One of the great hidden cities of Italy is Torino (Turin). A native Torinese recently told me, “We don’t want too many people to know about Torino. Torino belongs to Italy, not to the tourists.”
Hint: Instead of taking a long weekend to Paris, or San Francisco, go to Torino. Why? If you live on the East Coast, it's just a little longer than going to San Francisco. From the Midwest, rather than Paris or London (which aren't close to wine country), it's a small stretch. Here’s what I’d do.
Catch a flight to Torino, or Milano, if you cannot get to Torino so easily. But bypass Milano, this time.
I’m going to make this simple. Rent a car. It’s easy to get around Torino, and you’ll need it for a day trip. Reserve a room at a nice hotel such as the AC Torino. It’s a five-star hotel, and when I stayed there in November you could find a room for €90.00. Book it on http://www.expedia.it/ or http://www.expedia.co.uk. Hint: It’s cheaper to book on the European site, the belief being that Europeans need to spread their money farther and conversely, that the Americans have money to burn. Yeah, when the conversion rate wasn’t what it is these days.
You’re 40 minutes from serious wine country and 90 minutes from the wild side of Liguria. But more on that later.
In Torino, and specifically at the AC Torino Hotel, you are right around the corner from a wonderful food center called Eataly. In fact the hotel and the building that houses Eataly were part of the Carpano factory, next door to the original Fiat factory.
See, Torino was an early industrial town. But it is also a town with great architecture, wide avenues, like Paris, and a cosmopolitan atmosphere that is sophisticated and a little wild at the same time. In fact, I had to keep reminding myself I was in Torino, not Paris. The feel of the place, architecturally, is similar, with the influence from Baron Haussmann.
Since the 2006 Winter Olympics, the town has been scrubbed clean, and the old center of town, once reserved for junkies and hookers, has been revitalized and is now a warm, lively nighttime area, boasting wonderful cafes and wine bars.
Eataly – Imagine something like a Central Market, or a Wegmans or a Whole Foods, that merges with the Slow Food movement, and you have this uber-paradise for food and wine lovers, all under one roof. There are a number of restaurants in Eataly, each with its own specialty: fish, meat, pasta, pizza, vegetables, antipasto or ice cream. And you can hop from one to another, feasting slowly. You can also shop for rare wine and food items from all over Italy.
One place to eat, in the old center of town, is called Tre Galline, and it specializes in Bagna Cauda and Bollito Misto. Do not attempt to eat both in one visit. We tried the Bagna Cauda, which came with a mini-garden selection of vegetables. Very cleansing. Reservations are a must. Go with friends, because there is liberal use of garlic, but not as excessive as we find in the US.
The wine list is extensive and very reasonable. I saw a 1997 Bruno Giacosa Le Rocche del Falletto Barolo for under €100.00.
We chose a 2000 Lessona from Sella for €20.00. The Piemontese call Lessona the national wine of Italy, because when they were toasting the newly unified Italian government in 1870, Lessona was chosen, instead of Champagne.
Make sure you find one of the old Caffès in Torino to have a caffè marocchino, which is a caffè espresso in a glass, topped with a layer of cocoa and frothy milk, something I unknowingly have been making for years.
What else? I’d say take your time, walk around the city enjoy the outdoors.
The Famous Mule Brothers of AiroleFor a day trip you have a couple of options. Alba is 40 minutes, and there you are, in the heart of the great Piedmont wine region, where they produce Barolo, Barbaresco and the like. You cannot find something like that in Paris or San Francisco, especially at these prices.
Or, this is what I'd do. Head over to Liguria and experience the wildness of the Italian Riviera. Go to Dolceacqua or some of the little towns that dot the region up into the hills, like Airole or Cisano sul Neva. Go visit Fausto, and eat lunch at his sister's restaurant, simply called Ristorante Bar Sport . Above Dolceacqua in Arcagna, the Locanda del Bricco of Terre Bianche is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. Or maybe go to Ristorante U Veciu Defisiu in Airole and have a plate of their Baccalà mantecato.
Leave on a Thursday and return on a Monday. A great getaway to a part of Italy that is not so touristic and still affordable, even with the weak dollar.
Interesting article: Torino is Getting Green
Torino photo blog