From the heights of the snowcapped Dolomites to the verdant Valle del Cibo, I recently had the delicious pleasure of visiting a number of the finest food and drink producers in northern Italy, taking in lots of pretty countryside along the way and getting to known some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met. Ditching my hired car in Trento, the rest of my time “on the Italian Haw Highway” was as a passenger. Leaving Trento by train for Torino, I felt I’d not had enough time there and that I would have loved to see more of its surrounding mountains and nearby villages. Soon enough though, regret subsided to excitement as my train sped along to my next destination and one that proved worthy of my anticipation – Torino!
Initially pursuing an opportunity to visit Torino (perhaps better known to some of my readers by its anglicized name, Turin) was what eventually led to me coming up with my the full blown “Ham Highway” itinerary. The city was (and I assume still is) keen to have bloggers visit to write about the city. There was a chocolate festival scheduled for when I knew I would be able to go, and I was pretty sure I could get a commission to write about it. The more I looked into Torino, the more I of a hunch I had that it would be the sort of “content rich” place that I’d enjoy checking out.
It’s nice to be proved right and in the case of Torino, I was spot-on! Whatever the interest – art, food, wine, history – someone in Torino has probably come at it from a fascinating and possibly even intrinsic angle.
There’s a strong argument that Torino was the first place ever where people made and consumed chocolate as we do today. It’s been produced here since 1559 when the Duke of Savoy got some beans from his buddy Cortez who’d just returned to Spain from Mexico and brought them back to Torino. So it’s not surprising that the city would hold a chocolate festival. Torino’s Cioccolatò festival is annual November/December event and this year’s has just ended.
Find out about what’s already being planned for 2014 at cioccola-to.it.
Cioccolatò was fun to poke around, but it was the city’s artisan shops and well established bars and cafes that suited my taste for chocolate more. One great place was Barney’s Bar where I drank a local age-old delicacy consisting of espresso, hot chocolate and cream and known as a bicerin. And despite the fact that the temperature was close to freezing, I got a kick out of going to Gelateria Pepino too. Pepipo is where the world’s first chocolate covered ice cream on a stick in 1939. You can still get a Pinguino there today in one of five flavours. I went with the original, vanilla. It was a treat.
Yeah, it’s not just ice cream on a stick. Torino is a city of firsts in many ways. The global brand Lavazza started here in a tiny cafe, as did Martini … and the first capital of Italy was … ? Yep, Torino. It is essentially the scene for contemporary art in Italy. And if you know your wines at all, then you’ll be well aware that Torino’s region, Piemonte, is numero uno for discerning palates seeking red wines with serious umph.
But in one aspect, Torino comes in at an intriguing second. The city’s Museo Egizio is the only museum other than the Cairo Museum that is dedicated solely to Egyptian art and culture and is home to the second largest collection of ancient Egyptian art outside of Cairo. The collection has been building here since the 17th century, and even as far back as 1824 it was said (by hieroglyph decipherer Jean-François Champollion) that “the road to Memphis and Thebes passes through Turin.”
Much of what’s exhibited today is from excavations conducted during the first 30 years or so of the 20th century. Important pieces in the collection include a painting on canvas dating to 3500 BC, the Tomb of Kha (found intact and transported as a whole to the museum), and three different versions of the Book of the Dead (one of which it the oldest known to have ever existed) alongside the hundreds of other artefacts available to view.
The museum’s webpage is museoegizio.it.
The Egizio is just one museum though, and Torino’s got a ton of ‘em. Indeed, the city centre feels like one big open air museum interspersed with shops, restaurants and the like. I only managed to hit a few museum-y place (loved the Palazzo Madama), but still managed to save money doing so with a Torino+Piemonte Card. Prices for this card start at €25 for two day access to 180 museums, exhibitions, monuments, castles, fortresses and Royal Residences in Torino and Piemonte along with discounts, free transportation and more. Deal!
For details go to visitatorino.com/en/turin_card.htm.
One of the best meals of my trip and one of the most memorable dishes I’ve come across this year was at the quaint and somewhat austere enoteca, Tabernalibraria. Chestnut gnocchi with duck ragu in Barbaresco wine was even more delicious than it sounds. Everything else I had in the eatery’s tasting menu was divine – especially considering I was there at the height of truffle season – as well including my glass of Barbera d’Asti Superiore.
Visit Tabernalibraria online at tabernalibraria.to.it.
You could do a lot worse than booking yourself in at the centrally situated Hotel Victoria. I had no problems walking everywhere to/from here, including the Porto Nuovo train station. As the name suggests, there’s a Victoriana theme, that seems to work. I loved the roaring fireplaces in the lobby, my spacious room with huge terrace and Alpine views. Breakfast was really good, WiFi was free and the folks working there were intent to make sure was above and beyond the typical three star hotel experience.
The hotel has a lovely spa and indoor swimming pool which added up to a very relaxing way to spend my first morning in Torino. It was mildly annoying being required to buy a €3 swimming to enter, but I got over it.
Find out more at hotelvictoria-torino.com.
For more about Torino and the region of Piemonte go to visitatorino.com.
I would like to thank the fine folks at boutique digital agency, The 7th Chamber, for helping sponsor this trip.