Take Five: Turin, Italy

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Turin, or Torino, has come a long way since serving as Italy’s first capital 150 years ago to hosting the Winter Olympics in 2006. As the home of FIAT (Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino), Juventus (Italy’s most successful soccer club of the 20th century) and the Holy Shroud (a piece of cloth believed to have touched Jesus’ face) and the founding city of Grom and Eataly, you’d think American’s would be flocking to the capital of the Piemonte region. Surprisingly, most of Turin’s tourists come from neighboring Italian cities to learn about their country’s history and see where the House of Savoy—Italy’s royal family—once lived.

Once an industrial hub for companies like FIAT and dubbed the Detroit of Italy, Turin’s proximity to the Italian Alps made it ideal for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. By shedding light on this city surrounded by mountains, the world class shopping on the pedestrian walkway Via Garibaldi and the rich history at establishments like Museo Egizio, the Olympics helped turn Torino into Italy’s fourth most-visited city.

However, as the years passed and the Olympic Village went unused, Americans lost interest and numbers dwindled. Those who overlook this Northern Italian city miss out on the baroque architecture framed by views of the French, Swiss and Italian alps; the wide avenues resembling Paris; porticoed buildings that lead to dramatic archways and elegant piazzas; and the hazelnut-infused chocolate that is Gianduja.

1. Piazza Castello

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Photo by Maggie Parker

Turin’s major streets, including vias Po and Roma, feed out of this grand square shaped by history, making it the perfect starting point for a day exploring Turin. Before leaving Piazza Castello, spend time in the rococo-style buildings that surround it. On one side you will find an open space with fountains and plants that leads to Palazzo Reale, the museum that was formerly the seat of Savoy power and the House of Savoy’s royal residence. In the center of the square is the columned Palazzo Madama, which over the centuries has served as a fortress, a castle and the official residence of two duchesses of the House of Savoy. It now houses Turin’s Palazzo Madama Civic Museum of Ancient Art. Piazza Castello will also lead you to Porta Palatina, the remains of the original city walls, and the Duomo di Torino, where the holy shroud will be put on display this April for the first time in 15 years.

2. Mole Antonelliana

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Photo by Maggie Parker

The architectural symbol of Turin, the Mole Antonelliana is a domed museum surmounted by narrow spire that reaches 548 feet into the sky. Built in the 19th century, the iconic structure was originally meant to be a synagogue but is now the multi-floored Museo Nazionale del Cinema. The film museum houses movie memorabilia like Marilyn Monroe’s black-lace bustier and Peter O’Toole’s robe from Lawrence of Arabia. The Mole’s glass panoramic elevator takes brave visitors 279 feet up the spire for 360-degree views of the city from the building’s terrace.

3. Monte dei Cappuccini

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View from the top of Monte dei Cappuccini Photo by Maggie Parker

For an even better view of Turin—one that includes its famed tower—cross the bridge that runs over the Po River from Piazza Vittorio Veneto, one of the largest squares in Europe, and hike up a hill known as Monte dei Cappuccini. Your destination is the church the sits on top, Chiesa di Santa Maria del Monte. The late-Renaissance style church is bathed in blue lights at night but during the day shines a cream color over the city of Turin. From the ledge in front of the octagonal sanctuary you will see all across the city and, on a clear day, as far as the snowy Alps behind it.

4. Eataly

If, like most people, you’ve come to Italy for the food, leave the city center and head to Turin’s Olympic Village. Cross the footbridge from there to the Lingotto area, wherein lies the original Eataly, a massive high-quality Italian foods market founded in 2007 by Oscar Farinetti. Spanning 30,000 square feet, Eataly offers everything from Gragnano’s durum wheat pasta to beef from rare breeds raised on nearby farms. Eataly isn’t only for groceries, though. Whether you choose to peruse the cookbooks that promote the Slow Food movement or take a seat at one of the market’s 11 restaurants named for the food they serve (La Carne, La Pizza, you get the point), it’s a guarantee that you will leave satisfied.

5. Murazzi

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Ceiling of a Murazzi nightclub Photo by Maggie Parker

While the grand palaces and ornate architecture make central Turin seem upscale, once the sun goes down, so do the Torinese. Down to the river, that is. Murazzi is a strip of offbeat clubs and bars that runs along the Po River a few flights of stairs below Piazza Vittorio Veneto. As soon as aperitivo is over, you will find everyone from high-heeled girls to dreadlocked graffiti artists dancing to live DJs and bands at street-art decorated nightlife spots like Puddhu Bar. Join them in their revelry to truly understand how the residents of Turin unwind. Please note, the area gets even rowdier and a bit dodgy as the night wears on; do not visit the Murazzi alone and avoid the very late hours, when people start making bad decisions.

Maggie Parker is Paste’s assistant travel editor.

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