Turin isn’t always the first city people think of visiting when they plan they’re trip to Italy, and who can blame them? Despite being surrounded by green hills and Alpine peaks, the Northern city is mostly known for its smog, its industry and their emblematic Fiat factories. The competition is also more than unfairly weighed against them – Turin shares the same breathing space with some of the world’s most beautiful cities and when we visited we got the feeling it had a hard time keeping up.
Although Turin is not entirely overlooked by vistiors and people come for its rich historical past, its surprisingly attractive city centre filled with wide squares and elegant architecture and the high concentration of excellent art galleries and museums.
When you start to explore Turin you’ll find that the cityscape is changing to reflect its shift away from its industrial past. Gorgeous design hotels, galleries, exhibition centres, smart shopping malls and even a slow food supermarket (the cleverly named ‘Eataly’) have sprung up in recent years but there are some parts of the city that has remain unchanged for centuries. Head to the historic centre to find beautifully preserved baroque palaces, art nouveau mansions, time-warp bars and coffee houses and a labyrinth of shady arcades lined with designer stores. Just remember to dodge the trams when you’re walking around.
Turin is a progressive city and its creative flair will be obvious when walking around – the work of local artists decorate the walls of hotels and restaurants and Luci d’Artista – the worlds first outdoor light exhibition (first installed in 2009) illuminates the city’s squares and streets on their long dark winter nights.
Although it is in the art galleries where you’ll realise how much Turin strives to be seen as Italy’s capital of contemporary art. The city’s galleries and museums are world-class, refreshingly uncrowded and mostly unusually located – exhibitions and installations grace baroque buildings, the odd Roman ruin and the occasional former industrial factory.
Stand out galleries include the Fondazione Merz – a galley and trust dedicated to the late Italian artist Mario Merz and a cool hangout for creative types. Housed in a former energy plant, installations focus on renewal, transformation and fluidity.
The Agnelli Art Gallery was built on the rooftop of the old Fiat factory under the skiful eye of renowned architect Renzo Piano. The gallery is nicknamed the ‘treasure chest’ and houses 25 masterpieces of ancient and modern art.
The Museum of Contemporary Art is probably the most impressively located of them all – encased inside the recently refurbished Rivoli Castle, an 18th-century baroque mansion. The venue holds prestigious temporary and permanent art collections but the unusual architecture and panoramic views of Turin make it worth the trip alone.
One of our favourite areas in the city has to be around Via Montebello. It has a fun, creative vibe like Turin’s version of London’s Brick Lane or New York’s East village. Highlights of this part of town include the Mole Antonelliana a former synagogue and a major symbol of the city which now houses the National Cinema Museum – a lovingly detailed journey through the history of cinema.
So when you’re planning your next trip to Italy don’t overlook Turin – it has all the Italian staples, but with a unique sense of transformation and dynamism. This is Italy but not quite as you know it.