Rupert Parker discovers a fascinating array of attractions in this northern Italian city
Turin’s grand boulevards, sweeping piazzas and baroque palaces date from the time when it was the Kingdom of Savoy and later, Italy’s first capital. Its industrial days have been and gone, leaving a gleaming centre crammed with museums and coffee houses, although you won’t be able to see that famous shroud.
Turin dates from Roman times and the streets still follow the same grid pattern. Many have been pedestrianised and all the main sites are within easy walking distance. Start at Piazza San Carlo, ringed with elegant Baroque buildings, then take Via Roma, through the arcades with classy shops to the heart of the city, the Piazza Castello. It’s dominated by two royal palaces, Palazzo Madama and Palazzo Reale, the former home of the Dukes of Savoy. Adjoining the Reale is the chapel where the Shroud is kept, undergoing refurbishment when I visited.
The elegant 17th century facade of the Palazzo Reale and the splendour of its numerous, richly furnished rooms, reflect luxurious life at court and centuries of history of the House of Savoy. Don’t miss the Armeria Reale, the Royal Armoury, with a long gallery of armoured knights sitting on full sized stuffed horses, including King Carlo Alberto’s favourite animal. At weekends, in the café, there’s still an 18th century court ritual, the Merenda Reale, devised after cocoa beans arrived in Piedmont. It’s a version of afternoon tea, but the beverage is thick hot chocolate and you’re served a selection of sweet biscuits, known as bagnati which you dunk in the drink.
The Museo Egizio has the largest collection of Egyptian artefacts outside Cairo. King Charles Emmanuel III started acquiring objects in 1753, but it was King Carlo Felice who established the present museum in its 17th century Palazzo. There are three floors exhibiting over six thousand objects. Highlights include a granite statue of Rameses II and the 3500 year old Ellesija Temple, saved from Nile flooding and moved here in 1966. The Tomb of Kha is the museum’s centrepiece, containing sarcophagi, statues, furniture and food for the afterlife, including salted meat and bowls with remains of tamarind and grapes.
The pagoda-like spire of the Mole Antonelliana stands out on the Turin skyline and it was originally built as synagogue in the 19th century. These days it houses the Museo Nazionale del Cinema with over 7,000 films in the library, a collection of 150,000 posters and various bits of cinema history, including Marilyn Monroe’s bodice. Five floors document the story of the movies and themed exhibitions include Love and Death and Horror and Fantasy, all with film sets, photographs, designs and sketches. Take the glass lift up 87m to the top of the spire for great views of the city, the river and the Alps.
At the end of the metro, in the suburb of Lingotto, is the massive former Fiat factory, now tastefully converted by Italian architect Renzo Piano into a complex of shops, cinemas, restaurants and hotels. There’s also the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, a small gallery housing a selection of pictures from the private collection of Fiat founders, the Agnelli family. You’ll find 25 gems from the likes of Canaletto, Picasso, Dali and Matisse plus temporary exhibitions. From here you can access the rooftop and walk around the 2.5km car test track, made famous as a location for the Italian Job with Michael Caine.
Nearby is the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile with over 200 vehicles from Italy and the rest of the world on display. The museum dates from 1932 but was extensively refurbished in 2011 and is imaginatively laid out on three floors, using sound and light to enhance the experience. It’s a journey through the history of the automobile, from the earliest models to cars of the future. Don’t miss the 1892 Peugeot and a 1980 Ferrari 308. There are also sections dealing with car design and environmental issues.
A Torino+Piemonte Card, from the tourist office in Piazza Castello, gives free entry to the most important museums. €35 for 2 days.
Grand Hotel Sitea is r in the centre of Turin. Prices for a double room and breakfast start from £129.
The stylish Hotel NH Torino Lingotto Congress in the converted Fiat factory, serves excellent food. Prices are around £120 including breakfast.
EasyJet flies direct to Turin from Gatwick and Luton. Fares start at £29.99 one way.
Torino has information about the city.
Piemonte has information about the region