Turin Stories and Tips

Torino: a basic introduction

Palazzo Carignano, Torino Photo, Turin, Italy

From an uninspiring town and a prime employment location to which workers from the south migrated to find a job in the automobile industry, Torino has in the last six years transformed itself into a pleasant place where historical piazzas, enticing boulevards and charming palaces and churches were turned into inviting spots for exploration. Venturing outside the ‘centro storico’ is however not as pleasant an experience as one might expect since Torino’s suburbs are still as dismal as any other rundown residential area. So, to get the best out of your visit and to leave Torino with a good impression, it is advisable to concentrate on the centre and explore its amazingly rich and vivid heritage.

Torino’s centre, small enough to be navigable on foot stretches out northwest of the River Po. Enclosed by a bend in the river from the east, Corso Inghilterra from the west, Corso Regina Margherita from the north and Corso Vittorio Emanuele from the south, it consists of a grid of tightly-packed streets that are for the most part lined with colonnaded porticoes, ideal for walking when it rains. Also ideal for walking (obviously in the absence of rain or frost) is the array of pedestrianized streets that grace the centre with their cobbled granite ground-covering. All streets in the centre, whether pedestrianized or not teem with shops of all sorts, some small and exclusive enough to offer a personal one-to-one service, others large and crammed with merchandise to the extent that choice becomes a challenging feat of evaluation. Embracing as well most of Torino’s heritage, the inner city encloses within its confines a rich legacy of opulent palaces, grand monuments and historical cafes that evolved progressively during four centuries of history. It is therefore here that one can truly discover Torino: a city that has combined effectively leisure and shopping with history and tradition.

Notwithstanding the multitude of attractions in the ‘centro storico’, one should reserve some time to venture beyond the walkable zone of the city and possibly take a trip to one of Torino’s far-flung districts where further attractions await visitors. Torino’s off-the-beaten-track locations are for the most part sparsely populated, giving visitors an additional opportunity to sightsee in an atmosphere of calm and seclusion. Choosing an out-of-the-way location depends much on one’s interests. Car enthusiasts will be in heaven in the Museo dell’Automobile. Juventus fans will definitely not be disappointed either with the endless number of trophies and memorabilia on show in the Juventus Museum. If one is neither a car enthusiast nor a soccer fan, one can opt instead for a day out away from the bustling life of downtown Torino. Choose from Parco della Mandria (northwest of the centre), Stupinigi (southwest of the centre) or Villa della Regina (on the right bank of the Po), each of these comprising an extensive area of landscape greenery with a central palace as the focus of attraction.

Reaching Torino’s remote locations is not easy unless one has private transport. Tram and bus stops are scattered around and finding the right stop is itself an adventure. However, the service is frequent and quick and this compensates to an extent for the time lost to locate the stop. In addition to this, most far-flung destinations require a combination of a tram and bus ride or a change of bus. The Tourist Information Centre on Piazza Castello provides free transport maps that show the principal stops along each bus and tram route.

Few years back, Torino’s Caselle airport was mostly reserved for internal flights but with the advent of low-cost airlines, Ryanair in particular, Caselle evolved into a medium-sized international hub from where the majority of European destinations could be reached. Accompanying this expansion in the number of flights, access from the airport to downtown Torino developed into a simple down-to-earth affair. The cheapest but most demanding option is the Dora train that runs between the airport and Stazione Dora at half-hourly intervals. Stazione Dora, on the northern outskirts of the city in a derelict suburb is connected to the centre either by regular bus or by the Dorafly service. Better but pricier is the Sadem bus that plies the ten-mile route between the airport and Stazione Porta Nuova every half-hour. The bus is slow taking fifty minutes to complete the trip along traffic-infested roads but the benefit of calling at convenient stops along the way makes up for the time-consuming concern. One such stop is Stazione Porta Susa, a huge modern glass-and-steel train station still at its completion stage after years of enlargement and renovation. All trains heading for Italy’s remote northwest Piemonte region, the ski resorts around the Aosta valley and the south of France call at Susa. So, using Stazione Porta Susa (without continuing to Stazione Porta Nuova) is a practical way to skip the hassle of Torino if one envisages proceeding further north.

The Sadem airport bus terminates the trip on Corso Vittorio Emanuele corner with Via Sacchi, right in front of the west side of Stazione Porta Nuova. The huge structure of the station is currently fenced in an enclosure of scaffolding that hides an otherwise bleak façade, uninspiring and architecturally bland. But set foot inside and you will find yourself in a monumental hallway hemmed in by state-of-the-art shops, stylish, trendy and colourful. One soon loses oneself in the confusion and forgets one is merely inside a train station. One outlet occupied by a branch of the Tourist Information Centre is an excellent source of information and inspiration for visitors who have just set foot in the city. The streets off the east edge of the station, Via Nizza and Via Saluzzo in particular teem with budget hotels and finding a suitable pad is normally child’s play, even in high season.

Stazione Porta Nuova, south of the city centre and within a stone’s throw of the city’s focus of activity can be looked upon as the gateway to Torino’s ‘centro storico’. Crossing the highway from Porta Nuova to Piazza Carlo Felice is no mean feat: Corso Vittorio Emanuele is thronged, at times blocked with traffic day and night. A sign of relief for pedestrians is the traffic lights that allow intermittent crossing and stop the flow of traffic.

Piazza Carlo Felice lined with seating on all sides and clustered with a small central area of greenery is nothing spectacular but is the kick-start of an adventure of pleasant surprises and unusual treats. North of the square is Via Roma, Torino’s modest answer to London’s Oxford Street. Though neither as pretentious nor as showy, Via Roma is nonetheless more graceful and charming, its side porticoes running from beginning to end imparting to the street an air of warmth and hospitality. All the big brands of Italian and international fashion are here; if not, they are definitely nearby along the side streets that radiate out of Via Roma. Try your luck as well along Via Lagrange, an entirely pedestrianized street parallel to Via Roma and maybe more graceful, crammed as it is with more fashion shops and lots of belle époque cafes, all equipped with outdoor tables decked out in colourful tablecloths.

The first section of Via Roma ends with a pair of monolithic nudes that have little artistic worth and do not deserve more than a passing glance. But venturing beyond the gigantic casts into Piazza San Carlo, one is faced with a grand pedestrian space surrounded with elegant porticoes where the well-heeled Torinesi sit down and discuss politics over a cup of coffee brew. Coffee shops with outdoor seating have over the years evolved into a Torino institution and Piazza San Carlo is no exception. Linger on if you have the time to inspect the central ‘caval de brons’, an imposing monument to Duke Emanuele Filiberto who raises his sword in victory after the San Quintino battle in 1574. The two baroque churches on the Porta Nuova side of Piazza San Carlo seem to be twins but identical they are not. Can you spot the variations?

On the northernmost extremity of Piazza San Carlo, Via Roma stretches out past the Museo Egizio and Galleria Sabauda to Piazza Carignano. Small in size but grand enough to contain what might be Torino’s most beautiful and history-steeped palace (Palazzo Carignano), this fine square houses as well Torino’s oldest theatre where all great Italian actors of the past performed.

Few more steps and one finds oneself where Via Roma unfolds into Torino’s grandest and largest square: Piazza Castello. Imposing, impressive and immortal, this square embraces enough attractions to fill up a whole day. The highlight is unquestionably the Palazzo Reale, the former residence of the Savoy dynasty. No less inviting is Palazzo Madama, a great place whose architectural features speak for more than seven centuries of history. Currently housing a museum of fine arts, it is definitely one attraction no visitor should miss out. Climb up the medieval tower for a privileged view of Piazza Castello.

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