Torino (or Turin) is surrounded by the Alps by 300 degrees, situated in the large valley of Piedmonte with the river Po runs through the middle of it. Whereas Paris and even more so in Rome, it’s easy to get lost in the streets, or find yourself walking in circles, not so in Torino. The terrain is flat and the streets are laid out in a grid, broken up by magnificent plazas ordained by beautiful buildings, and a few diagonal streets leading off from the Madama Palace. This makes it very easy to get around and certainly not get lost. There is little in the way of greenery in the central part of Torino – a lot of rock, marble and brick. It is a clean city, with numerous pedestrian streets, especially via Roma, the main street of Torino.
Via Roma starts at the Porto Nuova train station and the Piazza Carlo Felice and continues through the heart of the historic center, passes through Piazza San Carlos and ends at the royal palaces of Madama and Palazzio Reale. Everything else revolves around the central pedestrian street.
Turin was the home of the House of Savoy, who became the Kings of Sardenia and eventually Italy (when Italy had a monarchy from 1861 until 1946). So the city and its monuments, streets, plazas and palaces reflect that. The palaces have become museums, providing a glimpses into what life was like for the royal families, and do an excellent job of presenting Italy’s history from the times of the Savoy up until recent time.
You shouldn’t be going to Torino for the restaurants. Although you are going to pass many wonderful food shops, especially at Eataly, you won’t find many restaurants that are making good use of that wonderful food and offering it to locals and tourists. Why? I have no idea. What you’ll find in this region are a lot of places that are more like cantinas, that offers a “serve yourself” buffet, and then drinks along with it. The menu they’ll give you sometimes won’t have any food, just a lot of different alcoholic drinks. So you order your wine and then visit the buffet. The price is good though. The place we went to on our last night had a very nice spread for 8 euros each, and the wine was included in the price. We had wanted to go to the restaurant Monferrato, but arrived without reservations (Friday night) and there was no room. Next time, as we heard good things about it.
To Do’s in Torino:
- Via Roma: Great to just walk and see the high-end boutiques and the plazas along its route, such as Piazza Carlo Felice, Piazza San Carlo, Piazza Carlo Alberto and of course, Piazza Reale with Palazzo Reale and Palazzo Madama.
- Mole Antonelliana: This impressive building was first designed to be a synagogue, but was eventually purchased by the city of Torino and turned into a museum of cinematography. For movie buffs, this is a must.
- Via Garibalda and Via Po: Two more great streets to walk and shop. Po will take you right down to the river Po and across to the ?.
- Palazzo Carignano: Traces the history of Italy from the late 18th century to the 1st World War. Very well done with audio guides available, as well as video screens (with English sub-titles) in many of the rooms. An enormous number of paintings and artifacts from this time period. Well worth visiting if you are a history buff.
- Saturday Open Market: At Piazza del Republica.
- Piazza Castello and Reale: This is where the Dukes of Savoy had their palaces and residences. The Palazzo Real and Palazzo Madama are now museums so you can visit the official residences as they were at that time. Both also have art exhibits as well. You have to at least enter Palazzo Madama to see the front facade of the building that was added, just to provide a staircase to the upper floor of the palace – quite something.
- Saturday Morning Market: At Piazza della Republica. Huge, but mostly low-end stuff and a lot of it repeated from stand to stand.
- Eataly: This vast converted factory houses a wonderful array of Slow Food–affiliated food and beverages, with a separate area for each, including cheeses, breads, meats, fish, pasta, chocolate and much more. You can choose to dine at an outlet that specializes in fish, meats, veggies, pasta, etc. You sit at the bar and order, along with your wine or beer. The best time to visit is around 12.30pm to 2.30pm, when each area has its own little restaurant serving lunch, although a little later is better as it is very popular with the locals. In the basement is an amazing selection of wines and beers, clearly labelled by the region they are from. Very well done. We spent a few hours checking out all the sections, along with a wonderful pasta lunch.