Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
Torino! It’s a city that many visitors to Italy may not ever visit, given its location in the far north-west of the country. Given its proximity to Switzerland and France though, we decided to spend a few days in Torino to ‘dip our toe’ into Italian food and culture before returning to Italy for a longer stay much later in our trip.
We started our visit by joining a free Torino walking tour. I must say that I’m loving the free walking tours in various European cities, though they work best in smaller cities as you’re more likely to have a smaller group and therefore more interaction with your guide. Our guide Angelo was very good, and knew his history of Torino very well, taking us around to some of the key buildings and sights. K particularly enjoyed our stop in Angelo’s favourite café where an Italian espresso coffee will only set you back a single Euro. Interestingly, the café also serves a range of wines – though it was only 11am, a number of people came in to drink a single glass of wine before throwing a few Euro on the bar and leaving.
For those who haven’t done a free walking tour before, the unspoken expectation is that you will tip your guide at the end of the tour. The average tip for a couple on the tour is anywhere between 10 and 20 Euros – younger couples on a budget like K and I tip around $10, but older and better-off couples were tipping $20. When each tour has at least six or seven couples in the group, it means that the guide will earn around 100 Euro that day – a not insignificant sum when you consider that many countries in the Euro-zone have rising youth unemployment rates and your tour guide relies on tips as their income.
A few other couples on the tour gave us some tips on how to eat on a budget while in Torino, with particular reference to a few restaurants and bars along Via Po which specialise in lunch and dinner ‘aperitivo’ buffets for about 10 Euro a head. The idea behind these restaurants is that you pay 10 Euro for a drink, but that gives you access to the restaurants aperitivo buffet – a cold buffet of hams, cheeses, antipasti, bruschetta, cold roasted vegetables, etc. We tried two – Caffé Roberto and Caffé Universita both on Via Po. Unfortunately, not quite as good as the great meal we had at L’Angolo di Parin.
Note that the aperitivo buffet is very different from the Torino tradition of the aperitivo hour where you will pay standard prices for a drink, but can still help yourself to whatever nibblies are on the bar. No one will blink an eye if you go up for seconds or thirds at the aperitivo buffet, but you will be seen as a crude tourist if you stuff yourself full at a bar that does the aperitivo hour.
The real food highlight for me was the range of high-end gelaterias in Torino. Since visiting RivaReno Gelato in Sydney, I’ve realised that the best creamiest gelato is that which is kept hidden in metal canisters, rather than open for display in icy cabinets. Torino is full of gelaterias that keeps gelato in the right conditions, and we tried three of them – RivaReno Italy, Piu Di Un Gelato, and Alberto Marchetti. The gianduja flavour is definitely the one to try at these places – the chocolate hazelnut flavour that most people associate with Nutella originated from this part of Italy.
Just quickly, we also spent our days in Torino at the Automobile Museum, the National Cinema Museum, and a day at La Venaria Reale. While I personally didn’t rate the Automobile Museum because of my own personal ambivalence towards the history of cars, K was truly in his element…I guess we all have to make sacrifices in our relationships? I loved La Venaria Reale for its opulence and grandness of its royal residences however do have to admit that as a tourist destination, it’s not very good value. The National Cinema Museum housed in Torino’s famous Mole Antonelliana building is a must though, particularly given its focus on other cinema hotspots other than Hollywood.
I loved our time in Torino – it’s a smallish city which makes it the perfect destination for a stay of four or five days. While you can see the city centre pretty comfortably in two days, stretching your visit out will allow you to take a more leisurely pace – perhaps even visiting the Porta Palazzo markets as we did to buy groceries (fresh home-made pasta and pesto!) and cook a few meals at home. Next time we visit, I think we’ll even attempt to do a few day trips out of the city to places like nearby Milan.