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Episode #226: Discover Turin – The Local’s Guide to Must-See Sights & Experiences

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Elegant Turin, the capital of Piedmont in Northern Italy, offers a captivating blend of royal connections, grand boulevards and architecture, and a vibrant café culture. Steeped in history, this city is a treasure trove of majestic buildings with intriguing quirks and tales to tell. With an amazing food scene, focused on quality, highlights include the rich and velvety Bicerin and world-renowned chocolate. In Turin, the past and present harmoniously converge to create an unforgettable experience for any visitor.

piedmont italy tour

Show notes

We are joined by our friends from Italian Wine Tales – Olivia Windsor, who is also an Untold Italy Tours organizer and guide, and husband-to-be Italian Andrea, to take a trip to Turin, or Torino as it is called in Italian. Andrea, now based in Rome, lived in Turin for most of his life and Australian Liv, adopted the city as her home and met Andrea there. They share some insider tips for this grand and underrated city, including where to head for coffee, cake and kisses!

DISCOVER: Untold Italy’s unique small group Tours of Piedmont.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  • Olivia is an Australian who moved to Italy for a year and is still there 5 years later. She met Andrea during her first year, and together they run a wine website Italian Wine Tales where they aim to educate people all about the wonderful world of Italian wine.
  • Andrea is born and bred in Turin and they both lived there for a while before moving to Rome 2 years ago
  • They are getting married on the 8th of June this year in beautiful Gubbio in Umbria, a region in between Rome and Turin
  • Liv is also a big, important part of the Untold Italy team and to celebrate their upcoming marriage, Katy thought it would be lovely to share what is special about the city where they met and fell in love
  • Liv and Andrea were in Turin just last week, as Liv was hosting the Untold Italy Piedmont tour
  • Turin is one of those cities that flies under the radar, despite it being easy to get to 
  • It is found in the northwest of Italy. North of Rome and Florence and west of Venice and Milan
  • The area is near the Alps and borders France on the west and Switzerland on the north. It’s not on the sea but is close to the mountains
  • It is one of the larger cities of Italy but by perhaps Australian or US standards it’s a smaller city with around 1 million people living there
  • It’s just an hour from Milan by train and yet it is completely different to Milan
  • Turin is an important city in Italy because of its historical value. It was the first capital of Italy back in the 19th century, and it grew and grew and grew and had a strong economy, so much so that many people moved there, especially after World War Two, to work
  • Notably, there is the car manufacturer Fiat, which produced (and still produces) the infamous Cinquecento, the Fiat 500
  • It definitely flies a bit under the radar when it comes to tourism compared to Venice, Rome, Naples or Milan. Not many people visit Turin, and the Torinese people don’t mind it that way
  • Andrea has often met foreigners in Turin who went there not expecting much, who were quite taken aback by it – with so much to see and it’s beauty and style
  • Andrea might be a bit biased, but I think many agree that it is the most elegant town in Italy
  • Katy was amazed by how impressive the city was – you are surrounded by grand buildings and then you have the snow-capped mountains in the background
  • There is the famous Torinese Nebbia – the fog but on a clear day you see the mountains behind
  • Turin is indelibly linked with the royal house of Savoy. This was the royal house of the King that unified Italy in 1861
  • Italy is such a young country. We think of this familiar image of the country shaped like a boot but there was centuries and centuries of everything that now falls within Italy, being very localized
  • Even before unification, for centuries and centuries, they ruled over Turin and Piedmont as well as parts of France
  • Because of this, the city and the outskirts has a lot of beautiful royal palaces
  • The baroque style of Turin might resemble a bit the French, because of the closeness of the two countries and because there was a lot of French influence in the region due to the proximity of it – but never say this to someone from Turin as there is a bitter history and rivalry with the French
  • Turin is elegant, sophisticated and feels very grown up. When Liv first moved to Italy, she was in Bologna, which is a really young, fun and friendly university town, as soon as she moved to Turin, she felt more grown up and sophisticated. It is stylish, there is beautiful fashion – you’re not far from Milan after all
  • Something Olivia noticed when she was in Turin last week, and some of the guests were mentioning, is that Turin has got a fascination with neon. You’ll see a neon Martini sign, and pops of neon color all over the city and it looks really striking in contrast to the beautiful historic buildings
  • Katy was also surprised by the openness of the city – the wideness of the roads compared to many other Italian cities
  • When Turin was built in the 15 and 16 hundreds, they built it around these big, grand roads ( again a bit of a French style). The old town was built by the Romans and is known as the Roman Quarter. It has medieval influences and that is where you will find the narrower streets 
  • Turin also has trams which are very stylish – the classic orange ones are synonymous with the city

Cafe culture and Bicerin

  • Coffee culture in Turin is very big. There are many beautiful cafe bars, in grand buildings with chandeliers and frescoes. You don’t sit and have a coffee somewhere mediocre – it is an experience
  • There are some great cafes you can visit in the center. A great example is Farmacia del Cambio
  • The very historical one is Caffé Al Bicerin in Piazza della Consolata. This is where they first created Bicerin
  • Bicerin in the Piedmontese dialect means ‘little glass’, because it was served in a little glass
  • It is a mix of coffee with chocolate and some whipped cream. You don’t stir it up
  • In Caffé Al Bicerin, you queue up and you drink your Bicerin in this beautiful, historical place that has been virtually the same since it was built in the 17 or 18 hundreds. It still feels historic – they have candles on the table, they have chandeliers and it is full of charm.  It’s everything you want to have to enjoy your coffee and feel like you’re having an experience
  • Another favorite of Olivia’s is a little bit less touristy, and she and Andrea used to go a lot when they were first dating, is Caffe Clarissa in beautiful Piazza Vittorio Veneto
  • Andrea recommends that if you want to have a delicious slice of cake or pie, as well as great coffee and tea, you must head here – especially if you visit in winter
  • Another recommendation is a small chain specific to Turin. It is called Berlicabarbis. Olivia loves the name because in Piemontese it means ‘to lick your mustache’, referring to the mustache you get from milk covering your top lip
  • Bicerin is best and most commonly taken in the morning as it is fairly heavy. But it is also good for a boost of energy in the afternoon too
  • It is very good, high-quality coffee and chocolate and can provide a useful shot of energy
  • Another beautiful cafe in Piazza San Carlo is Caffe San Carlo, so you can enjoy coffee sat in a piazza. It is quite expensive there, but it is worth it

Chocolate

  • Another important part of the culture in Turin chocolate
  • Gianduiotto is a typical chocolate type that is produced in the shape of little linguts and can be found all over the city
  • Even back in the 17 and 18 hundreds, chocolate making was a big part of the economy of the city. If you were a chocolate maker, you were rich
  • Such wealth was held by the chocolate makers, that there is a saying that is still used to this day that come from this time – “fare la figura del cioccolataio”
  • The story goes that in the 17 hundreds, when the big folks in town would going to the theater to be seen, one day the king arrived with his beautiful carriage pulled by four horses. Everyone was in awe of this beautiful carriage. Straight after, the most famous chocolate maker in town arrived in his carriage – pulled by six horses. The next day, the chocolate maker had all his belongings and property taken away and he was banished from the kingdom
  • So the saying “fare la figura del cioccolataio” literally translates to “make the figure of a chocolate maker” and the meaning is that someone is making a fool of themselves/making a faux pas – they should be a bit more humble
  • Katy is a bit obsessed with Gobino chocolate. It’s difficult to describe but it’s a bit like a very luxe, harder Nutella – like Nutella would be if it grew up and had very, very high-quality ingredients
  • You’re supposed to put it in your mouth and leave it there for a few minutes – to savor it. When you’re a kid, you just the chocolate in your mouth and you bite right into it. When you grow up, you want to separate the different parts out more, so you leave it on your tongue a little to melt

The home of quality food

  • In the last 20 years, Turin has really started to invest a lot into their food. The slow food movement came out of Turin, where they try to rediscover food grown locally. They came up with the idea of the opposite of fast food – things produced locally and enjoyed in a proper way, respecting the traditional ways
  • Eataly, which now is a big global brand, was originally created in Turin to get good, Italian products that you can rely on – on the shelves of the supermarket
  • There is good wine in the Piedmont region itself, of course, and in Turin itself, it is one of the few places in the world – along with Paris and Vienna, that has a vineyard within the city
  • Villa della Regina, meaning queen’s villa, is a royal palace. There is a big garden on the hill facing the city center and on one of the hills, they still, to this day, grow their own wine. Andrea’s grandmother actually went to school here with the queen’s daughters!!!
  • There’s a lot of great antipasti in Turin, so you can try lots of different things and some unexpected things too – things like the Russian salad and the Vitello Tonnato – you can find out more about these in episode 105 all about the food of Piedmont
  • The pasta there is good too – the local tajarin or the agnolotti
  • When there is truffle season you, of course, get pasta with white truffles being shaved on top. A little addition of truffle obviously makes everything better

Food Market

  • Turin has the biggest open-air market in Europe in Porto Palazzo
  • Andrea and Liv used to go to the section of the ‘contadini’ – the growers, which is in front of a beautiful fishmonger, every Saturday. They knew all the farmers and could get amazing, kilometer-zero produce
  • In that market, there is also a shop that sells locally produced vermouth. Vermouth was created and first produced in Turin. These places still produce their own vermouth to their own specific recipe
  • If you are visiting Turin, definitely head to this market, try some vermouth, try some local produce and wander around

Places to visit in Turin

Turin has a little bit of everything. If you are into history, there is a lot, like the Egyptian museum, which is the second biggest in the world. Or there is the Cinema museum, the car museum. There is so much culture and things of interest in the city.

The Shroud of Turin

  • Turin is undoubtedly mostly famous for the Shroud of Turin (although the recent Eurovision, helped put it on the map for more people!)
  • The story goes that this shroud is supposed to be the linen cloth that the body of Jesus was wrapped in after he was taken off the cross, it was gifted or purchased by the royal house of Savoy and has been conserved in Turin
  • You can still visit the church where it’s kept in the Duomo. It’s not on display, however, because it needs to be preserved
  • There are copies of it, but the original one gets shown every once in a while – once every 7 – 10 years or whenever the Pope decides that they want to release it
  • On the recent Untold Italy tour, our wonderful guide, Carlotta Muti, from episodes 156 and 134, was saying that for the Jubilee next year, they are talking about releasing the shroud. So keep your eyes peeled for any news if you are heading to Italy then. It would get incredibly busy and crowded though
  • The shroud is a huge sheet. Most people think it is just the face, but Carlotta was explaining it’s the whole sheet that was wrapped from his feet all the way over the head and to the back

Palazzo Madama

  • The best way to describe this comes from fabulous guide Carlotta – she described Palazzo Madama as the lady’s party’s house. It was the queen’s house – the king had his beautiful big palazzo, the main Palazzo Reale. Right next door was an old castle that the queen wanted to redo and so they hired an architect who never ended up finishing the job. So on one side, it is an old medieval castle, and the other facade is this beautiful, kind of modern-day style palace. When Olivia says modern day, she’s talking about the 18th century – typical Italy! 
  • This was the queen’s palace, and she held all of her parties there
  • When Katy was in Turin, Olivia took her up to this palace and the view over the city, with the Alps sitting above – a spectacular view
  • It also has an incredibly beautiful staircase inside. You’ll find lots of people getting their wedding photos taken there

Mole Antonelliana

  • This building is the symbol of Turin
  • It’s hard to describe the Mole Antonelliana – it is not a tower or skyscraper. It is like a dome starting from the ground up, and when it reaches the summit, there is a long tower on the top
  • The bottom part was built to be a synagogue, but when the project was finished, the Jewish community decided not to purchase it, so the city hall decided to extend the project, building this tower up the top
  • It served different purposes, including housing the National Cinema Museum
  • Even if you’re not a cinema fan Andrea recommends going up there because the lift takes you right up the top and the views over Turin and the surrounding hills and the mountains. On a beautiful day, it’s a breathtaking experience
  • If you do want to go and do that you do need to book tickets in advance though because it always gets sold out

Top tip – for a secret city view

  • If you want to see Turin from above from the city center, without the queues, there is another way to do it
  • You just need to have a good pair of legs as you need to climb a few steps. Go to the Duomo, where the Shroud of Turin is, and go up the bell tower
  • You have to go through the museum there – you don’t really have to visit the museum, you can just purchase the ticket to go on top of the bell tower and it is around 2 or 300 steps, so a bit of a walk
  • When you get up there, you are in the dead center of the city, with mountains and the city on every side
  • There are signs on each of the four sides explaining what you’re looking at
  • It costs less than the Mole and it’s not as popular so less crowded

Monte dei Cappuccini

  • Another beautiful viewpoint and a classic, romantic spot to boot is up on Monte dei Cappuccini
  • You walk across Piazza Veneto, which is one of the main piazzas over the river Po. You’ll pass the Gran Madre, which is a beautiful church modeled after the Pantheon in Rome and then keep walking towards the right and head up the hill. It’s not a huge hill but you do need decent mobility
  • You’ll get to another church, which is where there is this beautiful viewpoint that looks back out over the city and the river

Superga

  • Basilica Superga was built in the 17 hundreds. It’s on top of a hill where you can see the whole city from afar. So you’ve got a view not from the city, but from afar with the mountains and river at the back
  • It’s the best viewpoint to see the whole of Turin
  • You usually need to take either a bus or a car, though there is also a little train which takes people up at the weekend and certain other times. It’s a very charming little train and will take you up the hill in the middle of a wood and leave you right at the entrance of the church
  • The church itself is not very big, but you can see it wherever you are. It watches over the city. You know you’re in Turin if you can see this church
  • The Superga sneakers/trainers are named after it because the brand originally comes from Turin. Find out more on their story here

The magic and mystery of Turin

  • Turin is a city of mysteries. There are lots of stories about Turin and black and white magic
  • There are tours you can do  – the history of black magic in the city
  • The city is part of 2 imaginary triangles – the white magic triangle is said to be Turin, Lyon, Prague and Turin, and the black magic triangle is Turin, San Francisco and London So Turin is the focal point of both triangles
  • There are different areas in the city where you have symbols that you wouldn’t normally look at twice. But if you go on a tour and learn about the history of these places, you think ‘oh hold on, wait a second, this is pretty interesting’
  • There are a lot of Freemason references and with the strong histories of the kings and Catholic church in the city, as well as it being home to lots of secret alchemists in the 16 hundreds
  • In 2006, they had the Winter Olympics in Turin. It was a huge thing and they started to dig up a lot of the city to make underground parking to fit all the expected visitors in
  • They started to create an underground car park in the city center near the Palazzo Reale where the king used to live and they discovered all these grottoes and caves that were used to do alchemical rituals. They’re not accessible to the public because they’re still digging them up and studying them 20 years later, trying to figure them out. These grottoes are not mapped anywhere on the architectural plans of the age or mentioned in any literature

Wars over the ages

  • If you go to Piazza San Carlos, in one of the corners on the facade of a building, you will find cannonballs lodged into the side. Turin fought many wars against the French and during one of these wars, the French started a bombing assault with cannonballs, trying to seize the city. These cannon balls then lodged into the city walls with many still remaining. Even when they renewed the facade, they left it there for posterity
  • In World War Two the resistance movement was very important in Turin. There is now a Resistance Museum which tells you all about the key role that the city and the region in general played during World War Two

An executioner’s sandwich

  • There are lots of curious little histories and stories about the city. One of  Andrea’s favorites is the story of how sandwich bread is associated with Turin. Back in the day, they used to have the executioner in Turin and he obviously wasn’t very popular so the bakers never wanted to give the bread to the executioner. The classic loaf of bread was flat on one side and round on the other and they served it upside down to the executioner. The executioner hated this and asked the King to have them stop doing this, so the king created a famous law that said that all the bakers who didn’t want to have the executioner as their client, they will become a client of the executioner!
  • So the bakers created a new shape of bread, which was like a cube/dice shape, so you never knew if it was served up or down. A few years later, the French invaded Turin and found this beautiful and strange type of bread. They took it to France and they made it longer, elongated it. This is the sandwich loaf as we know it today

Experience Turin

  • Andrea and Liv were recently in Florence and Andrea was sad that some of the beautiful roads in the city center have been completely taken over by shops that open and close very quickly, selling nothing but paninis. It is sad for both the people who live in Florence, but also for tourists who want to have a real experience and not feel like they’re seen as cash machines
  • You want to enjoy a real place with real people living it and Turin can give you all of that
  • In Turin, if you’re a foreigner and speak English, people may turn around and look at you, unlike in many cities like Rome or Milan where they wouldn’t give it another thought – it is totally normal and everyday. This gives you an idea of how untouched by tourism  Turin is

Get to Turin

  • You might think it is out of the way, but Turin is very easy to get to. It is just an hour’s train ride from Milan
  • From Rome it is about four and a half hours on the fast train and less than an hour plane journey – they’ve got an airport in Turin

Stay in Turin

  • You could stay close to the train station, Porta Nuova. There are two train stations, but Porta Nuova is the more central one. If you stay there, you will have to walk a little bit further to things or grab taxis
  • You can also stay in the old Roman area, the Quadrilatero, which is beautiful and charming, with cobblestone streets and a medieval vibe
  • Around Piazza Carlina is another great area. Piazza Carlina is right in the city center so a really good kind of midway point if you want to go into the Roman Quarter or if you want to go to the main shopping street, Via Roma

Day Trips

If you stay close to the train station, you could do some great day trips to other places in the Piedmont region

Cuneo

  • Olivia thinks that Cuneo is a bit like a mini Turin. There isn’t a lot to do there but it is really charming and it’s lovely to just wander around. There’s a nice market there and it has a lovely vibe
  • They’ve got a big coffee culture and they also have their own chocolates, which you won’t find in Turin, but are delicious
  • These chocolates are called Cuneesi al Rhum and are dark chocolate filled with rum
  • In winter, they’re perfect because they are so warming

Le Langhe

  • You can take a train to Alba, which is the capital of the Langhe region which is especially famous for its beautiful wine
  • There’s not a direct train to Alba, so you would have to change trains
  • Getting to anywhere else in the Langhe region, you really need a car as it’s not serviced by public transport
  • Particularly if you want to do wine tasting, you will need a car or a driver
  • Another interesting place that you can get to via the train is Asti, famous for its sparkling wine. It is a medieval town and they also have a Palio in September, like the one in Siena. You can get to Asti in about half an hour on the train as it is really close to Turin

Favorite places

Liv’s favorite

  • Romantic Liv’s favorite place is where she and Andrea shared their first kiss. Piazza Castello is beautiful in the evening. It’s very romantic because they have all the old lamp lights, the royal palace Palazzo Madama and there is a beautiful fountain in the center
  • At dusk, it is a very romantic scene

Andrea’s favorite

  • Andrea loves Largo IV Marzo. A largo is like a piazza, but a bit smaller. Largo IV Marzo is in front of the Duomo, in the Roman neighborhood, the Quadrilatero
  • It’s really beautiful and in the summer you have all the trees and the restaurants where you can eat outside, there is often music playing outside
  • It’s the most relaxing thing you can enjoy in summer or in spring in Turin
  • There’s a really nice restaurant in the piazza, that is very casual, called Piola da Cianci
  • If you see places called piola or piole, it’s because in Piedmont, the trattorias are called Piole/Piola

Stay in touch with Liv & Andrea

  • You can find out more about them and Italian wine on their website Italian Wine Tales, they have an Instagram @italianwinetales and a Facebook community, Italian Wine Lovers. Liv has an Instagram account @livguine, where you can find wonderful pictures of Turin and all of the places she goes to on the Untold Italy tours and keep an eye out for some wedding pics from their upcoming June wedding in Umbria

Untold Italy’s Piedmont Tours

Join us on one of our small group tours to Piedmont, including the elegant capital city of Turin, as well as exploring the beautiful wine regions, taking in fairytale castles, eating delicious cheese and chocolate and many more unique Piedmontese experiences.

piedmont italy tour

About our guest – Olivia Windsor and Andrea Mitti Rua

Olivia, an Australian who moved to Italy in May 2019, and Andrea, an Italian from Piemonte, Northern Italy are based in Rome and have recently launched the Italian wine site Italian Wine Tales, where you’ll find not only the best wines to try, but also information on all the Italian wine regions, the best wine tours and wine clubs you can join. Follow them for Italian wine inspiration on Instagram @italianwinetales, join their Facebook group Italian Wine Lovers or sign up for the Italian Wine Tales newsletter here.

Olivia writes a blog called Livguine, named after her love for pasta and her nickname Liv.  She has explored the country south to north, working in agriturismi and organic wineries before settling in Turin, Piedmont for a time after meeting a local Piemontese Andrea. They are both now based in Rome and Olivia hosts various Untold Italy Tours throughout the year in Piedmont, Liguria, Tuscany Capri and Puglia.

You can find Liv and Andrea on these channels:

Untold Italy Tours

Join Liv on one of the many Untold Italy Tours she hosts around Italy. Untold Italy Tours helps you discover your authentic Italy and discover the Italian places, faces, stories, and tastes whose memories linger for years to come.

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Places mentioned in the show

  • Farmacia del Cambio – great cafe in Piazza Carignano
  • Caffé Al Bicerin – for the local specialty hot chocolate drink
  • Caffe Clarissa – great, less touristy place for Bicerin and amazing cake
  • Caffe San Carlo – beautiful cafe in Piazza San Carlo
  • Berlicabarbis – small chain of cafes in Turin
  • Gobino – chocolatiers
  • Eataly – giant stores selling made-in-Italy products with restaurants
  • Villa della Regina – a palace in the city of Turin, originally built by the House of Savoy in the 17th century
  • The Egyptian museum – huge collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts
  • Chapel of the Holy Shroud – a chapel within the royal palace of Turin where the Holy Shroud is kept
  • Palazzo Madama – the first Senate of the Kingdom of Italy, taking its name from the embellishments it received under 2 of the queens (madama) of the House of Savoy
  • Mole Antonelliana – landmark building which houses the National Museum of Cinema
  • Monte dei Cappuccini – hill overlooking the River Po with the Church of Santa Maria atop
  • Gran Madre di Dio – a Neoclassic-style church dedicated to Mary, Mother of God
  • Superga – hilltop Basilica 
  • Museo Diffuso Torino (Resistance Museum) – history of the Resistance in the city during WW2
  • Porta Nuova – the main railway station in Turin
  • Quadrilatero Romano – the old town of Turin
  • Piazza Carlina – piazza in the heart of Turin
  • Cuneo – small city at the confluence of the rivers Stura and Gesso
  • Le Langhe – a hilly area in the province of Asti in Piedmont, northern Italy
  • Alba – town famous for truffles in the northern Piedmont region
  • Asti – a town in the Tanaro River valley of Piedmont
  • Piazza Castello – one of Turin’s main and largest piazzas
  • Largo IV Marzo – small piazza found between Porta Palatina, the Duomo and Piazza Palazzo di Città
  • Piola da Cianci – nice restaurant in Largo IV Marzo

Food & Drink

  • gianduiotto – chocolate ingots made from gianduja, individually wrapped in a gold or silver foil cover
  • vitello tonnato – a dish of cold, sliced veal covered with a creamy, mayonnaise-like sauce that has been flavored with tuna
  • insalata russa – Russian Salad
  • agnolotti / agnolotti al plin – a stuffed pasta usually with a beef filling with pinched edges and often served with the sauce of the meat cooked for the filling great in brodo or with truffles
  • tajarin pasta (Tagliolini in Italian) – a ribbon pasta, halfway between spaghetti and tagliatelle (great with a ragu)
    Pair Primi with a Barbera, or Dolcetto wine
  • pancarré – toasting bread that originated from the executioner’s bread
  • Cuneesi al Rhum – rum filled dark chocolate from Cuneo

Resources

  • Fiat 500 – small car model manufactured from 1957 to 1975 and then again from 2007
  • Supergra – sneaker brand

Resources from Untold Italy

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