Turin has serious gourmet chops. Vitello tonnato, the famous dish of sliced veal in tuna sauce, was created here. Ditto panna cotta, bollito misto and agnolotti.
THE first thing that gobsmacks newbie visitors to Turin is its architectural grandeur. Italy’s fourth largest city was also the first capital of the unified country until 1865 and no expense was spared on the palaces of Piedmont’s rulers – the House of Savoy. Most people think of Fiat when the name Turin pops up but, like Detroit, the city endured economic decline in the 1980s until lavish spending on the Winter Olympics of 2006 revamped the central boulevards that resemble Paris.
Torino, as the city is called in Italian, has attracted an increasing number of tourists over the past decade because of its cultural, social, food and wine attractions. In a country awash with museums, the city has three of the best. Rome and the Cinecitta Studios occupy centre stage in the Italian movie industry, but the National Museum of Cinema in Turin is one of Italy’s most visited attractions. Housed in the Mole Antonelliana, a neo-classical building originally designed as a synagogue, there’s a huge permanent collection of memorabilia, props and equipment from the earliest days of Italian cinema in the late 19th century to the present. The icing on the cake is the view of the city and the surrounding Alps from the top of the dome.
Another major surprise is the Egyptian Museum, which boasts a collection second only to the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo. Kickstarted as a personal interest of the ruling Savoy family, things really moved into high gear in the early 20th century. Leading Italian archaeologists, Ernesto Schiaparelli and Giulio Farina, brought back more than 30,000 artefacts to Turin. Just as the Egyptian government gave the Temple of Dendur to the Metropolitan Museum in New York because the US helped to relocate priceless monuments during the construction of the Aswan High Dam. They also donated the Ellesiya rock temple to the Egyptian Museum in Turin for Italian assistance during the project.
As the heartland of the Italian car industry, the National Automobile Museum is an almost mandatory part of any trip. The Clint Eastwood movie, Gran Torino, was named after the lead character’s obsession with a 1972 Ford Gran Torino, named in honour of Turin. Extensively refurbished in 2011, the futuristic venue houses hundreds of vehicles from early prototypes from the mid-19th century powered by steam to the latest Ferrari racing cars.
Located between the Alps and the Po Valley, Turin’s culinary and wine heritage is a major drawcard. Let’s start with vermouth. Other claims aside, most enthusiasts agree that vermouth was invented in Turin in the mid-18th century and the Cinzano and Martini & Rossi brands are as synonymous with the city as Fiat. The Milanese may have popularised the aperitivo, but Turin was its birthplace. The tradition is alive and well, and my favourite place to join the locals is Tre Galli in the historic Quadrilatero Romana neighbourhood. The surrounding streets are full of historic Baroque buildings and Roman ruins, and you can sit outside on an historic terrace in summer. Choose from a great range of cocktails, including the Negroni, and all drinks come with aperitivo nibbles.
Another hotspot is Bocciofila Mossetto in the stylish Aurora neighbourhood. People of all ages come here to enjoy a game of bocce, the Italian version of boules, a game of cards and an aperitivo. But the trendiest bars and restaurants congregate in the San Salvario district where the historic alleys and streets are an Instagrammer’s fantasy.
Turin has serious gourmet chops. Vitello tonnato, the famous dish of sliced veal in tuna sauce, was created here. Ditto panna cotta, bollito misto and agnolotti. White truffles are everywhere during the season, sparking up pasta and risotto dishes. As are the region’s famous wines – barolo and barbaresco.
Turin’s fine dining restaurants are lauded throughout Italy. The Michelin-starred Ristorante Del Cambio, founded in 1757, has welcomed Mozart, Verdi and Casanova. There are two main spaces – the historic, mirrored dining room and the new contemporary space uplifted by the mural-like paintings of Pistoletto, the Arte Povera icon. The menu changes constantly but the six-course tasting menu at $220 has many takers.
For cheese and wine buffs, Ristorante Consorzio, is the place to savour local cheeses like castelmagno and fontina, and top quality barolos and barbarescos for fairly reasonable prices. The four-course tasting menu is elegant yet rustic and a steal at $68. The hero dish is agnolotto gobbo, pillows of house-made pasta filled with veal.
Al Gatto Nero, the black cat in English, is one of the most recommended restaurants in town from hotel concierges to nearly everyone you meet. The founding Vannelli family, which still owns the venue, opened its doors in 1927 as a trattoria. Back in the 1960s it gained two Michelin stars, but lost them when trying too hard to follow the global fusion trend. The food is now upmarket traditional from appetisers such as baccala montecato on mashed potatoes to ragu slow-cooked in barolo and served with the hand-made pasta of the day.
Just across from the National Museum of Cinema you’ll find Magorabin, nestled behind a late 18th century facade. With a Michelin star, the restaurant is operated by Marcello Trentini. Magorabin is a local dialect word for a mythical figure invoked by mothers to get their children to finish their meals. Trentini doesn’t go that far but he does make the rounds of the dining room to ensure that guests have enjoyed their meals. There are four tasting menus under the headings – land, water, air and fire. A true wine lover’s choice because of the huge wine cellar.
The Slow Food Movement started in Piedmont in the mid-1990s and the Salone del Gusto Slow Food Festival is held in Turin every two years. Considering the global fame of barolo, it’s surprising that many of the estates and vineyards that produce the robust red are fairly small. The barolo wine region is 70km south of Turin and worth a day trip or two. The small town of Barolo itself boasts a picturesque castle, some good wine shops and two restaurants – La Cantinetta and Osteria La Cantinella – serving succulent local dishes like wild boar with barbera sauce and risotto with radicchio. The nearby village of Serralunga d’Alba is worth a detour, especially for the tiny Vinoteca Centro Storico where the wine list is spectacular.