Elegant Turin, lined with old-fashioned and white columned shopping arcades, dotted with large, airy squares busy with cafés, and bounded by the wide green waters of the River Po, surprised and delighted us.
It has an unfair reputation, even amongst locals in Susa, for being a ‘grey city’ because of the smog generated by its acres of manufacturing industry but its historic centre it is grandly attractive and said to have the finest baroque architecture outside of Rome.
We visited on a blue skies day when the 36 degrees’ midday heat took everyone by surprise, sending swallows wheeling and dipping into the waters of the many fountains. Smartly dressed Italian business men glugged handfuls of water from public drinking fountains, careful not to spill any down crisp shirts, and trousers.
It was cool in the white colonnaded arcades, home to international luxury brands and designers.
We meandered along the white slabbed marble walkways polished by years of shoppers visiting high end fashion stores and perfumeries.
Gucci was showcasing this season’s ‘must have’ – a black embroidered track suit complete with under-heel stirrups 1980’s style, for an undisclosed amount.
In the large and open squares the tables and chairs of cafes spilled out Venice style from under the arches and across the cobblestones, spreading under blowy white parasols and marshalled by young waiters in black suits and ties, keeping composed despite the heat.
Trams rattled underneath the trellised and flowery bower which a woman was quietly watering with a bright red can. All around the square first and second floor shuttered French windows were open to allow a peak up at chandeliered rooms. The impressi apartamenti were being lived in at very centre of city. It is part of Turin’s appeal.
Down on the river the tour boats hadn’t taken to the water for the summer season yet but the river banks were busy with locals walking dogs, jogging and cycling.
In the botanic gardens the university students were picnicking alongside posing sun worshippers.
In the 1920s a group of archaeologists and artists invested money and time in reviving Turin’s original medieval borgo.
It was fascinating to wander the narrow, cobbled streets and see the fully reconstructed buildings, incorporating original materials and features, and to imagine the busy trading centre by the riverside, sheltered by a brick towered castle.
Turin became the seat of the Dukes of Savoy in 1574 and from then onwards under their wealthy patronage it became a social and architectural showcase.
Baroque buildings line the grid pattern established by the Romans and we admired the organisation of the city from above, at the top of the Mole. For a time in the 19th century this was one of the world’s highest buildings at 167 metres. Today the Mole it is home to an intriguing national museum of cinema.
We tucked into a cheap lunch at a locals’ pizza place, joining suited office workers drinking cold bottles of beer and munching Fermata – a light wheat batter base topped with gorgonzola cheese and walnuts. A delicious and surprisingly filling meal which as we left we realised the workers were treating as an appetiser before pizza!
It was easy to find somewhere cool and pleasant to walk off lunch. Napoleon opened out the city’s defences, to make provisioning and maintaining it easier, and instead planted miles of tree lined avenues. Together with the parklands they make Turin Italy’s greenest centre.
Musing on the tram back to the city’s camperstop we reflected on a full day out in Turin which, had we planned to visit the many museums and galleries could easily have extended to a long weekend break. A lovely place to return to! Here’s a gallery: