Whilst Turin is applauded on the European stage for its sporting credentials, I assess its cultural, historical, culinary and architectural appeal.
Many of you may not have been aware that Turin holds this year’s title of European Capital of Sport, an award previously held in recent years by the likes of Copenhagen, Warsaw, Milan, Dublin, Valencia, Istanbul, Antwerp and Cardiff. Perhaps most famous for the 2006 Winter Olympics and the black and white stripes of its beloved Juventus, Turin’s sporting calendar is packed full this year of all manner of different disciplines, games and events, from acting as departure point for the final leg of this year’s Giro d’Italia next month to the Turin Marathon (4th October) and international fencing and badminton championships scheduled later this year.
And yet aside from a sporting perspective, what other attractions and appeals does Turin possess in its box of city break credentials to make it stand out from its highly popular, heavyweight contemporaries? Capital of the Piemonte region in the northwest of Italy (and indeed for a time the capital of Italy), Turin occupies a beautiful position on the banks of Italy’s longest river, the Po, all the while set against the stunning Italian Alps. Little surprise therefore that it was described by the architect, Le Corbusier, as “the city with the most beautiful natural location in the world”. And whilst it has long been famed for its industrial links (as well as its sporting dominance), Turin is an elegant and cosmopolitan city akin perhaps to Paris or Vienna, where tree-lined boulevards and baroque architecture provide a most pleasant backdrop, particularly for the upcoming Torino Jazz Festival (28th May to 2nd June).
Indeed, a good starting point when it comes to resplendent architecture is the Palazzo Reale, a 17th-century former royal residence of the House of Savoy (the former Italian monarchy) set amidst grounds designed by Andre Le Notre, he of Versailles fame. Symbol of Turin meanwhile and the tallest building in Italy is the Mole Antonelliana, an unusual, thin, aluminium, square-domed spire rising 167 metres into the city skyline, originally built as a synagogue in the 19th century. A remarkable vantage point for taking in the sweeping views across the city to the plains and Alps beyond (there’s a viewing deck at the 85-metre mark), this Turin landmark today serves as the home of the Museo Nazionale del Cinema (National Cinema Museum) where the cinematic memorabilia includes Peter O Toole’s robe from Lawrence of Arabia and a black bustier worn by Marilyn Monroe.
Paying homage to another of Turin’s longstanding traditions of car manufacturing, the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile (National Automobile Museum) plays host to a collection of almost 200 cars originating from America and Europe. Among its exhibits are some of the earliest Italian cars including an 1896 Bernardi and an 1899 Fiat. There’s also an 1894 Peugeot, a 1904 Oldsmobile, a 1914 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost as well as racing cars by Alfa Romeo and Ferrari.
In recognition of the Pope’s visit to Turin on June 21st to venerate the Holy Shroud and to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of St John Bosco, the patron saint of Turin, the sacred cloth itself will be on display from now until June 24th in the 15th-century Duomo di San Giovanni. A visit to see the Shroud is free, but must be booked in advance via the link here. And for more detail and history about the shroud itself, a visit to the Museo della Sindone is definitely worthwhile.
From a cultural perspective, take time to explore Turin’s many museums and institutions. The newly-renovated Museo Egizio (Egyptian Museum) presents the finest collection of Egyptian artefacts outside Cairo whilst, in the same building, the Galleria Sabauda offers some of the most important paintings amassed in the House of Savoy including works by van Eyck, van Dyck, Rembrandt, Veronese and Mantegna. The GAM (Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art) meanwhile is also worth a visit in 2015 as it plays host to an exhibition devoted to the work of Modigliani, running until July 12th (open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 7.30pm; tickets 16€ to include both the Modigliani exhibition and the museum’s permanent collection).
And no summary of Turin would be complete without a nod to its culinary associations. Birthplace of the Slow Food Movement, source of vermouth and producer of 60% of Italy’s total chocolate output, Turin is famed for its truffles, wines and cheeses in equal measure. Buon appetito!