Scenically framed by the Milky Way mountains, Turin is often overlooked in favour of some of its flashier Italian city cousins. But with its Parisian-style boulevards, opulent baroque and neoclassical architecture (much of it built after the city became the capital of the Duchy of Savoy in the 16th century and, later, the first capital of a unified Italy) and kitchens that make great use of Piedmont’s bountiful natural larder, it’s worth putting on your must-visit list.
The Turin Palace Hotel may date back to the 1850s but its newly refurbished rooms are comfortable and stylish. Set opposite the city’s Porta Nuova railway station, it’s a convenient base to explore the city from – and an elegant one, too, with a rooftop bar giving views across the city and out towards the alps.
Espresso is always first on the agenda here, and it’s a good value choice (often they cost just €1 if you order one standing at the bar in one of the city’s many coffee shops). Fuelled up on caffeine, take your time to choose from the plethora of good trattorias, osterias and pizzerias that string the city together (nearby Bra was where the Slow Food movement started and many of Turin’s restaurants follow its principles).
At trattoria L’Osto del Borgh Vej, overlooking a buzzy square in the heart of the Roman district, you can get a true taste of Piedmontese cooking in the shape rich, creamy risottos (the nearby Po valley is known for producing Arborio rice), agnolotii (a small, roast meat-filled, ravioli-type pasta typical of the region) and, of course, Piedmont’s famous but divisive vitello tonnato – veal with tuna mayonnaise.
Kick off an evening in the city at a classically relaxed pace. As the sun sets, people gather in Piazza Carignano to listen to buskers and queue up for a Pinguino at Pepino gelateria. Established in the 1880s, Pepino is a local institution, so much so that it claims to have invented the chocolate-covered gelato. The gelato comes in a myriad flavours here but those in the know go for gianduja (chocolate and hazelnut) or delicate, nostalgic violet. It’s worth noting that this is very much in keeping with Turin’s roots as one of Italy’s chocolate capitals. Many of the big Italian chocolate brands began in the region (including Ferrero, Caffarel and Ferrero’s Nutella brand) and gianduja, nocciolati and tartufi were invented here.
Meander down to the other end of the square and you’ll find Farmacia in – you guessed it – an old pharmacy. It’s the perfect place to spend the aperitivo hour but if you can’t squeeze into this small space, ring the bell at #1757 and sneak up to dark, sultry Bar Cavour for a barrel-aged negroni and smoked almonds.
This isn’t a claustrophobic city but, if you feel like venturing further afield, there are plenty of pretty, historic villages worth venturing out to beyond Turin’s industrial suburbs. One of them is Cocconato, hidden among the hills a short drive from the city. With panoramic views across the countryside, the Saturday market here is the perfect place to discover all manner of local produce and edible souvenirs including peppery, meltingly rich salami, salty grana padano, soft, sweet taleggio and tangy gorgonzola.
A little way down the hill from the market you’ll find the Bava winery, home to the Cocchi vermouth. Founded by pastry chef Giulio Cocchi in 1891, Cocchi produces one of the world’s best-loved vermouths and – though now owned by the Bava family – pours the same passion into crafting the range that it did when the brand was founded.
Phone ahead to book a winery tour and you can learn about the history behind vermouth and taste the range, from light Cocchi Americano bursting with orange, apple and bitter herbs and sweet Cocchi Rossa, to full, spicy Cocchi vermouth di Torino and complex amaro.
The versatility of vermouth is staggering. Which is one of the reasons why many of us in Britain are now dragging this fortified wine from the back of the booze cabinet and putting it back in the spotlight. Lifted with tonic, ginger beer or Prosecco in a spritz, it’s set to be the drink of summer 2016.
Take time to taste some of Bava’s other wines while you’re there (pick up a bottle of fresh, elegant moscato d’Asti to take home), then stop for lunch or dinner at Cascina Rosengana, an agroturismo hotel and restaurant, to try more regional specialities including a rich wild boar pasta that you can’t help but want seconds of.
Return flights from Stansted to Turin cost from £50 (ryanair.com). Double rooms at the Turin Palace Hotel start from €170, b&b (turinpalacehotel.com). More info: turismotorino.org