2011 is the year to visit elegant, chic Torino. The city is pulling out the stops to celebrate the 150th Birthday of Italy’s unification, as this was the country’s first capital. Click here for Esperienza Italia info, so you can plan your trip to include wonderful art shows, performances, and other special fun things.
I was fortunate to be there in early March, just before the major March 17 official birthday party, and found Torino happily decorated with Italian flags fluttering off balconies, streetlamps, and gracing store windows.
With so many treasures of places to choose from, I would begin a Golden Day in Torino with a visit to the Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) –Open Tues-Sun, 9-7:30, all visitors join guided tours of about 45 mins each, in Italian–you can get an English audio guide. You’ll understand why Torino was nicknamed “Little Paris” as soon as you catch sight of this most majestic 17th century complex, all done up in pale blue-gray stone with gold touches.
I’ve loved touring The Royal Apartments–a 30 room section of the gigantico palazzo where Kings and Queens lived from 1719 to 1930. Each time a new bride came into the palace, there was redecorating, so you’re strolling through a history of interior design–from baroque to rococo to neo-classical. These rooms inspire such imaginings–princesses waltzing under birthday cake chandeliers, families dining with views of splendid gardens, a king waking up in a bedroom festooned with rich brocades.
You can also tour the Royal Kitchens (which just opened to the public in 2008), to get a great backstage view of the elaborate preparations that went on for all the partying that happened upstairs over the centuries.
A lovely spot for a snack or light lunch is the Caffe Reale, also part of the Palazzo complex. You’ll feel royally treated, surrounded by cabinets where the china from the House of Savoy is displayed.
A stroll behind the Palazzo, around the Royal Gardens after lunch on a spring day would be divine! They were designed by the Frenchman Andre le Notre in 1697, who also designed the Gardens of Versailles. The fountain is said to have magical powers.
Torino is famous for its historic jewel-box caffes, which have adorned the city since the 18th century. One of my favorites is Baratti & Milano (Piazza Castello 29). This is where years ago I had my first Bicerin–the to-die-for hot chocolate/cream drink that Torino is famous for. By the way, among the many 150th celebrations is an event called Merenda Reale (Royal Snack), that will take place in different historical caffes in Torino and its surrounding throughout 2011. Bicerin and pastries will be served for a fixed price, to recreate the atmosphere of Torino at the time of Italy’s unification. Click here for more info and the schedule.
Gianduiotto (chocolate and hazelnut candy) is another Torino specialty that you must indulge in. You’ll see these triangular shaped chocolates all over town. My favorite spot to buy them to take home for souvenirs is Guido Gobino (Via Lagrange 1). Gobino is an award-winning newcomer on the chocolate scene, beloved by foodies world wide. His cremini al sale (gianduiotto mixed with sea salt) is amazing!
It would be perfect to catch an evening opera at Teatro Regio, which is now home to the superstar conductor Gianandrea Noseda. Critics say that these days Torino’s opera is the best in the world.
On my last visit, I had a most delicious dinner at Aleramo. I loved the charming dining room, the homemade tortellini, AND the Bonet–a classic Piemontese chocolate and amaretti dessert–was heavenly!
It was a pleasure to stay at the ATA Hotel. The rooms are spacious and graciously decorated, the breakfast buffet elaborate, with a great selection of fresh pastries and fruit, and it was perfectly located–on Via La Grange, a fun spot to join the passegiatta, with delightful shops and caffes.
More info: Italian Government Tourist Board