell towers stretches for miles, punctuated by the iconic spire and dome of the Mole Antonelliana, a stately 19th-century brick edifice that was originally built to be a synagogue, but was repurposed as a monument to Italy’s unification. (Until 1861, Italy was a patchwork of independent kingdoms, duchies and city-states.) Today, Mole Antonelliana houses the National Museum of Cinema (for the moment, it hosts the world of Tim Burton exposition). Beyond the cityscape, the Alps form a long, snowy, sawtoothed wall.




DinnerTime

The San Salvario neighborhood, once a scruffy area near the central train station, now bursts with cafes and bars of every stripe. Scannabue, a much-loved restaurant that opened in 2008, feels at least 100 years older because of its gilt-framed mirrors, sepia cityscape photos and timeless Piedmontese comfort food. The vitello tonnato is textbook — deli-thin slices of veal amid dollops of fish-infused mayonnaise — and the beef jowl is slow cooked in barbera wine. For pastaphiles, the knife-cut tajarin (a thin local noodle made with ample egg yolk) arrives larded with ground sausage. Dinner for two, runs about 80 euros.

Stick around San Salvario for a nightcap or three. With its peeling high ceilings, scuffed wooden floors and arched doorways, Isola feels like a 19th-century aristocrat’s salon that has gone to seed. Along the walls you’ll find racks of vintage vinyl albums and shelves of contemporary wines, which might include Osuma Pa Rosso (€6 a glass), a light red made from the ruchè grape. The libations keep flowing at La Cuite, a cozy and casual wine bar outfitted with a long counter, wooden tables, a chalkboard menu and a wood-burning fireplace. That and a glass of tannic Langhe nebbiolo (€5), one of the Piedmont region’s star red wines, reheat you quickly.


Saturday Morning

The Mercato di Porta Palazzo, in the grand Piazza della Repubblica, is one of Europe’s largest markets, and it thrills in size and sprawl. The market is divided into quadrants, each with its own specialty. In one, stalls overflow with the nation’s agricultural bounty, including Sicilian lemons, Sardinian artichokes and Pugliese peppers. Another has sunglasses, suitcases, pajamas, Italian soccer jerseys, and other inexpensive clothes and accessories. A third houses the Antico Tettoia dell’Orologio — a covered glass-and-metal market hall packed with purveyors of coffee, cheeses, cured meats, breads, olives and other classic Italian delicacies, while the fourth quadrant contains the Mercato Centrale Torino, a vast modern indoor food court. If you’re still in shopping mode, Turin’s favorite vintage and retro market, Il Balon, takes place Monday to Saturday (hours vary) in a network of nearby streets, notably Via Borgo Dora.


Saturday Lunch

How do you like your cheese? If you answered, “Melted and served in a cauldron,” then you might find bliss at the new Fondoo restaurant, near the Piazza San Carlo. Dedicated to the quintessential Alpine dish, fondue, this small, bright and minimalist restaurant in the historical center serves molten cheese (mainly Gruyère) mixed with anything from wine-soaked mushrooms to shaved black truffles, to serve as a dip for bread, small potatoes and pearl onions. There is also an array of chocolate fondues for dessert. Chinotto, a light, slightly bitter soda flavored with myrtle-leaved orange, cuts through the rich food. Lunch for two runs about €50.


Saturday Afternoon

A panorama of Turin history unfolds around Piazza San Giovanni, a central square. To the north, see the Porta Palatina, a red-brick Roman-era gate to the city. To the east, and down some stairs, the ruins of a Roman amphitheater (free admission) hide in the shadow of the Galleria Sabauda (€15), a Neoclassical museum that houses art collected by the dukes and kings of the House of Savoy, a historic royal dynasty. Next to the museum, the tall bell tower of the Renaissance-era Cathedral of St. John the Baptist soars over the unattached main building, whose chapel holds the Shroud of Turin, a 14-foot cloth bearing the faint image of a bearded man that some believe to be Jesus Christ. The cloth is not displayed to the public, but the Museum of the Shroud (€8), a short walk away, explains its history and some of the scientific studies done to determine its origins.

For fashionable folks, a shopping stroll among the elegant palazzos of central Turin is an encouraging education in style. Two high-end shops stand out. La rinascente, is a contemporary multi floor store where you can combine shopping for sunglasses, perfumes and combine Made in Italy Brands high tops with gold buckles for an all-Italian outfit. Tucked off the museum- and restaurant-lined Piazza San Carlo, San Carlo dal 1973 is a longstanding avant-garde emporium of women’s wear. The loftlike, multilevel showroom glows with shimmery trench coats by L’Impermeabile, supersoft faux-fur jackets from Molliolli and other edgy garments.



Saturday Night

Wine is the star at Magazzino 52, a contemporary bistro drawing a well-attired middle-aged crowd just off the Po River in the Vanchiglia neighborhood. Under the arched brick ceiling, a maze of tall wine shelves divides up the open space, creating private zones while showcasing vintages from the 51-page wine list, which spans from the Loire to Lebanon. Choose a bottle and pair it with the kitchen’s reverent and expert takes on Piedmontese cuisine, which have included silky veal tartare with mustard, hazelnuts and Sicilian anchovies; housemade shoelace tajarin noodles with shredded leeks, guanciale (cured pork jowl) and grated sheep’s milk cheese; and soft-cooked eggplant topped with striped bass and local tomatoes. Three set courses plus cheese or dessert, €51 per person. Seatings at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. — reserve ahead.

Or go for Nikkei, a tiny, semi-secret cocktail lounge in the back of the Azotea restaurant, also in Vanchiglia, feels like an indoor garden party: potted plants, green walls hung with vines, a gazebo-like canopy over the corner booth. Botanicals fill the drinks, too: Lavender flowers macerated in dry vermouth join with sake, yuzu, green-tea liqueur and celery-leaf soda to form a gardeny cocktail called the Nima (€14). But the most powerful concoction (with the most creative presentation) might be the Tobacco Road, a sweet and bitter mezcal cocktail with cherry liqueur and coffee that you sip from a glass shaped like a tobacco pipe (€14).


Sunday Morning

You can hardly hurl a cocoa pod without hitting a chocolate shop in Turin, the proud home of gianduja, a blend of chocolate and hazelnut paste. Two particularly dense and dark hot chocolates can be found on Via Po, a fancy boulevard whose vaulted arcades provide protection from rain and snow, making it ideal for shadow strolls. There are no seats amid the glass cases full of tarts, cakes and cookies at Pasticceria Ghigo, a pastry shop opened in 1870, so locals crowd the counter to gulp the rich hot chocolate (€4.50). For more comfort, sink into a banquette and admire the plush red fabrics, carpets and wallpapers of the 18th-century Caffè Fiorio, whose clientele included the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche during his stay in Turin. The thick hot gianduja chocolate (€5.50) steams in the cup like dark magma. Stop at Gallerie d'Italia, a museum that opened in 2022 in a renovated Baroque palazzo, has a collection ranging from medieval panel paintings to contemporary video art. If you're a coffee lover, stop at Museo Lavazza, the coffee brand of Turin, which opened a museum telling their history in an attractive and interactive way !




Sunday Afternoon

Hit the track!

Turin is associated with Fiat, whose factory in the southern Lingotto district manufactured cars from the 1920s until the 1980s. Today, the multipurpose building (which was renovated by the Italian architect Renzo Piano) includes the Pinacoteca Agnelli (€10.60), an art gallery showing some two dozen paintings — by artists including Manet, Matisse, Modigliani and Picasso — collected by members of the Agnelli family, the founders of Fiat. The former factory’s most impressive addition is La Pista 500 (€2.10), an outdoor art space that opened in 2022 on an oval-shaped rooftop walkway that once served as Fiat’s test track. The circuit is lined with thousands of plants and large-scale outdoor artworks, including a photo billboard by the Iranian artist Shirin Aliabadi and a neon sign reading “YES TO ALL” by the Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury. But the marquee attraction is the view of the white-capped Alps.



Take a final snapshot and say arrivederci.

 



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