We begin our odyssey in Piemonte, the largest continental region of Italy's 20, bested only by the island of Sicily. Here the landscape begins with vertiginous mountains in the far west and north of the region, descending to rolling hills punctuated by agricultural plains and stunning lakes. This is the home of epic truffle festivals, priceless wines, rugged wilds, chocolate, and Fiat - just to pick a few. To start, we'll check out the capital city of Turin (Torino) and its nearby environs.
|Photo courtesy Edgar Barany on Flickr|
Erstwhile 2006 Olympic host, Turin [Torino] is often skipped over for the more famous and familiar Milan, yet makes a terrific way to get begin a visit in western Piemonte. Much like the Duomo is the architectural icon of Milan, the unusual dome and spire of the Mole Antonelliana is the signature of Turin. Italy's National Film Museum is housed in the Mole, as well as an observation platform with stunning panoramic views. The city features an open and airy layout that is more reminiscent of something you'd find in France, making it quite different from what many expect from an Italian city. In the warmer months, its many squares are filled with tables from which to people-watch and take a break. Partly due to being close neighbors with France, you'll see a great deal of French Baroque and Neo-Classical architectural styles throughout the city, especially in the many palaces strewn about. Yet this city remains a place where you can easily find ultra-modern juxtaposed elegantly amongst the historic, broadening what many definte as a "typical" Italian city.
|Photo courtesy Alessio Maffeis|
When should you go to Turin? Almost any time! It depends on your preference and tolerance. While you will indeed see snow in winter, it is not usually excessive, and average winter daytime temps hover between the mid 30's and low 40's. If your interests keep you mostly indoors, or you'll be heading out for some skiing, this can be a great time of year to go. Spring and Fall are both lovely, though rain is more likely around May. Temps begin climbing into the 60's around April, peaking into the low 80's in late July. Like the rest of Italy (and much of Europe), August is vacation time, so do your research before going in that month!
If you're not much for "traditional" Italian museums filled with Renaissance and religious art, Turin has some terrific options:
|Yellow Fiat: seen in Florence, made in Turin!|
|Fiat photo courtesy Rutger on Flickr|
Via Roma, courtesy Bernard Blanc on Flickr
Christmas lights courtesy Alice Fontana on Flickr
Piazza Bodoni courtesy Francesco Urso on Flickr
Turin was ruled for years by the Savoys [Savoia before being Anglicized], leaving extravagant palaces and castles galore throughout the region. Just next door to the Palazzo Reale and around the corner from the Egyptian Museum is the Palazzo Madama, which also houses a museum featuring works from Medieval through Baroque eras. Valentino Castle sits in a beautiful park along the western bank of the Po River, bracketed by the Umberto I and Isabella bridges. Across the Po and up the hill, is the Baroque splendor of the Basilica di Superga, with gorgeous views across Turin and to the Alps. Pairing nicely with a visit to the Basilica is the Villa della Regina, yet another splendid estate with eye-popping luxury, elegant gardens, and sweeping views back over the city.
View from Basilica di Superga courtesy Luca Galli
For such a cosmopolitan city, you can still find an arboreal respite quite easily, either in pocket parks within city limits or just a short ride away. While away an afternoon visiting the epic Stupinigi Palace grounds, which lie less than 30 minutes by car or less than an hour by public transport, south of Turin. This complex was the hunting residence for the Savoys, and briefly hosted Napoleon. In addition to the endless rooms of luxury, you can traipse the same grounds royalty once hunted.
Stupinigi facade: image cropped and contrast increased for display.
Photo courtesy Xavier on Flickr
Soccer [Calcio (kahl-cho') as it's called in Italy] lovers can pay a visit to the Juventus stadium south of Turin, even if unable to attend a game. Italians everywhere are fervent and passionate calcio fans, with unwavering dedication to their selected team. They can make American football fans look downright mellow! Visit the Juventus website to look up game schedules and find info on various tours available as well as museum details.
Take a day trip from Turin to visit Sacra di San Michele, high on a rocky perch that makes for an ideal combination of challenging hike, gorgeous scenery, and religious culture. Trains will take you to Avigliana or Sant'Ambrogio di Torino, from which the hardy can choose to hike either about 3 or 1.5 hours, respectively, to the abbey. It can also be reached by [expensive] taxi or car for those whom time or fitness precludes a strenuous round trip hike.
|Sacra in the distance||Looking up at the Sacra with its distinctive angel statue.|
|Photo courtesy Andrea Mucelli||Photo courtesy ItaloLosero on Flickr|
Head west of Turin a little over an hour by car to visit the majestic Fenestrelle Fortress, which sits at the southern edge of the Orsiera Rocciavre park. This can be made a day trip or an overnight jaunt for those seeking more time in nature. Guided tours are about 10 Euros and require reservations, but deemed well worth it by reviews on TripAdvisor and EveryTrail. The largest fortress of its kind in Europe, it also takes your breath away via the longest covered stairway in the world at over 3900 steps. It will re-open January 23rd this year, and is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Unfortunately, the main website is down at the time of writing, though I'll update this if it changes. Call +39 0121 83600 for information before planning a visit.
Rifugio Selleries in Rocciavre Park
Photo courtesy Vincenzo Giordano on Flickr
Close to the small town of Ivrea, is the unusual community of Damanhur, which was established in 1975 and has similar communities scattered around Europe. It comes across as largely spiritual but not religious, rooted in nature, and celbrating art and humanity. Certainly an unusual detour, you can visit anywhere from half a day to five days. There is a beautiful underground complex of temples, which were dug by hand and have been filled with elaborate stained glass works and murals.
Photo courtesy Damanhur
Just a couple hours from Turin, the stunning Alpine paradise that is the Gran Paradiso park straddles the border of Piemonte and Aosta, so I'm saving it for when writing about Valle d'Aosta. However, you can easily combine a visit to the park if you're based in Turin. Coming up too will be a post dedicated solely to the incredible food and wine of Piemonte. It's definitely worth noting that Turin is home to Nutella, and has been turning out chocolate delicacies at least since the 1600s. Additionally, Turin is the birthplace of burgeoning empire Eataly, which I wrote a bit about previously. Before we get there, stay tuned for a trip south to the province of Cuneo, then into the countryside of Alba and Asti.
Contrast and saturation have been increased for display.
Serru and Agnel Lakes in Gran Paradiso courtesy Soumei Baba
Have you been to Turin? Please feel free to share your experience or suggestions in the comments below. Follow me on Twitter to stay updated as this series continues.