We drove to Turin on a crisp, sunny and very cold day, but on approach the city was hidden in dense fog. Once we had parked the car, though, the milky winter sun had reemerged to reveal a city so beautiful, elegant and vibrant – unlike any city we have ever seen. First stop a quick coffee and pastry at the bar of elegant Caffè Platti, a Turin institution (there are many of those!) with normal prices (there are not many of those!). Onwards into the heart of the centre through the most gorgeous arcades and within 30 minutes of having been in Turin for the first time we were ready to move there lock, stock and barrel. But this was before we saw the rest.
Endlessly long streets given a surreal and ethereal appearance by the low winter sun throwing ridiculously long shadows and wrapping the scene in a gohstly, cloudy, very bright light. Lots of very ornate arcades, incredible food shops and those famous grand cafés in varying degrees of opulence and luxury. When you sit in Caffè Torino amongst fur-coated 90-year-olds in a rich and sumptuous décor, eating your excellent tramezzini brought by a liveried waiter, you don’t mind paying €5.50 for your cappucino. We found the vibe in Turin on this normal working day busy (but not hectic), friendly, urban and quietly confident.
Then we stumbled upon the holy grail: the Caffè Mulafsano is a small, intimate and supremely elegant bar with an eccentric mix of mirrors, gold, dark wood, marble and beautifully ornate and rather heavy metal fittings. It is staffed by absolute old-school types in white wrap-around aprons with impeccable bar etiquette. Everything in this bar – the glassware, the tableware, the tramezzini and little sandwiches, the drinks, the staff, the lady at the till, the other guests, the ambiance and the décor – is just perfect. We went for a pre-lunch drink and went back for a pre-dinner drink later. This bar is a small piece of heaven on earth.
On Liz and Giorgio’s recommendation we had lunch in Caffè San Carlo, on the stunning Piazza San Carlo. This is another one of those opulent, high-ceilinged Turin staples, with a grand salon and a more intimate dining room; and they have a lunch menu for €14! The crowd was smart Torinese, many of them lunching alone (we llike) and the food was very good. We were a bit sniffed when the head waiter gave us menus in English – just a trifle presumptious. The other waiters made up for it by being very charming. We made the mistake of not ordering their cakes for pudding, because we didn’t know that they are famously good. Next time!
Then we took the brand-new metro (nice) and a very rackety old bus through what looked like Soviet-era Eastern Europe (what a contrast!) to visit the Castello di Rivoli (another Liz & Giorgio tip), located just out of town. This is the ruin of a huge former hunting lodge (it may be called a lodge but it is vast) on a hill overlooking the plain of Torino with the Italian Alps in the distance. It now houses a modern art collection that sits perfectly within the old castello, which has been restored with the ruined bits untouched. Inside, it is simply amazing (not ruined at all, intricate interior details to die for) and the art pieces, some of which are fantastic, are expertly installed to really stunning effect within the old structure. Very much worth a second visit.
When we woke up back in our lovely Badalucco the next morning we realised that we were actually in a state of shock – we felt like we had been hit over the head by the incredible charm, beauty and bourgois grandeur of Turin. What are we going to do about it now?