Writing as I am on Easter Sunday, it seems only apt that I should devote this blog to one of Europe’s most prominent, yet lesser-known cities with both an association to Jesus Christ and chocolate – Turin. Indeed, think of Turin and perhaps you’ll imagine the Turin Shroud (the burial shroud in which Jesus was believed to have been wrapped after his crucifixion), the Winter Olympics, or, for the football follower, film buff or car enthusiast, the home town of Juventus, The Italian Job and Fiat. And yet, Turin lays claim to being Italy’s largest chocolate producer, with reputedly over 60% of the country’s chocolate output originating from the city. Let’s have a look at Turin’s treasures in a bit more detail…
Briefly Italy’s first capital city when the country unified in 1861 and still today the capital of Piemonte in the northwest of Italy, Turin sits on the banks of the River Po (Italy’s longest river) and whilst serving as the gateway to the Italian Alps, is also an attractive short-break destination in its own right. Indeed, contrary to its former reputation as an industrial city, Turin is an elegant and cosmopolitan city set against a mountainous backdrop comprising tree-lined boulevards and baroque architecture, enhanced further in readiness for the world’s attention in 2006 as it prepared to host the Winter Olympics.
Symbol of Turin and indeed the tallest building in Italy is the Mole Antonelliana, an unusual, thin, aluminium, square-domed spire rising high into the city skyline, originally intended as a synagogue. Reaching heights of 167 metres and providing unforgettable views across the city to the plains and Alps beyond, this Turin landmark now graces the Italian two cents coin and serves as the home of the Museo Nazionale del Cinema (National Cinema Museum). Here, you’ll find all manner of cinematic memorabilia including Peter O Toole’s robe from Lawrence of Arabia and a black bustier worn by Marilyn Monroe.
Another Turin must-see is the 15th-century Duomo di San Giovanni, home to the Capella della Sacra Sindone the sombre yet ever-popular Chapel of the Holy Shroud where, until 1997, the Turin Shroud was housed. Today a replica remains on permanent public display next to the altar (the original is only displayed ever 25 years, 2025 being the next appearance) and despite not being the ‘real deal’, still attracts thousands of pilgrims and worshippers each year. For more information about the story of the shroud, a visit to the Museo della Sindone is definitely worthwhile.
Paying homage to the House of Savoy, the former Italian monarchy, the Palazzo Reale is a 17th-century former royal residence set amidst grounds designed by Andre Le Notre of Versailles fame. Whilst the royal gardens are currently closed for restoration, the Palazzo is still worth a visit not least for its Armeria Reale, containing one of Europe’s most extensive collections of arms and armour.
If it’s museums you’re interested in, then the Museo Egizio (Egyptian Museum) offers the finest ensemble of Egyptian artefacts outside Cairo. If art is more your cultural leaning, you’ll also find in the same building the Galleria Sabauda, containing some of the most important paintings amassed in the House of Savoy including works by van Eyck, van Dyck, Rembrandt, Veronese and Mantegna. Equally, if you’d rather spend time in the great outdoors, the Parco del Valentino provides a relaxing, riverside escape from the hustle and bustle of city life where you’ll also find the Orto Botanico, the city’s botanical gardens situated next to the Castello del Valentino.
Aside from its associations with chocolate and indeed the source of vermouth, Turin is renowned for its excellent cuisine and the birthplace of the Slow Food movement. The region is famous for its truffles, produces over 160 types of cheese and its wine vintages include Barolo and Barbaresco. For an unmissable treat, try the gianduja, a speciality chocolate and hazelnut sauce.