Turin was the first capital of the country of Italy –from 1861 to 1865– following its unification. The first kings of Italy were from the noble house of Turin, in fact.
The royal palaces of Stupinigi and Venaria are just stunning and Turin is in fact quite often referred to as ‘little Paris‘ thanks to the fact that these two palaces are evocative of Versailles.
I had not visited Turin for decades and decided it was high time to go back and combine museum visits with delicious food and amazing wine. I gave a call to my best travel buddy and planned a couple of days in this really elegant city, where inhabitants are always perfectly dressed, from morning till evening, and their manners are always exquisite. You are about to discover the least known Piedmont region facts.
Egyptian Museum in Turin
Our Turin experience started with the Egyptian Museum which is a definite “must see” once you are in town. Very few people know that this Museum is of such great renown but, in fact, its collection of Egyptian antiquities is second only to the famed Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The Museum reopened in 2015, after several years of renovation which nearly doubled the previous space allowing almost 30.000 artifacts to be displayed. It features a fascinating collection telling the history of Ancient Egypt across the millennia.
Of course our attention was drawn to the amazing statue of Ramses II, whose image was in so many of our schoolbooks! We also loved the vast display of objects that explain so well the daily life, religion and architecture of this brilliant civilization. I can’t underscore what an important collection this is to help us, today, in understanding the quite mysterious civilization of the Ancient Egyptians. This is what amazed me the first time I went here with my parents as a young child. I was fascinated then and I am even more fascinated by this place today. A marvelous experience not to be missed!
Time for a Bicerin
After the visit to the Museum, we took a 15 minute stroll through elegant and sophisticated neighborhoods of the city. There are more than 15 kilometers of arcades along the main streets and squares of the district called ‘Quadrilatero.” This is a very lively area with elegant boutiques, bars and restaurants. Then, just to top off our fascinating amble, what could be better than a restoring pause at the café Al Bicerin where Count Cavour used to go? This tiny and elegant café, established in 1763, offers the most delicious mini-glass (bicerin) made of layers of hot chocolate, coffee and cream set in a lovely retro ambiance with only a few marble tables and stylish dark boiserie. This is definitely another “must” in Turin. The New York Times, in fact, designated Turin as the best Italian destination in 2016 and it is definitely worth a visit both for its beauty and for its food and wine tradition.
Where to eat in Turin
In Piedmont, of which Turin is the principal city, there are so many mouth-wathering recipes such as the best veal tartare, the bollito misto –which is boiled for hours in a delicious broth before serving– and the tajarin, as the taglierini pasta is called here. This pasta, I must say, is heavenly as it is prepared with precious and rare white truffles from Alba. Worthy of note, also, is the Castelmagno cheese from the Cuneo area.
The friends that hosted us in their home in Turin had given us a long list of restaurants and other special places which are famous for their food and wine. One can only imagine the difficult task my friend and I had in deciding where to start and which ones to, quite sadly, exclude as we only had two days to explore Torino, as I said.
One of the restaurants which we were strongly urged to try was, in fact, to die for! It is called Del Cambio and is delicious, made more beautiful by its dreamlike location in the beautiful Piazza Carignano. It is actually a small square which seems, however, to be an elegant living-room where Palazzo Carignano, with its rich Baroque facade, stands. This palace was the seat of the very first Italian Parliament at the time of the unification if Italy in the 19th century.
At Del Cambio we had the honor and great privilege of being seated in the iconic mirror-lined Sala Risorgimento where Count Cavour, the mastermind of the Italian Risorgimento which culminated in Italy becoming a nation, for the first time, had his lunch every day. The room is filled with exquisite antique furnishings and beautiful chandeliers.
After a quick visit to the space in Del Cambio called the ‘Farmacia’, that can be reserved for very small private dinners, we decided it was time to plan a trip back with more friends to Turin. In fact, in the Farmacia, a stylish and unique venue, one breathes the air of a most unique place which has been open since 1757. The Farmacia was where the cultural conoscenti of Turin and Europe gathered, especially between the years 1821 and 1861. Verdi, Nietzsche, Balzac, D’Annunzio and the Agnelli family, as well as icons such as Maria Callas, Eleonora Duse and Audrey Hepburn also frequented the Farmacia. What an exciting legacy to share, it seemed, to my friend and me.
Our delicious dinner at Del Cambio started with codfish with pumpkin and saffron, followed by milk ravioli with anchovies and cauliflower plus Spaghetti all’Amatriciana (named for Amatrice as the money from this dish is collected by any Italian restaurants as a donation for the reconstruction of Amatrice and its surroundings after the terrible earthquake in August 2016) and then grilled pigeon with sage, pistachio and rape greens. Yummy! And the meal was topped off, perfectly, I might add, with Gianduiotto and blackberry sorbet.
As for the wine, we were really overwhelmed when we were given the wine list which was comprised of a heavy book of almost 100 pages. We did not know where to start! Thanks to our skilled sommelier, who very patiently tried to understand our preferences, we chose a white Gavi La Scolca Etichetta Nera 2015 and then an incomparable Barolo Bovio Vigna Gattera 1997.
A good Barolo needs at least 10 years to fulfill its promise. It’s still got all its vigor, but it’s also grown interesting and deep.Chiara Boschis, winemaker
While in Turin, one thing that we learned reading about Barolo is “you should resist drinking it too early—a good Barolo needs at least 10 years to fulfill its promise. A 10-year-old Barolo is like a 30-year-old man” says Chiara Boschis, a legendary winemaker in the region and one of the original Barolo Boys, a group of young winemakers who helped revolutionize winemaking in the region in the ’80s and ’90s. “It’s still got all its vigor, but it’s also grown interesting and deep. A good Barolo, like a good man, will last much longer, adding complexity at the expense of youth. If you can’t wait that long, choose a “smaller’ vintage. Decanting a young Barolo is a good idea—for up to four hours, to give the tannins a chance to mellow out. And an older vintage, especially a much older one, needs to be handled with care and poured slowly if at all—so you don’t shock it.”
The following day, after a lovely stroll under a warm sun, we visited the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, which displays one of my favorite works of art, a landscape by Giambattista Tiepolo plus six marvelous views, including my preferred ‘Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo’ (because in Venice I adore this little square – campo – as the Venetians call it) by Canaletto. French painters as Renoir, Manet and Matisse are displayed for the joy of lovers of Impressionist art, together with Picasso and the Italians Modigliani and futurist Giacomo Balla.
After our visit to the Pinacoteca, we strolled along elegant streets before reaching the amazing Piazza Castello where we had a great surprise. Noticing a beautiful wooden entrance door leading to a tantalizing little piece of Italian history, we stumbled on Caffé Mulassano, another Turin landmark). There is a plaque in this lovely café informing the visitor that in 1926 Ms. Angela Demichelis Nebiolo introduced the concept of a sandwich here, after returning from the United States, to offer sonnecchino new to customers at aperitif time. The sandwich was then named ‘tramezzino‘ by Gabriele D’Annunzio, who was a regular client at the time. That word means roughly “in the middle,” a very apt description of a sandwich to the Italian mind.
We did not want to leave before tasting the famous lobster sandwich –the one made with truffles and bagna cauda.
Bagna cauda is a warm sauce, typical of Piedmont. I begged them for the recipe and I am happy to now share it with you!
Bagna cauda is a warm sauce, typical of Piedmont. I begged them for the recipe and I am happy to now share it with you:
- Half cup and 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic to be peeled and minced
- 11 or 12 anchovies preserved in olive oil
- Half cup butter cut into chunks
Put the oil in a pan with the chopped garlic and minced anchovies and cook slowly, stirring, until you have a melted cream. Whisk in 6 tablespoons of butter, and as soon as it has melted, remove it from the heat and keep stirring. . Pour into a dish that can go over a flame so that it does not get cold at the table
Use the following fresh vegetables in the dip: Belgian endive, zucchini, sweet peppers, fennel, carrots. That’s it!!
Well, before leaving Turin we took the panoramic glass lift to admire the city and the nearby imposing Alps, a truly wonderful 360° view from the Mole Antonelliana, the world renowned monument symbolizing Turin which hosts inside its structure the Museo del Cinema.
It was a great way to give a goodbye bacio to a city that is true icon of elegance and understatement.