Discover Torino, Italy's Unavowed Beauty

by Elena Pizzetti

Have you ever heard of Torino? Italy's first capital? No? Winter Olympics 2006? Maybe? Fiat cars? Yes uh, you hipster. Torino is arguably Italy's most underrated town. Even Italians don't seem to be very interested in it. Many picture it as a gray industrial city and very few consider it a tourist destination. 

For the music enthusiast - Italian traditional songs on the street.
The Museum of Cinema in Torino. Photo by Elena Pizzetti

There are at least 3 reasons for this:

  • When Torino is mentioned on TV, it's usually because of some Juventus match or a big Fiat meeting. All they show is the stadium or an exceedingly tanned man wearing a tie. The two things often go together.
  • If someone actually happens to set foot in town (most likely having to pay a forced visit to an old aunt), the weather will be gray for real. Of course this happens because in Torino the sun only shines on the man of pure intentions.
  • The Torinesi are discreet, quiet human beings who actually want to stay out of the spotlight. They are glad that the gazillions of tourists jumping off a plane with a camera, two smartphones and a 90's looking blog are headed towards the narrow streets of Venice and Florence or the speedy crowds that cram the sidewalks of Milan. The town warmly welcomed the tourist invasion during the Winter Olympics, but that was meant to be a short term relationship with the rest of the world. 

So, consider yourself very lucky because this article is a big exception. A Torinese unveiling the secret wonders of Torino on the web? It's a life-risking effort. It is important that you realize this and take a moment to feel unwillingly guilty. Done? Great! Now you're ready to discover the town's secret beauties.

The truth is, Torino is a wonderful place for both a quick trip and a long stay. On one hand it's quite big – it's Italy's 4th biggest city – with the consequent plentiful events, restaurants, and things to do. On the other hand, the inner city and its closest surroundings have the feel of a mid-size, relatively quiet town. Every neighborhood is a small community with its own mood and style, from hipster Vanchiglia to elegant Crocetta. It will be easy to find one that fits your character and makes you feel at home. 

Let's twist some stereotypes with 5 surprising facts about Torino.

  • Torino is beautiful. In the 19th century it was the House of Savoia, Italy's royal family. It hosts castles, palaces, refined buildings and churches designed by the greatest architects of the time. It also hosts some of Europe's biggest squares and there are equestrian statues everywhere (so don't take one of those as a landmark).
  • Torino is a small version of Paris. The Church of Superga is Torino's Sacre Coeur, Castello del Valentino looks quite like the Louvre, Stupinigi is the town's Versailles, and Mole Antonelliana is the strange building you can see from all over town, like that tall iron tower. Of course, it's not really the same. In Torino the food is better.
  • Torino is the greenest town in Italy. Downtown there's a park on every corner and you can find dozens hidden gardens if you sneak into the many private cortili. The main streets (viali) host long lines of sycamores, horse-chestnuts and ash trees. You could cross the entire city biking inside a green oasis along the river Po.
  • Torino is not in the mountains. Of the few people who happen to know Torino exists, many think it's a mountain town because of the Winter Olympics. In actuality, Torino is only 900 ft above sea and looks pretty much like a regular town except for the majestic snowy Alps lying right next to the farthest buildings.
  • People from Torino are not cyborgs. Not all Torinese are cold unwelcoming robots like the stereotype wants you to think. If you approach people on the street asking for information, it is unlikely you will end up being zapped to death. Don't expect to be hugged on the road either. Just know it takes a little more time for people to act effusive compared to southern people.

And now to the nice things to do while in town. You can find everything about the Egyptian Museum, the Holy Shroud and climbing the hill on the vintage Dentera in any guide. Let's focus on the special perks the town offers to young, smart and healthy visitors like you.

Are you a movie fan?

Then you'll find many ways to unleash your nerdiness! The first Italian movie theater ever was in Via Garibaldi n. 13. If you have seen Dario Argento's Deep Red, take a look at Piazza CLN. Does it ring a bell? Of course you must visit the National Museum of Cinema. During your walk through its striking rooms you will meet some familiar characters, including E.T. and Chewbacca. In front of the Museum, Cinema Massimo is one of the very few theaters to host movies in original languages. Torino hosts several festivals dedicated to every possible category, from gay-themed movies to female directors. 

Are you a music lover?

There are some nice venues in town and the local audience is usually perceptive and polite. Spazio 211 and Hiroshima Mon Amour host shows by the most talented artists of the international and local indie scene. If you're a die-hard traditionalist, at Folk Club you can have the luck to see your folk hero in a super tiny venue. To listen to some fierce popular music, walk to Piazza Carlo Alberto at night. There's often a small gang of elderlies with accordions and guitars who play Italian traditional songs on a bench. 

If you still buy discs, there are three shops you must not miss: Rock & Folk, Les Yper Sound and Disco Revival. Little heavens for CDs, vinyls and bootleg collectors.

Are you a photographer?

When you're tired of taking pictures of those equestrian statues, there are some unconventional locations you could visit. You might like the scraped walls of the former factories that now host OGR and Scuola Holden. For a punk memory, walk down Via Pietro Micca and look for the pierced building.  Fans of the Bechers will find some charm in the two rusty gasometers at the beginning of Corso Regina. Not far from there, there's the GTT station. Its wall hosts a huge mural painting by the “Italian Banksy”,  Ericailcane. Other beautiful murals can be found around town. Just take the road less travelled...

Are you a food enthusiast?

Cheer up. Torino is the town of chocolate! Nutella? Proudly born here, heir of Gianduja nut chocolate. Don't miss tasting Torta Novecento and bicerin, a hot beverage made of coffee, cream and dark chocolate. Want to go home with some story to tell? Try the traditional bagna cauda, a killer appetizer made of peppers, anchovies and garlic. A lot of garlic. Besides Piemonte's famous red wines, there are also exquisite local beers to be tried, Baladin and Menabrea on top. You'll find many nice bars in Vanchiglia, San Salvario and in the cobblestone streets of Quadrilatero Romano. If you feel the urge for some good old street food, here's one little secret for you. By night on Corso Unità d'Italia you'll see a food truck. That's Gino Panino, the best paninaro in town. Order your sandwich and ask for “olio di giù”. He'll add his secret weapon, a spicy, supertasty southern oil.

If you belong to more than one of the listed categories, feel free to do different things in the preferred order. However, if you are a good person you won't plan to eat bagna cauda right before shouting out the whole discography of your favorite band at Spazio 211.

Enjoy living in Torino!