I grew up in Vermont, and as an angsty adolescent, I couldn’t wait to get out. I wanted a big city, to never have to toil in the garden again, or come home with mud on my boots. I came to Italy at 18, arriving directly in Rome: everything I was looking for. A huge city, I met new people every night, never bored and surrounded by the art and history I had come to study. Over the years, I moved back and forth between Milan and Rome, somehow ending up in Turin by chance for work, starting at Museo Egizio, then Slow Food. I finally chose to stay here for the lifestyle, and yes, for a boy.
But truthfully, as I got older and my “ready to rally” student energy started to fade, Turin continued to grow on me. There was something familiar, comfortable and relaxing about the Piemontese landscape, the quiet city where finally I didn’t have to be labeled by my American-ness, where unlike other cities I was not persistently identified as a tourist after even 6 years, I didn’t have to drive myself crazy with the hustle or act like I was someone I wasn’t. Turin gives you permission to take things slow, to enjoy the little things, and to be surrounded by true elegant beauty.
Culturally and architecturally, the beauty of Turin is comparable with the Grand classics of Venice, Rome, Florence and Napoli. What sets this city apart is its humble elegance. Its history begins long before the Romans; its art collection includes many of the Flemish Masters such as Van Dyck along with many other modern artists (together with a great contemporary art scene and academy), and it is literally surrounded by a “crown” of palaces. Yet Turin chooses to identify itself with the beloved Fiat 500 & National Cinema Museum. For all its elegance, Turin doesn’t show off.
The list of things Turin can claim is never ending: Hannibal coming through, the Savoys, Napoleon, Unification of Italy, Kings & Queens, the first espresso, Gianduja chocolate, the Man in the Iron Mask, Nietzsche, Italy’s first Parliament, Primo Levi & other great Italian writers, FIAT, and so on (can we claim Ronaldo now too?)
Yet with all this to show, Turin will never shake it in your face saying “look at me”; rather, the usual response to a wide-eyed tourist in awe is a small shrug, smirk and a “beh, si”. Rarely in Turin would you see tour guides on the street, lost tourists, or cheap deals to snag foreigners (there is a quite posh McDonalds in the center, but this is reserved for “cool” Italian teenagers rather than Americans on vacation).
You may have heard mention of the vintage beauty of Turin, and yes you will see this in the center. As you walk from Porta Nuova up to Piazza San Carlo, stop for a coffee and take in the “Vecchia Torino”– a term even locals use to describe the still noble families that walk through the city.
Stratta was once the official candy maker for the Royal family and today they still create classic sugared candies and delicate candied flowers. As you stand at the marble counter sipping your coffee, you are bound to see an older woman with her head held high, wrapped in her fur coat as she waltzes in on her heels to buy a little mixed box of these candies as a gift. By the way, these little boxes start at about 50 euro, and rise upwards of 200.
Turin is filled with historic cafes, with carved wood, marble counters, and golden elements, creating a time machine back to the late 1800s. In Turin you can sit at the same table as Alexandre Dumas at Caffe San Carlo, or enjoy Nietzsche’s favorite locales on Via Po. Not a coffee lover? Enjoy Fiorio’s signature gelato in a 1700’s café, a Carpano Vermouth at its original bar: Café Elena, or just a delicious cornetto at Del Cambio’s Farmacia (once a real pharmacy)..
Turin’s other face is both international and down to earth. Starting at Porta Palazzo’s corner filled with international bakeries and stores (Turin has one of the most international populations in Italy), you can find Moroccan sweets or shop the Mexican grocery store and find avocado’s for only a Euro a piece. On either end of Torino’s center at San Salvario and Quartiere Romano you’ll find traditional restaurants and wine bars with only the best local ingredients at an incredibly affordable price.
Take Cianci for example, where you can grab a full course meal, including mixed Piedmontese appetizers and wine for about 25 euro a person.
Turin is all the culture and tradition of Italy, with the romance of France. Some even call it The Paris of Italy. A perfect meeting point between the two where you can choose to be who you want to be. One day you can put on your best heels and watch the day go by in Piazza Carignano, sipping a macchiato under one of many royal palaces. The next you can go for a run along the Po, with a hike up the hills just outside the city.
Weekends may be reserved for shopping at the market, chatting with local farmers about the seasonal produce and the best recipes. Evenings (pre Covid) are set for abundant meals of Vitello Tonnato and Agnolotti with bottomless wine glasses.
Stratta – Apart from the beautiful ambience and one-of-a-kind service from the barista, Stratta’s choice coffee is really what I go for. And while Covid may have put a pause on that, you can enjoy the same coffee from Caffe San Domenico, right at home.
Baratti & Milano – The chocolate heart of Piazza Castello, still to this day they have the best hot chocolate in the city. To bring a taste of Baretti & Milano home, look towards your local gourmet shop, as their famous cremino chocolates are sold internationally.
Fiorio – Step back to the 1800’s for lunch, surrounded by red velvet in back rooms reserved for Turin’s nobles. Or grab a gelato to go: a special recipe made with part condensed milk, part fresh milk.
Caffe Elena – The aperitivo spot to enjoy the world passing by in Turin’s largest open piazza. Enjoy a glass of Carpano Vermouth. If you can’t make it to Turin, search your closest Eataly to grab a bottle for yourself.
Cianci – A classic dinner and lunch spot for casual meals among friends, eat your fill of Piedmontese classics.
Porta Palazzo – Europe’s largest open air market, open Monday-Saturday, you can find the best of local seasonal produce as well as international ingredients, national cheese specialties, fresh bread, anything you can think of.
Del Cambio’s Farmacia – For when you need that fresh cornetto right out of the oven to wake up the right way. Be sure to head their early before they sell out!
Evelyn is a Vermont native who has spent the last 9 years in Italy. She currently runs an Italy Travel Services business & blog, Colline alle Montagne, where she shares her love of travel, wine, and history.