The Winter Olympics will be run and won before you know it, but the charms of Turin will continue to impress for a long time yet. ANDREW DAMPF gives you five reasons to go.
The million-plus people expected for the Games will be gone, making travel, hotel reservations and the city’s world-class food and wines much more accessible.
Post-Olympic visitors will also enjoy a completely remodelled city. Turin’s urban overhaul was modelled on Barcelona’s, the 1992 Summer Games host. Not all the venues have been finished in time and only a small section of the new €975million subway will be ready – the rest of the system should be completed by 2008, along with a high-speed train between Turin and Milan that will cut the trip between the two cities from 90 to 40 minutes.
Virtually the entire downtown area is getting a facelift, with piazzas cleaned up and repaved. Restoration of the old royal residences in Venaria, a 30-minute ride from Turin, should be completed by the end of 2006.
From April 2006 to April 2007, Turin and Rome will be Unesco’s world book capitals, a designation which will bring a year’s worth of readings and events. Each district of the city will be named for a type of punctuation, such as the Comma district or the Parentheses Piazza.
In October, the Slow Food festival will hold its bi-annual extravaganza in Turin at the Lingotto, a former Fiat factory turned cultural centre, with smaller offerings around the city. Created in response to American fast-food chains in Italy, Slow Food promotes gastronomic culture and traditional foods at risk of disappearing.
Annual events in Turin include: a chocolate festival from March 24-April 3; a September musical festival, this year featuring Vivaldi and Mozart with the Vienna Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestra; and in November, Italy’s second-most important film festival after Venice.
If it’s still sports you’re after, Turin is home to one of Italy’s most successful soccer club: Juventus. The team, which has won a record 28 Italian league (Serie A) titles and is marching toward its 29th, plays at Stadio Delle Alpi on Turin’s northern outskirts. Tickets are not hard to get. Juventus will probably likely play in the Olympic Stadium next season while Stadio Delle Alpi is remodelled. The city’s other team, Torino, will move permanently from Delle Alpi to the Olympic Stadium.
Turin hosts the Winter Paralympics from March 10-19, the chess Olympics May 20-June 4 and the fencing world championships from September 29-October 7. The latter two events are tentatively slated for the ultramodern Olympic speed-skating oval, designed by the Millennium Dome team and scheduled to become a multipurpose site after the games.
It’s the surrounding region of Piedmont rather than Turin itself that has a reputation for great food. Start your Piemontese feast with bagna cauda, a heated sauce for dipping raw vegetables. Agnolotti, a form of ravioli, is the region’s best-known pasta and is a great ‘primo’ or first dish, often served with creamy gorgonzola-based or tartufo (truffle) sauce.
For main courses, tagliata (sliced steak) and bollito misto (mixed boiled meats) are regional specialties, while torta nocciola (hazelnut cake) is another local treat for dessert. Also worth trying is a cheese platter of Piedmontese varieties such as toma, bra, robiola and castelmagno.
Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera and Asti are all world-class wines that come from Piedmont, along with Menabrea, one of the few high-quality Italian beers. Slightly less refined is the local ‘amaro’, San Simone – it may taste like cough medicine but it’ll help your digestion, apparently.
An eclectic architectural mish-mash of ornate French influences, Art Deco and ultramodern Olympic venues, Turin is desperately trying to shed its industrial image and make itself over as one of Europe’s new cultural centres. The pre-Olympic cleanup has already turned several downtown streets into pedestrian-only zones that provide increased space for weekend open-air markets. Selling everything from fresh produce and flowers to clothing and housewares, Porta Palazzo is Europe’s biggest open-air market and takes place every morning except Sunday on Piazza della Republica. The Balon antique and memorabilia market is nearby.
Sites worth a visit include the Museo Egizio, which claims the second biggest collection of Egyptian artefacts outside Cairo, as well as new contemporary art outposts, such as the GAM (Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea) and the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo downtown. One landmark no visitor should miss – quite literally, given its 159m spire – is the Mole Antonelliana. Designed as a synagogue but never used as one, the towering structure now houses a cinema museum where you can watch the silliest moments in movie history while sitting on toilet bowls (plastic-covered in case anyone laughs a bit too hard). Most visitors however seem to prefer taking a lift through the centre of the Mole and out onto an observation deck for a great view of the mountains.