Known as ‘The Detroit of Italy’ for its car industry, ‘The Cradle of Liberty’ for its role in Italian unification and 'The Aperitivo Capital’ for its invention of Vermouth, Turin rivals Milan and Genoa as a destination for those seeking divine inspiration and eye-popping splendour. Being faced with so many inspiring sights, unique shops and such a thriving food scene can be daunting - so here's how we'd spend 24 hours in the northern capital.
Say you’re visiting Turin and the most likely response is, ‘The place with the shroud?’. The Shroud of Turin is world-famous, if only because – especially after viewing it – you can have a good old argument about whether it’s real and how it came about. Start your day at the Museum of the Shroud which, while it does not have the item in public view (it’s actually kept behind closed doors in the nearby Turin Cathedral), a full-scale replica allows you a close look in your own time. Believed by some to be the cloth Jesus was wrapped in after his death, the Catholic church has neither endorsed nor rejected its veracity. Even sceptics leave with questions about how it could have come about whether forgery or not, as the best efforts of the scientific community have struggled to come up with an answer either…
It's just a 20-minute walk south-east to the city’s landmark Mole Antonelliana, which houses Italy’s National Cinema Museum. Architect Alessandro Antonelli was commissioned by the Jewish community to build a synagogue for what was then Italy’s new capital, but when he got carried away and added a vertiginous spire (left in picture above) to make it the tallest brick building in Europe, the Jewish community withdrew from the increasingly ostentatious and expensive project - and it was bought up by the city.
You can take a glass lift a terrifying 85 metres straight up, seemingly unsupported, to the top of the dome, but book on the website in advance or you’ll be in the perpetual queue that surrounds it. From there, you can pay a little more to climb another 65 metres up a winding staircase to the top of the tower that rises above the cuppola – and sways disconcertingly in the wind.
The museum itself can easily take half a day out of your visit, so plan what you want to see on the website beforehand. The exhibits of the 'moving pictures' revolution will make you gasp in appreciation of the marvel we all now take for granted.
Head down Via San Domenico past the Museum of Eastern Art to reach Caffè-Vini Emilio Ranzini for a traditional Piedmontese lunch. It was opened more than 50 years ago by Emilio Ranzini and is now run by his son, Mario. Try Turin’s signature dish, vitello tonnato (left) - thin slices of veal in a creamy tuna sauce - with a glass of house red. Follow with a bicerin (right): a sumptuous blend of coffee, hot chocolate and cream, another Turin special.
Don't leave Turin without having tried its world-renowned chocolate, crafted here since raw cacao first arrived in the 16th-century, putting the city at the heart of Europe's confectioners. At the historic Confetteria Stratta on Piazza San Carlo, you can taste a range of gianduiotto, Piedmont's symbolic hazelnut delicacy, conceived in Turin during Napoleon's Italian regency (1796-1814). A perfect souvenir for someone back home, or an after-dinner treat to remember Turin by.
For a very special souvenir, take an eight-minute stroll down to Piazza Bodoni to the prestigious Olfattorio, a perfume shop stocking more than 300 artisanal brands. Here you can partake in a 'tasting session' where perfumes are breathed in from champagne-style flutes rather than sprayed onto paper, meaning you can leave without bringing the entire shop with you on your clothes.
After three museums and a glass or two of red, what you need is a cool stroll alongside the river in the beautiful wooded Valentino Park in the afternoon. Head down Via San Massimo and, if your legs still have some oomph in them, amble past by the French-looking Valentino Castell, one of the many residences of the House of Savoy and now part of Turin University, to reach the Medieval Castle on the banks of the Po, built to house the Ancient Art section of the 1884 Turin Expo. The village surrounding the castle is free to visit but tours around the castle are generally in Italian.
By now it’s probably time to rest your feet and get close to your hotel as the evening draws in, so a good choice for dinner would be the Scannabue restaurant, five minutes from the train station and only 10 minutes’ walk from Valentino Park, or 15 from the castle. They have a tasting menu for €30 which includes starters such as rabbit, beef tartar and cod and mash. Begin your meal with James Bond’s favourite aperitif, but leave the dry Martini to Daniel Craig and instead go for one of the smaller brands, such as Brignolio Rosso or Punt e Mes. Or push the boat out and try a Negroni Sbagliato cocktail. It’s so-called because sbagliato means ‘mistake’ in Italian and supposedly a bartender once put prosecco in the cocktail instead of the usual gin. Actually, you could try one of each? Oh, now, where’s that hotel gone?