Framed by the snow-capped Alps, Turin is a seductive city, with belle époque coffee houses designed for dangerous liaisons, and Baroque squares built for grand gestures. This former industrial powerhouse, the first capital of a united Italy and ancestral home to the Savoy kings, feels effortlessly stately. The endless porticoes are proof of its royal heritage — they served to protect the king and his court from downpours while travelling between palaces. Turin’s royal past is now cherished, with the restoration of the Venaria Reale, Italy’s Versailles, followed by the revival of its palatial grounds, ornamental lakes and medieval kitchen gardens.
In recent years, the city’s personality is also clear in its street life — as the cradle of Italian cafe culture, Turin is packed with opulent coffee houses and time-warp cocktail bars. The cityscape has been re-envisioned to reflect Turin’s shift away from its industrial past. In particular, the Lingotto district, which took its name from Fiat’s enormous car factory, has been transformed with hotels, galleries, exhibition centres, shopping malls and a Slow Food superstore.
The historic city centre has also been rejuvenated by Turin’s new-found pride in its heritage. The sprawling Porta Palazzo Market adjoins the intriguing Quadrilatero Romano, the grid-like Roman Quarter west of Piazza Castello. Clustered around the ruins of a Roman theatre and gate, this arty, pedestrianised area comes alive at night. In the city that invented Vermouth, cocktails remain a popular tipple. The aperitif was first produced here in 1786, when the Carpano distillery introduced its secret blend of white wine infused with herbs.
As the capital of Italian design, Turin casts itself as a vibrant, visionary metropolis, proud of its contemporary arts scene, its cinematic history and its cutting-edge style. The host of revamped museums, galleries and palaces is a testament to this spirit, yet Turin also continues to be faithful to its nostalgic cafe culture, with design junkies content to curl up in jewel-box interiors and drink from bone-china cups. Blessed with gilt-encrusted coffee houses and Baroque facades, sedate Piazza San Carlo remains ‘Turin’s drawing room’. And the most beloved drink is a bicerin, an aromatic and bittersweet chocolate, coffee and cream concoction. Chocolate and coffee were the city’s drugs of choice two centuries ago, and they remain so today.