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Go Nutella for Turin

Published Jun 14, 2011

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Written off by many as part of Italy’s industrial triangle, Turin is more than just the home of carmaker Fiat and the Juventus soccer team.

This year, it is celebrating its roots as the first capital of modern Italy by hosting the festivities for the 150th anniversary of the reunification of the country.

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Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help you get the most out of a weekend of wandering its 18km of arcaded walkways, people-watching over aperitivi, and sampling Piedmonte cuisine in the home of Nutella and TicTacs.

FRIDAY

6pm: Start the weekend as the Torinese do, at Piazza Vittorio Veneto, one of the largest squares in Europe at 360m long.

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Known more briefly as Piazza Vittorio to the locals, it was built in 1825 and boasts arcaded walkways on three of its four sides as well as a great view over the majestic Grande Madre di Dio church and the hillside of the Monte dei Cappuccini on the opposite bank of the River Po.

The bars on Via Po, which runs between the square and Piazza Castello, lay out aperitivi, buffet-style food for you to nibble on with a glass of wine, from about 7pm. Try Mulassano, a tiny venue on the left-hand side of the arcades as you approach from Piazza Vittorio; Cafe Elena, once the haunt of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche; or trendy La Drogheria.

8pm: Time to get stuck into what the Italians are probably best known for – food.

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Restaurant Porto di Savona was founded in 1863, when Turin was the capital of Italy.

Here you can try out Piedmonte specialities, such as risotto with Barbera wine. (Find out more at http://www.foodandcompany.com/ food&company.html)

10pm: Join the locals at the Murazzi – a series of bars and clubs built into the walls along the River Po that come alive in the spring and summer. “Murazzi” comes from the Italian word “muro”, meaning wall. Here you can dance the night away to your favourite kind of music, but keep an eye on your bag. Try Ole Madrid or Aqua for Latin vibes, Alcatraz or Giancarlo 2 for rockier music, and if you’re feeling really energetic try Doctor Sax, where the dancing continues until 10am.

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SATURDAY

10am: After all that dancing, you may be in need of a darkened room, so make your way towards the Mole Antonelliana, the Eiffel Tower-like symbol of Turin that houses the National Museum of Cinema.

The unusual four-sided dome with a 167m spire, named for its architect Alessandro Antonelli, was originally constructed as a synagogue and its image graces the reverse of the Italian 2 euro cent coin. (http://www.museonazionaledelcinema.it).

Take the lift to the top to enjoy the view of the city, whose straight streets bear the unmistakable pattern of having been laid by the Romans, back when the city was known as Augusta Taurinorum.

Noon: Wine lovers will enjoy lunch at the rustically styled Tre Galli on Via Sant’Agostino in the Quadrilatero area of Turin. This is the oldest part of Turin, where the Roman streets blend into medieval alleyways.

Once a bit down-at-heel, the area is now vibrant and trendy, with a plethora of little shops, such as Nautilus on Via Bellezia with its “antique scientific instruments and old oddities”. (http://www.quadrilateroromano.it)

2pm: The streets of Turin, veering from ancient paths to wide porticoed walkways and elegant squares, are best enjoyed on foot. After working off lunch with a meander, stroll to the Basilica of the Consolata to admire its baroque architecture. (http://www.laconsolata.org/)

You can’t leave Turin without having squeezed into the Caffe al Bicerin opposite the Basilica to try the coffee and chocolate drink of the same name that is created on the site. (Read more about this at http://www.bicerin.it/eng/index.html) Founded in 1763, its management soon passed into the hands of women and it became known as one of the few places a respectable lady could be seen in public.

A hot bicerin also served as an pick-me-up for Consolata worshippers who had fasted for communion.

4pm: On your way back to the centre and Piazza Castello, stop off at the cathedral, which has been the home of the Turin Shroud since it was given to the Duke of Savoy in 1578.

The chapel housing the shroud, reputedly the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, was destroyed by fire in 1997 and is still undergoing restoration. The shroud itself, which bears the faint image of a bearded man, has only been brought out for public viewing twice this century, once in 2000 and again last year.

A replica of the shroud can be seen in the church.

Piazza Castello, the heart of Turin once used mostly as a car park, is dominated by the Palazzo Madama.

With its baroque façade and medieval walls, it looks a little like two buildings mashed together. Inside you can admire the juxtaposition of a spectacular baroque staircase and some Roman ruins.

The building also houses the Museum of Ancient Art, recently reopened as part of efforts to restore Turin to its former glory after years of neglect.

6pm: Put on your glad rags and dine at the chic and historic Ristorante del Cambio in Piazza Carignano. Open since 1757, it was a favourite of local statesman Camillo Cavour, the man behind the unification of Italy.

As you’re in your finery, round off the evening with a trip to the theatre – the Regio on Piazza Castello is Turin’s main theatre and offers ballet, opera and concerts.

SUNDAY

10am: Take the funicular railway from Stazione Sassi up the hill to visit the Superga Basilica, another of Turin’s key landmarks. Here you can admire the views over the city and visit the no-expense-spared tombs of the Savoy Royal family, who used Turin as their capital from 1563.

The Basilica is sadly famous in Italian soccer history as being the site of the plane crash that killed the entire Torino AC team on a foggy day in May 1949. Their tomb can be found at the back of the church.

Noon: Head back to Via Po and Al Primo Piano or Sotto la Mole for a quick lunch, washed down with a glass of local wine such as Barbera, Barbaresco or Nebbiolo.

You’ll notice that while both sides of the Via Po are made up of porticoed walkways, only one side is continuously covered. The road crossings on this side were covered in the 19th century at the request of the king, who did not want to get wet when walking from Piazza Castello to Piazza Vittorio.

2pm: Visit the Egyptian Museum, the only one outside of the Cairo Museum to be dedicated solely to Egyptian art and culture.

With 6 500 items on display and a further 26 000 in storage, the museum once prompted 19th century hieroglyph decipherer Jean-Francois Champollion to remark: “The road to Memphis and Thebes passes through Turin.”

Highlights include the mummies shown without their bandages – undeniably spooky – the tomb of Kha and the atmospheric statue room, which was redesigned by Oscar-winning art director Dante Ferretti in 2006.

4pm: Round off your stay in Turin with the most Italian of treats – ice cream and chocolate. Fight your way through the crowds to pick up some giandujotto – soft, creamy hazelnut-flavoured chocolates – from Baratti & Milano, on Piazza Castello. (http://www.barattiemilano.it/)

These chocolates, ubiquitous in Turin, also taste rather excellent when made into ice cream. Check out Cafe Fiorio, which dates from 1780, for its vast range of flavours to slurp on as you wave goodbye to this often overlooked city.

(For information on the 150th anniversary celebrations in Turin, go to www.italia150.it) - Reuters

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