The country’s manufacturing stronghold during World War II and the birthplace of car manufacturers Fiat, Turin’s perceived industrial image has done little to entice visitors. Nor has its other main claim to fame, the Holy Shroud, which only sees the light of day when the Pope feels the urge – three times since 1978.

But after years of being bypassed as Italy’s ugly sister, Turin’s getting out her glad rags to host the 2006 Winter Olympics from February 10-26 and Paralympics from March 10-19. The city is abuzz with preparations: new sporting venues and facilities are popping up, a new train network is snaking its way underground and lighting artists have turned the streets into tasteful outdoor exhibits. Tied into a 2000-year-old history of rich gastronomy and opulent architecture, Turin’s anything but dull.

Eat, drink and be merry
The aperitif, a long-standing daily ritual in Turin, is enjoying a renaissance among the city’s younger set as trendy wine bars pop up alongside traditional cafés. More than just an excuse to swill moreish local wines, aperitif is a post-work/pre-dinner socialising frenzy. Thankfully, given the effects of too much red wine on an empty stomach, it also involves food. Delicious appetisers like salami, prosciutto, cheese and bread are in many cases served complimentary.

Test the Olympic slopes
With slopes worthy of Olympic athletes looming immediately west of the city, skiing and snowboarding are easy options from Turin. Much of the Olympic action will take place in the Valle di Susa and Valle di Chesone, where the famous Milky Way run attracts seasoned snow junkies. Resorts can be reached via the Italy-France highway or the Turin-Paris train line.

Divine intervention
As the birthplace of solid chocolate (it was previously only enjoyed as a drink), it’s impossible not to overindulge on the stuff in all its glorious forms. Giandiuotto, a perfect blend of hazelnuts and chocolate, is Turin’s trademark treat. You owe it to your tastebuds to also try: bicerin, a hot drink of chocolate, cream and coffee; Pinguino, ice-cream covered in a coating of crackling chocolate; and Torta sabauda, cake with chocolate and hazelnuts. You’d also be advised to stock up on the homegrown Ferrero Rocher and Nutella.


National Cinema Museum
Once the centre of Italy’s film industry, the museum pays homage with an exciting collection of cinematic and photographic memorabilia (everything from Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hat to Chewbacca’s head). The museum is housed in the Mole Antonelliana, a tall 19th century building topped by an aluminium spire which was originally intended as a synagogue. Reached by a glass lift which shoots up the building’s centre, the open-air roof terrace offers a 360° view of the city.

Lingotto Centre
The original Fiat factory, built in 1916, has since been refurbished to include a trade exhibition and conference centre, hotel, concert halls, theatre, shopping mall and restaurant. Worth a look here are the original rooftop test track (seen briefly in the getaway scene in 1956 classic The Italian Job), where cars were given the green light before hitting the main roads, and the private art collection of Fiat Group founders Giovanni and Marella Agnelli, including no less than 25 masterpieces by the likes of Renoir, Picasso, Canaletto, Matisse and Dali.

Bedding down
Turin’s industrial side rears its head on the accommodation front with most hotels geared towards business visitors. The sole hostel, the 76-bed Ostello Torino, is about 2km from the centre, on the eastern side of Po River. Take bus no.52 (64 on Sundays) from the main Porta Nuova station. Villa Rey, nestled in the hills east of the river, is the city’s main campsite and can be reached by bus.

Bonus points for: Exceeding expectations
Loses marks for: Shortage of cheap beds