Travelling into Turin today I am struck with the majestic wide boulevards of artery roads pumping cars, motorbikes, trams and cyclists into and around the city. I can’t say I am impressed. Before visiting any city I imagine what it will look like and I am never correct in my assumptions. I made a big assumption that Turin was probably going to be a tiny city with a couple of old Fiat factories on the outskirts and the usual churches and a few squares. I envisaged tourists sipping hot chocolates and coffee and stocking up on chocolate presents. I was wrong on both counts.
The sat nav guides me into a beautiful small square just in the old city centre with a little grassed mound that once upon a time had a refreshment stand for the parading Torinese. Today, people are sitting on benches relaxing in the sun and toddlers are playing on the grass; it is a cheery sight. But there is a strange calmness in the air. For an old city person, I am used to noise, heaving masses, diesel fumes, here, in the heart of Turin, there is a peculiar tranquillity. The people numbers are not here. There are sporadic local people walking here and there but no jostling like other cities of Europe that one comes to expect. There are several pedestrianised streets, with little bollards at the end of the streets, frustrating any cars attempt to make a short cut.
I wander along in awe at the serenity. What this awe gives me is time to look up. I am not needing to look ahead of me to avoid people here. I can look up at the beautiful architecture. Above the shops are old apartment buildings from centuries past and fully occupied, with all the historic architectural detail you want to see. Ornate iron wrought balconies proudly presenting overflowing flower baskets framed by beautiful shutters. Little ‘key stone’ carved heads of people feature under gables and over windows, faces I don’t know but I am sure the Master craftsmen of centuries gone by knew. Some are gargoyles with grotesque faces, but most are proud and regal looking. There are carved bulls on water fountains and lion heads on many bridges and gates just in case I forget this is a Royal city, there are palazzos to see on many of the city squares. Turin was the first capital city of a united Italy. It held that position for a grand total of four years and lest you forget it was the home of the House of Savoy, one of the longest and most powerful ruling families in this part of the world. Yes, majestic is a word to sum up Turin’s architecture, squares and wide boulevards. It is a serene majesty. I feel like I have snuck in through a secret side gate into a private palace full of impressive courtyards, cool marble passages and fountains. The city is also clean, well kept and for some reason that I can’t put my finger on, it smells good. I wasn’t expecting it to smell good. Turin has had its recent smog and pollution problems, so I need to research this one.
What Turin is now is fresh and vibrant. Yes, of course, we can on a weekend visit, tick off chocolate, coffee, bicerin, churches, markets, Piemotese food of yore and Fiat. But, this is to be predictive and generic, as well as not fair to a city that is always moving. Turin is more than these classical Turin stereotypes. It is a complex city and one I have only scratched the surface of. There are numerous blocks and quarters with entirely different vibes. It is flat and on a grid layout, rather like New York but on an easier to navigate scale by foot. This is a multi-cultural city and a new one at that. Where once the Southern Italians flocked in to build Fiat into a global car manufacturer, bringing their Southern culture and food with them, now it is experiencing a wider immigration effect. This is reflected in its variety of restaurants and food halls. There are numerous Argentinian, Spanish, Greek, Moroccan, Japanese, American and other nationality restaurants here. There is a Jewish area with a fringe Muslim area with foods unrecognisable to the traditional Torino palate.
What I am delighted to see most is the young Torinese start-ups. Yes, they have been branded hipsters and even one restaurant featured some non-welcoming graffiti on its wall but they are running the show in the area of ‘San Salvario’, a hop, step and jump from the heart of the old city. The new bars and trendy eateries here are stuffed to capacity every night with young people, and the students and graduates of the various colleges and Turin University. In fact, there are young people everywhere, and many cycling at pace over cobbled streets on vintage bicycles. Even the ubiquitous bike hiring stations feature vintage style bikes! The young have taken this city and are running it. Though I’m not sure that the city knows it!
There is a propensity to fry the food here in many new establishments. I, personally, am not a fan of fried food and I don’t know if this is a trend or a Torinese tradition. Certainly, I haven’t come across it in the Langhe region where I live. As it is summer a lot of menus are featuring fried zucchini flowers stuffed with a variety of creamy fillings, fried Toma cheese and fried fish. I am still not sold on this but each to their own. Anyway, it makes a refreshing change to see different food on the menu instead of the Piemontese traditional staples of Vitello Tonnato, Agnolotti del Plin, braised beef in Barolo etc But, don’t panic if you are craving your regular Piemontese food fix, these dishes are here aplenty in Turin too.
For fashionistas you will not be disappointed. There are boutiques everywhere as well as the big fashion names, and a range of shops for all budgets. My favourite find was a beautiful Vintage Clothing shop with impeccable clothes and presentation called Char.ly Vintage & Flowers on Via Giueseppe Pomba.
The nightlife here is jumping. Starting with Aperitivo after work and moving into long summer social evenings too. All very reminiscent of a trip to Barcelona but without the heaving tourist masses, and quite refreshing for me, as a now country living girl, where everyone locally departs for bed circa 10pm. Here, in Turin, the place is buzzing from 10pm with lots of cafes and bars open with the young bright Torinese flooding the streets in all their energetic beauty. I walk into Turin’s Jazz club to find a swing dancing night on; to my delight, as I am a very experienced swing dancer. Unfortunately, I had the wrong skirt on to partake, as I really don’t like twirling my vintage skirt up with a view of my bottom on show! Frustratingly, I had to sit by the sides and watch the dancers hit the floor without me. But next time!
I recently discovered Vermouth while on a short trip to Sete in France and a visit to ‘Noilly Prat’ in Marseillan, I have never even had a Martini so this was a new taste experience for me. This drink is all the rage now in Turin, the home of Vermouth. There are craft makers of Vermouth aplenty, all battling their way to own your taste buds, over the longer established ‘Martini’ and ‘Cinzano’ brands of the recent years. Some of the old names have revived ancient recipes and come back to the market such as ‘Contratto’ and ‘Cocchi’. But I am disappointed to be offered only the ‘Martini’ brand in two of the bars I ventured into. This will take some more research on my part. I just know there must be better bars here in Turin selling better local artisanal Vermouth’s and I will track them down next time. Hopefully, by my next visit, this trend will have caught on across all the bars of Turin. If you visit here soon, be sure to find these highly rated Vermouth producers. But when in Turin a regular Vermouth on the rocks with a slice of lemon is still very refreshing on a summers day, sipped in one of the many squares, whilst partaking in the sport of people watching.
I traverse down to the River Po to view the rowers sweeping along it’s fast flowing water. As a past rower I am delighted to see many crews out on the water and I view from the bridge, with a little envy, some very beautiful rowing clubs too. Before we settled in Langhe I did try to find somewhere that was suitable to live within reach of Turin and its grand river, so that I could get a sculling boat and hit the water at weekends. But the Langhe Hills, without any rowing clubs, won my heart. Now, I think a little apartment in Turin wouldn’t go amiss…
I spy on the outskirts of the city the old large Fiat factory that gave Turin economic prosperity in the last century. Now it has been turned into a hotel and shopping mall. But Turin doesn’t rest and is on the move again, this time in technology. There is a bright aerospace technology industry set up here with a lot of investment and great University courses to fill its burgeoning graduate needs into the future. Biotechnology, Life Science and Robotics are also popular in this city and attracting a lot of international investment both in money and people.
If you visit Turin please go with an open mind. Yes, get the chocolate, coffee, church and market fix but adventure around the different quarters and see today’s Turin, not just the one of the past. There is so much to see here that even 3 days won’t cut it. I can’t wait to go back and discover more!
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