The lovely, underrated city of Torino turned out to be a magical weekend adventure in our Italian journey.
We headed to Torino to meet up with a group of my students who are studying abroad for the semester in Urbino (more on Urbino to come). They take a few weekend excursions as a group, and the program directors were kind enough to include me and my husband, John, on the Torino trip. It was nearly impossible to tear ourselves away from beautiful Florence, but nevertheless we boarded a high-speed Trenitalia direct from Florence to Tornio.
I want to pause just for a second to mention that Italy has an incredible train system. We used Trenitalia to get from city to city, and it was always clean and mostly on time. This train was AV (alta velocità, which means high speed) and had very few stops. We also took the regional rail from Fossaca to Rome, which was just as clean and easy but made frequent stops.
As we left Florence going over 150 miles per hour (yikes), we very quickly found ourselves in the mountains, witnessing beautiful yet ominous snowy scenery. If only we knew what was to come.
The weather in Torino was less than ideal, since it was about 35 degrees and raining the whole time. In fact, on the second day I drowned my adorable Toms suede ankle boots, but thankfully there is fabulous shopping in Torino. If you are looking for a pair of all-weather boots for traveling in Europe, I might suggest Timberlands since they are functional and literally the most popular shoe in Italy. I am considering adding a pair to my extensive shoe collection, but I will keep you updated. I ended up with a pair of Hunter ankle boots since it was all I could find while in Torino. (See our Packing for Italy post to hear more about the shoe catastrophe!)
We spent 2 days in Torino wandering the beautiful squares and admiring some of their finest museums (and shoe shopping, much to John’s delight). We started in the Egyptian museum, which had an impressive collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts. I am told it is the second largest Egyptian archeological museum, second only to Cairo. We spent about 2 and a half hours there, which was a nice reprieve from the cold rain and fascinating to a nerd such as myself. They truly had an incredible display, and I thought it was one of the most organized and visually appealing museums I have ever been in. The included audio guide was also helpful and provided a lot of information. My favorite room had to be the Hall of the Kings, which is of course situated last as you work your way from the top floor of the museum down. It was amazing to me to observe such beautiful pieces of ancient history and religion.
We were told again and again how amazing the National Cinema museum was, which is famously home to the Mole Antonelliana cupola that is a hallmark of the city’s skyline. The building was gorgeous, but when we got there we were told that the elevator to the top of the cupola was broken and it was an hour wait outside in the rain just to get into the museum. We opted for finding a warm place to drink a cappuccino instead. We chose historic Caffè San Carlo in the San Carlo Square, with beautiful crystal chandeliers and cases of gorgeous pastries.
My favorite part of Torino was learning about the city’s café culture. Torino boasts cafés that are over 300 years old, and many of them were important places for revolutionary meetings and great literary minds. We ventured to Caffè al Bicerin, which was a rough 30-40 minute walk from our hotel in the rain. It was well worth it though, as we snagged the last tiny table in the corner. This was of course the café I set my sights on after reading that it was frequented by author Alexandre Dumas, who wrote my favorite book of all time, The Count of Monte Cristo. He even mentioned the signature drink, the Bicerin, in some of his writing. What is a Bicerin, you ask? It is an espresso drink, starting with strong espresso, layered with bitter hot chocolate, and topped with whipped cream and served in a glass. The kind waitresses made sure we understood to “ just drink, no mix.” The drink was actually magical, and I can’t believe I had never heard of it before. Nietzche was also known to visit the café. Caffè al Bicerin was quite different from Caffè San Carlo’s grandeur, but it was adorable and quaint. There were only about 6 two-person tables in the entire café, and people were waiting outside in the rain to get in.
My favorite meal in Torino was a local restaurant called Taverna delle Rose. We took our entire group of 24 college students there, and they served us an incredible 4 course meal. The appetizers were adventurous for me, including raw beef and raw fish, but the pasta, or “first course” was delightful. We were served a trio of pastas, including an amaretto gnocchi, a penne pasta with pancetta in a sauce made with espresso, and a risotto made with red wine. All 3 were unbelievable. I quickly learned that even though we had appetizers and 3 servings of pasta, there was still a “main course” to come. This was a delicious roast beef with potatoes. They then served a unique dessert, that was made out of a kind of local cheese called toma and topped with chocolate sauce. It was served “semifredo,” meaning “kind of cold.” The food was excellent, and it was a lovely evening spent with new friends.
If you want to be super exclusive, there is another restaurant called Cianci in the Piazza del Castello. It is my understanding that they do not have a website or a number, and the only way to to make a reservation is to wait to eat there, and then make your next reservation after dining. Even though they do their best not to be found, there was a huge line of people waiting on a Saturday night in the rain. The menu changes daily, and thank goodness we had someone who is Italian with us or I would never have been able to order. I thought the food was wonderful, but the atmosphere was not nearly as relaxed as Taverna delle Rose. People are encouraged to eat quickly, for Italian dinners, to clear tables for more patrons.
I also highly recommend a small, delightful wine bar called Zelli, which is right near the train station in Torino. We stopped here for the traditional “aperitivo” one evening, and enjoyed sparkling wine before dinner.
Torino was an unexpected, pleasant surprise in Northern Italy. It is certainly worth a stop for a day or two to take in the regal grandeur of the city and enjoy all that the food scene has to offer. After all, what could be bad about the home of the Bicerin, edible chocolate, aperitifs, and Nutella? Note: I am obsessed with Nutella and was very excited to learn that Torino was the first place to create a chocolate/hazelnut paste that later became Nutella.
Has anyone been to Torino? I would love to know your favorite place there! Come back next week to hear about our final stop on our Italian adventure: Urbino!