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An Expat’s Travel Guide: Turin, Italy

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A central square in TurinOne of the greatest joys of being a foreign expat is ditching the guide book and experiencing life as the locals do.

No longer a tourist, you are a part of the community, and privy to information and places that tourists who are only passing through rarely get to enjoy.

Turin, Italy, is the cosmopolitan capital of Piedmont where foodies, fashionistas, filmophiles and fun-seekers enjoy a city in the midst of a cultural Renaissance.

The revitalization process began with the 2006 Winter Olympics but hasn’t ceased since, and today signs of progress emerge from each portico-covered street and grand riverfront piazza.

In Turin, industrial meets Baroque, elegant and funky co-mingle, and decadent food from the rich surrounding farmlands is transformed into dishes that reflect the city’s co-existing spirit of tradition and modernity.

FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD

If you want to be like a local, start each day with a potent Italian espresso. It’s a fine choice. Turin’s most prestigious espresso houses, Caffè Torino (www.caffe-torino.it) and Caffè San Carlo (39-011-561-7748), won’t fail to disappoint, except perhaps when you get the bill.

Torino BicerinBut in Turin, there is an even richer drink to try that combines your typical espresso with decadent artisanal chocolate and dense cream. It’s called Bicerin, and has been the official drink of Turin since the 1700s. Head to Caffe’ al Bicerin (www.bicerin.it/eng) where they specialize in the sweet, layered delicacy. It’s as beautiful as it is tasty.

If your morning Bicerin hasn’t satisfied your sweet tooth, follow the masses over to Piazza Paleocapa Pietro, where Turin’s best gelato awaits at GROM. Although GROM is a chain and even has U.S. locations, locals will attest that it remains the best gelato in Turin. Choose from dozens of flavors or go for the flavor of the month, which has been known to include unusual flavors like eggnog and chocolate with blood oranges. 39-011-511-9067, www.grom.it

As early evening rolls around and your stomach begins to growl again, get ready for the best part of Turin’s enogastronomic scene: Aperitivo. In short, aperitivo is a pre-dinner event where local bars and restaurants lay out lavish spreads of free antipasti and hot dishes to accompany your cocktails. It’s the Italian equivalent of happy hour and it attracts an eclectic mix of Turin’s young professionals and tourists.

A bridge in TurinThe Quadrilatero Romano is known for its ethnically diverse eateries, lively young crowd, and the most aperitivi within a small radius. Tre Galli, Lo Shore and KM5 all offer complimentary stuzzichini (snacks) and other restaurants like L’Obilex, offer heartier dishes including baked eggplant, roasted vegetables, pasta salads and delicious bread. For only about €8 (the cost of one cocktail) you can have your fill of food, but get there early for the freshest selection. Aperitivo begins around 7 p.m. and ends at 9:30 p.m. www.quadrilateroromano.it

For a funkier scene, wander into the center of historic Valentino Park where you’ll find Fluido (www.fluido.to) to a sophisticated discopub with live Italian music and house DJs. Cocktails are €7 and there is aperitivo every day except Monday.

At La Drogheria (www.la-drogheria.it) along the Po River in Piazza Vittorio Veneto, is like a cocktail party at a friend’s apartment. Sip a mojito, or choose from a selection of wines on comfy couches or around large communal tables. The music is a fun mix of artists from around the world.

Have you had your fill? Good, now it’s time for dinner! Da Mauro on Via Maria Vittoria is as authentic as it gets. Come for traditional, simple recipes, including their specialty pasta dish, cannelloni alla mirella, and stay for a few glasses of Dolcetto, Moscato, or Barolo just some of the Piedmont’s all-star varietals. 39-011-817-0604

Walking in Turin ItalySHOPPING

Don’t forget to take advantage of the city’s endless shopping possibilities to dress up for the night. From designer labels to more budget-friendly shops like H&M, Zara, Promod and Bertoldi, Via Roma is a fashionista’s dream.

Searching for super-skinny Euro jeans? Head to Casual Outlet on Via Nizza. For vintage finds take to the back streets where you’ll find outdoor markets selling bargain jewelry, boots, books and art.

Locals also browse at the markets in Piazza Bengasi and around the neighborhood called Crocetta. Porta Palazzo is the most famous of all the street markets in Turin, and the largest street market in all of Europe!

With that title, though, come some drawbacks like crowded alleys and higher prices, but it’s definitely worth a stroll. You can find everything under the (Torinese) sun!

TURIN AFTER DARK

Turin @ nightImpressive by day, but spectacular by night, Turin beams like a city built from lights; a real-life Lite-Brite empire. Renaissance and modern facades glow in shades of cream, antique street lamps cast orbs of warm yellow hues in the air and once a month, the full white moon dangles just above the tip of the Mole, Turin’s tallest structure.

Unlike the sleepy hill-top villages that surround the city, Turin has one of Italy’s most progressive after-dark scenes, rivaling the best cosmopolitan cities throughout the world. To stay in the know, print out a copy of Turin’s coolest magazine, BCool. It’s an extensive guide created by local tastemakers highlighting the best hotels, shopping, nightlife and restaurants. www.bcool.it

Lights of TurinFor one-stop clubbing, head back to Valentino Park, where a variety of clubs turn up the volume on an otherwise peaceful park:

Minimalist and modern, Life Discoclub evokes a New York City vibe and attracts mostly house music DJs. Rotonda Valentino (www.rotondavalentino.it) offers a unique “clubbing in the round” layout with alternating live bands and DJs. In summer, there’s no place better to be than Cacao (www.cacaocafeconcerto.com, 39-011-650-2140), an open-air club with amphitheatre seating and dancing under the stars.

For more diverse clubbing, La Gare on Via Sacchi offers different parties throughout the week. Saturdays attract a large university crowd and on Sundays Turin’s gay population comes out for La Gare’s Queever Disco Fever. www.discotecalgare.com

FESTIVE GETAWAYS

After a long night of clubbing, you may way to escape the urban jungle and explore beyond the city streets. One of the best ways to do that is to attend a sagra in one of the surrounding Piedmont villages.

Local landscapeEach sagra is a celebration of that particular town’s specialty cuisine and products and usually take place outside in piazzas during the autumn season, to coincide with the fall harvest. From peppers, to mushrooms, to wine and cheese, sagres are the most festive way to celebrate long-standing traditions and experience Italians’ deep passion for food.

About 20 miles outside Turin is a small town called Caluso, where every September droves of wine enthusiasts come to celebrate the locally harvested grapes at the Festa dell’Uva.  Dance, sing, and drink your way through two weeks of tastings, concerts and events. www.festadelluva.tn.it

Also in September is Asti’s Festival Delle Sagre, a one-day event that lets you sample food and wine from 40 villages in the area. It’s the sagra of all sagre, and since Asti’s only 45 minutes from Turin, it’s a fantastic reason for a road trip. Sit at long red-checkered picnic tables and enjoy tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms, frittata with chickpea and herbs and even more adventurous plates like fried frog and cured donkey meat. Traditional manifestations, beautiful processions and live music entertain the large crowd throughout the day and into evening. www.festivaldellesagre.it

About 20 minutes from Asti is Alba, the destination of October’s Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco. Tartufo biano, or white truffle, is a veritable celebrity in Alba and the month-long autumn festival devoted to the famous fungus is a must-see. Last October, Prince Albert of Monaco made a royal appearance at the opening ceremonies, a fanfare fitting for one of the world’s most sought-after delicacies. www.fieradeltartufo.org

By Courtney Scott for PeterGreenberg.com. Check out Courtney’s travel blog at http://abroadrview.blogspot.com.

She’s also the author of our Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Amalfi Coast and Capri as well as the Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Long Island’s North Fork, the Hamptons Alternative.

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