FX Excursions

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Piedmont Paradise

by Barbara Radcliffe Rogers

Dec 6, 2019

Madama PHOTO: © STILLMAN ROGERS PHOTOGRAPHY

December 2019

DON’T EXPECT TURIN TO FIT your image of Italy. It’s Italian, all right — the evening passeggiata and a love of good food and wine are alive and well. But you’ll look in vain for medieval cobbled streets, crumbling castles and works by Michelangelo (who never set foot here). Instead, although you’ll find some Roman ruins, you’ll also find a faux medieval village, a world-class film museum and a café life that rivals Vienna’s. You and your family will have fun here.

The family will be spoiled for choices. For glimpses of royal glitter, they can tour the palace of the Savoy princes who ruled the region for nine centuries and are responsible for much of the city’s appearance today. Turin’s broad avenues and graceful squares bordered by elegant porticos were designed to make their capital the “Paris of the South.”

Kids will especially like the palace’s Armeria Reale, with one of Europe’s finest collections of armor — including full armor for the prince’s horse (be sure they look for the same armor on the statue of Emanuele Filberto on horseback in Piazza San Carlo). Behind the palace lie the Giardini Reali, royal gardens designed by the same landscape artist as those at Versailles (the Savoys were influenced in their choices by the French court) — a good place for kids to run off steam and for parents to enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

Palazzo Reale
PHOTO: © STILLMAN ROGERS PHOTOGRAPHY

The large Piazza Castello in front of the palace proves a good starting place for exploring the city, with all its main attractions within an easy walk. Step inside the free Palazzo Madama for a quick history lesson; part of it includes a tower of the Roman Porta Pretoria and another part encompasses a 15th-century castle.

Inside discover more Roman structures and, not far away, next to the cathedral, a portion of a Roman arena (the palace was built over the rest of it). Just past the arena stands the Romans’ imposing brick Porta Palatina. Built in the first century, it represents one of the best-preserved Roman gates in the world. The cathedral houses the famous Shroud of Turin, but it’s not on display.

Movie lovers of all ages should spend time in the Museum of Cinema, celebrating the city’s role as the birthplace of the Italian film industry. Even those who don’t care about movies should go for the building itself, called the Mole (pronounced “mōl-ay”) Antonelliana. You’ll probably have already seen the distinctive pointed dome towering above the city, but that’s only a teaser for its visually stunning interior.

Layer upon layer of galleries all open onto its vast atrium, and at its center a glass elevator takes you on a heart-stopping ride to the top. On a clear day the view of the Alps and of the city is as breathtaking as the elevator. The ride up and down gives fleeting — but intriguing — glimpses of neon-accented exhibits that line the galleries. Beginning with the earliest work of the Lumière brothers, this museum offers a dazzling spectacle of themed state-of-the-art exhibits on the technical process, sets, personalities, movie stars and every other facet of the film industry, complete with props, sets, stage models and film classics shown in different theater settings. As a bonus, it stays open until 8 p.m., and 11 p.m. on Saturday.

This industrial city’s post-Savoy prosperity is based on automobiles. Prominent in that story is Fiat, which built a state-of- the-art assembly plant here in 1923. By the 1980s the outmoded Lingotto building was closed, adding to the city’s general industrial decline. Faced with what to do with this huge plant, Turin commissioned the preeminent Italian architect Renzo Piano to repurpose the building.

The result is a stunning complex that makes Turin a center for international trade shows and expositions. If business takes you to the Lingotto building’s convention center, your family will find plenty to do right there: a multilevel shopping mall, cafés, performance spaces, a fine art museum and even a rooftop test track.

Stroll alongside the Po River and through the reproduction of a medieval village. The Borgo Medievale, built as part of the 1884 Exposition, was carefully constructed using old techniques and replicating local architecture and decoration of that period. You can wander among the buildings which house workshops of craftspeople practicing period skills. Kids will want to see the armor repair shop and visit the Rocca Medievale, a replica of the castles that protected the nearby Val d’Aosta in the Middle Ages; it’s realistic down to the faithfully reproduced frescoes and period sound effects.

The “village” sits in the Parco Valentino, a green band stretching along the river. The vehicle-free Viale Virgilio runs the entire length of the park, leading past several waterside restaurants and an excursion boat landing. A cruise on board the glass-enclosed Valentina or Valentino offers a lovely way to see another side of the city in the evening.

With the kids in tow you’ll probably not sample much of Turin’s famed edgy nightlife. Considering restaurants don’t even begin serving until 7:30 or 8 p.m., you may have trouble keeping younger ones awake through dinner. If children simply can’t keep their eyes open that late, pizzerias offer a good option for all-hours service.

Caffe Baratti & Milano
PHOTO: © STILLMAN ROGERS PHOTOGRAPHY

Turin is known for its beautiful cafés, and one of the most famous is Caffe San Carlo, under the arcades of Piazza San Carlo and replete with ornate décor. You may have trouble getting past the chocolate shop at Caffe Baratti & Milano on Piazza Castello. These cafés serve lunch and offer café treats and drinks at other hours, so you’ll find plenty of opportunities to join the Torinese in their local version of la dolce vita.

 

LODGING

HOTEL VICTORIA TORINO
This boutique hotel combines the elegance of a grand hotel with the intimate feel of a country house. Each room is unique, and guests have access to the luxurious spa and complimentary bicycles.

Via Nino Costa 4 $$$–$$$$

LE MÉRIDIEN LINGOTTO ART+TECH
Italian architect Renzo Piano designed the striking hotel in the repurposed Lingotto complex. As its name suggests, the hotel combines the best of contemporary art styles and the latest technology.

Via Nizza 230 $$–$$$

NH TORINO SANTO STEFANO
In the Quadrilatero neighborhood, surrounded by restaurants and shopping and near the main attractions, this modern hotel’s convivial public spaces include a courtyard and a balcony with views across the city.

Via Porta Palatina 19 $$$

DINING

LA GAIA SCIENZA
Close to the Museum of Cinema, this cozy osteria mixes local specialties with a few inventive dishes in an informal, family-friendly setting. Candle-lit corners make a good choice for a romantic dinner for two.

Via Guastalla 22 $$–$$$

LA PERGOLA ROSA
In the Quadrilatero, sample Piedmont specialties such as risotto in this casual trattoria. For a real local treat, order from the reasonably priced White Truffle Menu; kids will love the desserts here.

Via XX Settembre 18A $$

SPAZIO7
Recent renovations
and a new cocktail bar bring a smart contemporary flair to match the updated takes on traditional cuisine that earned Spazio7 its Michelin star. The ground- floor bistro makes a good lunch spot.

Via Modane 20 $$$

INFO TO GO
The small, modern Sandro Pertini Airport (known locally as Caselle) lies 10 miles north of Turin, with a single terminal for both arrivals and departures. You can travel between the airport and city center via train (19 minutes) or by Dora Express bus (15 minutes). Taxis to the center take about 30–40 minutes. The airport railway station lies in front of the terminal.

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