Turin is one of the great baroque cities of Europe, with broad boulevards, arcaded streets and vast piazzas packed with elegant 17th- and 18th-century architecture. The ruthlessly ambitious Dukes of Savoy appointed the city as their capital between 1572 and 1865, and filled it with churches and palaces designed by Guarino Guarini and Filippo Juvarra, the biggest names in baroque architecture. The Savoys oversaw the beautification of the city’s original Roman grid of streets, and brought the controversial Turin Shroud to the Cathedral of St John the Baptist in 1578.
Great palaces were commissioned, including Palazzo Reale and the neighboring Palazzo Madama. Today these spectacular museums are the biggest tourist attractions in Turin, rammed with priceless Renaissance masterpieces, Gobelins tapestries and silver-plated suits of armor. In the countryside around Turin, gloriously OTT baroque basilicas and hunting lodges were built for the dukes. The hilltop Basilica di Superga is a riot of domes, colonnades and bell towers, and the Palazzina di Caccia di Stupinigi is stuffed with decorative arts from the Savoy collections.
After the capital of Italy moved to Rome in 1870, Turin gradually became an industrial center, and by the late 20th century, the city was famous for Fiat cars and its football teams. In recent years, it has undergone a thorough post-industrial makeover. Forgotten corners have been spring-cleaned, and repackaged with modern architecture designed by Foster + Partners, Carlo Mollino and Pier Luigi Nervi. Thought-provoking contemporary works fill galleries like Fondazione Merz and the Museum of Urban Art. Today’s Turin is still a stately baroque beauty but it’s so much more as well; an enticing combination of historic architecture and exciting new styling, and an absolute joy to explore on city breaks.
Like most Italian cities, Turin runs on its stomach, and has a few classic local specialities up its sleeve. Back in 1786, the city presented the potent aperitif vermouth to the world, and that’s still
happily glugged down in chic bars to this day. Chocolate is big business too, from bicerin, a hot chocolate drink served with espresso and thick cream in grand cafes including Caffè Mulassano, to gianduja, a rich, delicious chocolate and hazelnut spread bought from elegant chocolatiers such as Guido Gobino.
Cosy trattorias such as Fratelli Bravo and Della Posta are known for steaming bowls of taglierini pasta piled high with meat ragù or grated Alba truffles, and accompanied by robust Barolo wines. And Turin is also home to the international Slow Food movement, linking the joy of eating with a commitment to locally grown, seasonal products and regional cuisines. The gourmet delicatessen Eataly Turin Lingotto, housed in a sprawling former factory, has several cafés dedicated to well-priced Slow Food offerings, from pizza to pasta and seafood, which make the perfect lunchtime pit stop.
Turin is home to several different nightlife scenes. Elegant, belle époque aperitivi bars do a roaring trade each evening, when locals stop by for Negroni cocktails, accompanied by stuzzichini snacks such as charcuterie and Fontina cheese from the Aosta Valley.
A longstanding Turin institution on its famous namesake piazza, Caffè San Carlo is the grandest of grand cafes, with an ornate belle époque interior swathed in marble, gilt and crystal chandeliers. By day populated with elegant ladies gossiping over hot chocolate and dainty pastries, the café fills up as aperitivo hour comes around. Sharp-suited businessmen and tourists alike congregate around a buffet spread of cured meats and cheese as Negroni cocktails are mixed at the speed of sound by an efficient and genial bar staff. Whenever weather permits, the party spreads out onto the piazza.
Elsewhere, most nights are party night in the hardcore techno clubs of post-industrial Lingotto, while a young crowd frequents the craft-beer pubs and enotecas of Vanchiglia.
There’s plenty to do outdoors, too. Pick up rental bikes from share stations across the city and pedal the section of the River Po cycling path that winds past the botanical gardens and replica medieval village in the Parco del Valentino. In summer, hiking routes open among the meadows, lakes and peaks of the Gran Paradiso National Park, an hour from the city.
During winter, Turin is a jumping off point for ski resorts in the Italian Alps. Purpose-built Sestriere and party-mad Sauze d’Oulx are just 90 minutes away in the extensive Milky Way ski area, making perfect weekend getaway destinations. Further up the Aosta Valley is the stylish resort of Courmayeur, famous for its experts-only, 14-mile Vallée Blanche ski run to Chamonix in France, skirting the foot of Mont Blanc.
Turin’s hotels range from five-star luxury to basic hostel accommodation, with many delightful and unusual options in between. The B&B Terres d’Aventure Suites are a great central choice for Turin city breaks, with spacious, stylish and sculptural modern furnishings and ensuite bathrooms in a 17th-century mansion. A simple breakfast of pastries and coffee is offered, but best of all, the hotel is slap-bang in the middle of the action. It’s just a few minutes’ walk to big-hitting attractions including the Palazzo Madama art museum and the clutch of collections at the Palazzo Reale, as well as a multitude of restaurants and shops.
A little further out of the city center, the Art Hotel Boston is tucked away in charming Crocetta, known for its elegant art nouveau architecture. Bijou rooms are all individually themed and feature bespoke artwork, from photographic portraits to life-sized crocodiles suspended from the ceiling. A leafy garden is tucked away behind the hotel and breakfast is included in the room price. Trams and the hip bars of San Salvario are close by, and the Palazzo Reale is a 20-minute walk away.
For an affordable stay just outside the city center but adjacent to Juventus Stadium, Hotel Tourist caters to just that. Visitors will marvel at the black Le Corbusier leather chairs and sofas in the welcoming lobby and the old-fashioned room keys. Featuring parquet floors, the bright and airy rooms are dressed in white linens with pops of red throughout, whether in a throw or desk chair. The hotel’s location next to the football stadium means soccer aficionados will find themselves right in the action.