Torino… All About the Porticos

Turin is a beautiful city. Its space goes beyond anything that has ever been imagined before.

Mark Twain

We arrived in Torino late on a Friday night and we were there until Monday night. We stayed at the Flaneur Bed and Breakfast and the owner was so friendly and knowledgeable about the city. He took the time to highlight, on a map, all the places we needed to go and also gave us some café recommendations in the area. One thing you will notice as you walk around the city is an abundance of porticos. It was King Victor Emmanuel I who wanted to build up Torino and wanted to have a way to walk from building to building without having to bring an umbrella with him. Now all the locals can have shade in the summer from the heat, protection in the winter from the snow, and cover on those rainy days. It was Mark Twain that said, “Turin is a beautiful city. Its space goes beyond anything that has ever been imagined before.” This area was created for a reason and it is beautifully laid out.  

We got to see everything that was on our list, except for the Museum of the Risorgimento. We were going to go on Monday and then realized it was closed that day, but we did get to see the outside of the Palazzo Carignano where it is located. Also, we were told to go to La Venaria Reale, but we ran out of time since the palace is outside the city. These two places will be high on our list next time we are in the area.  

Here are our top activities in Torino!

Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist 

This church is the Turin Cathedral (or duomo). The outside is so grand, and the bell tower really makes it stand out even more. If you are directly in front of the Royal Palace, then take a left and once you go under the passageway, you’ll see it on the right. In this cathedral lies one of the most famous religious relics, the Shroud of Turin. This is a must-see when you are in Torino. We made sure to get there right when it opened (that might mean a couple minutes past the time it says online). Get there early because there are a lot of tour groups and individuals that come here to see it and pray. If you want to be able to see it up close, then the earlier the better. The Shroud of Turin is said to be Jesus’s burial cloth and the image of his face is still seen on it. There are still many scientific studies being made on the shroud, and so far they’ve been unable to prove or deny that it is truly Jesus’s face shown on the image.  When we went to go look at it, we saw there was a photo of the image hovering above the shroud. The shroud itself is actually laying on the table that you see there. 

Other things to note when you are inside is the altar and the podium. Notice the beautifully etched figures (specifically you’ll see the Shroud of Turin on the podium). Also, look at where the Eucharist is held because there you will see a gold painted organ and statues on either side of the wooden crucifix that were created by different artists in the 18th century. 

Piazza Castello

One of the main city squares of Torino is the Piazza Castello. Directly in front, flanked with statues and painted white, is the Royal Palace building. If you are facing the Royal Palace and look to your right, then you’ll see the Palazzo Madama. Then if you turn left, you will see a row of buildings. Try to go inside the blue one with the circular structure jutting from the top. That is the Royal Church of San Lorenzo. Also, in this square you can find cafés, restaurants, and souvenir shops.

Royal Palace of Torino

There is a lot of beauty and history within these walls. This palace was built in the 16th century by the House of Savoy. Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as a museum for anyone to pay and go explore. Each room had written information about the history of the room and some rooms had people working there to assist in answering any questions or showing us which room to go to next. We made our way to the courtyard and then found ourselves in the grand staircase. It was extravagant! It had marble stairs and intricate sculptures and paintings on the wall and on the ceiling. We could not stop taking pictures. The next room we stumbled upon had this dark paneled wall with tall, scattered candle holders. The candle holders looked a lot like something you would find in the haunted mansion at Disney World.   

There was a lot of detail in each room we went into and the information in each room really helped highlight things that you might not know to look for. Once we finished going through the ballroom, breakfast room, and the hallway with all of the armor (just to name a few places), we headed to the Cappella della Sacra Sindone (or Chapel of the Holy Shroud). When we stepped in, we couldn’t help but look right up to the ceiling. The dome was gorgeously made and there were statues circling the room. This chapel was built to house the religious relic of the Holy Shroud. It stayed in here from 1694 until the early 20th century when it was relocated to the Turin Cathedral (Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist). The chapel closed in April 1997 because of the fire that damaged the building. It didn’t fully get fixed and reopen to the public until September 2018. If you walk around the perimeter of the room, then you’ll come across a giant window that looks into the Turin Cathedral from behind the altar. 

We kept walking along the path and it took us to this art gallery. One interesting thing about this area is there was a virtual machine that gives you 360 degree views outside from on top of the palace. There were some stunning pieces in the art gallery, but the section we liked the best was the Museum of Antiquity. Here we found Roman artifacts that they found in the Piedmont area. Finally, the walk ends when you arrive in the palace gardens. Here you can just enjoy walking around and admiring the sculptures and nature. 

Royal Church of San Lorenzo

The exterior is nothing to look at, but the interior is where the magic happens. Inside there are some exquisite arches, columns, statues, marbles, and a dome. From outside you would think this church would be dark inside, but in reality it has so much natural light just flooding in from above. 

Madama Palace

There used to be a Roman gate where this building resides now. Later it became a castle in the 14th century, which you can still see the appearance of in the rear of the building. Then in the late 17th century and beginning of the 18th century, a woman by the name of Marie Jeanne of Savoy, otherwise known as “Madame Reale,” lived in the castle and it is now named after her. While she lived here, she wanted to change the look to more of the white stone in Baroque style that you see in the front part facing the Piazza Castello. However, the work had to stop in 1721, which is why you now see half a Baroque palace and the other half is still a castle. Another amazing thing about this building is that it housed the first Senate of the Italian Kingdom. In recent times the building now is an art museum. We did not prioritize going inside, but we did admire the entire exterior. 

Egyptian Museum

This museum is the oldest in the world that is entirely devoted to ancient Egyptian culture. This museum was founded in 1824, but was opened to the public in 1832. This museum is so impressive. It has everything from small stone scarabs to large statues and temples. The collection is so big that you could roam the rooms for a couple hours. To help us stay on task and to make sure we saw all of the highlights, we rented the self-guided headset audio guide. We felt like it was worth it and had a lot of great information.  

Galleria di Torino

This beautiful interior Galleria San Federico was built in the 1930’s. This gallery houses offices and a historical cinema. Really though, the main highlight is just to walk around in it because it is beautifully adorned with marble, tiled floors, columns, and arched ceilings that bring in a lot of natural light. 

Another gorgeous galleria to seek out is the Galleria Subalpina. It is not as large as Galleria San Federico, but it is still very much impressive. This building was designed with a Renaissance and Baroque style in the late 19th century. Although, they also used a lot of elements that were modern for the time, such as glass and wrought iron. This building now holds a lot of commercial real estate. 

Market of Porta Palazzo

This market is known as Europe’s largest open-air market and has about 800 stalls … so in other words, there was a lot to see. The market was bustling as we weaved in between stalls. The vegetables and fruit looked and smelled fresh with great prices. There were also items like clothes, sunglasses, and bags being sold. 

Basilica of Mary Help of Christians

We decided to walk to this church after visiting the market, but just a warning that it is in the opposite direction from the main area of Torino. You’ll see this church on a lot of souvenir magnets, and after being in front of it and going inside we could see why it was so popular. It was very grand and has an impressive façade with marble statues, along with other ones just a few feet away. Once inside, everything was just as impressive. There was so much color and there were some beautiful and different colored marble scattered throughout the church. This church was originally founded by John Bosco, who would give a home to poor boys. John Bosco’s remains are still here along with 6,000 saint relics. 

Porta Palatina Towers

We walked across this park where dogs were playing, so we could stand in front of the Porta Palatina Towers. This gate dates back to the 1st century BC during the Roman occupation. The gate stayed there, but throughout the ages the internal part was converted into more of a defensive function. It was almost knocked down in the 18th century, but Antonio Bertola (an architect and engineer) swayed the duke at the time not to do it. Then finally in 2006, there were restorations done to it and the rest of the park.  

Mole Antonelliana

This building is very iconic in Torino. Go to the top and check out the views! So pretty … it was a little misty in the distance for us, but it was worth the trip up. You do have to pay to take the elevator to the top. This elevator is interesting because it rises up in the center of the building and there is a moment where it becomes clear and you notice that the elevator is made of glass and you can look out into the interior of the building. This tower grew throughout the years and now reaches a height of 167.50 meters, which makes it the tallest building in Torino. 

Across the River

We walked through Piazza Vittorio Veneto and swiftly walked across the bridge. Once we were across, we went into the Gran Madre Di Dio Church, which was directly in front of us. It has tall columns and looks a lot like the Pantheon structure in Rome. Inside there were a lot of marble columns that circled around the building. It was very clean and pretty to look at. This building was thought up in 1814 to give to King Victor Emmanuel I of Sardinia as a gift to celebrate his return to the throne after Napoleon was defeated. The construction didn’t start until 1818, then was placed on hold, restarted in 1827 under the rule of Charles Felix of Sardinia, and was finally completed in 1831 under the rule of Charles Albert of Sardinia. 

We then took a nice little walk up the hill, until we reached the Church of Santa Maria al Monte dei Cappuccini. This Renaissance style church is built overlooking the river Po (the river we crossed on the bridge). This building was completed in 1656 for the Capuchin order, or Franciscan friar religious order. The inside has a vibrant yellow that made the room really bright.

Then we just took a moment and enjoyed the view. It was a little foggy, as you can tell from the picture, but it was something to see. The Mole Antonelliana was a prominent feature amongst the buildings (in the photo it is the building on the right with the pointy structure). 

Parco del Valentino

We recommend you take time to walk around this really charming park. We walked around the waterfront path. There are a lot of things to see along the way. One of the highlighted places within the park was the Borgo Medievale Torino. This remake of a medieval village was created in the 19th century. It was a way for people to go inside and see and feel what it would have been like to live during that time. Inside you will find furniture and other artifacts that represent the pieces of that time in this era. It was something we had never seen before and was fun to walk around in. You can also find some souvenir shops inside if you want to get anything to take back with you. On their website, there are more descriptions of what you can explore, along with the layout of the structure. This place is a lot bigger than it might seem in the picture. 

As we continued, we walked by some cute little springs and beautiful trees that were slowly changing colors. We eventually reached our next destination, Castello del Valentino. This U-shape palace was built in the 17th century. It was modified in the 19th century and French troops also came and ransacked the 17th century furniture. After this time, the palace was abandoned for a little bit, until the engineering faculty of Torino took it and started to renovate it. Now this building houses the architecture faculty from the Polytechnic University of Turin, and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. We did not venture inside the building, but we enjoyed looking from the gate at the intricate details. We loved the stonework on the ground that showed different patterns. 

Turin Traditional Chocolate-Based Home Cooking Class and Lunch

One of the things that Torino is known for is chocolate. For those that don’t know, this area is notoriously known for gianduia (or gianduja) chocolate, which consists of cocoa, sugar, and hazelnuts. It was created in 1852 before Nutella or Ferrero Rocher was even a thought. The story behind gianduia or gianduja chocolate is that during the Napoleon reign they wanted to make chocolate, but getting enough chocolate to Italy from South America became a challenge and was pricey. As a result, they put less cocoa in their chocolate and filled it with roasted hazelnuts, which they had plenty of in the Piedmont region. In this way chocolate became a staple in Torino, so what better cooking class to take than one that incorporates chocolate in each recipe? Our instructor was amazing! He was very knowledgeable since he used to be a chef, but now he teaches cooking lessons from the comfort of his own house. We also got to sit down and eat what we helped create with him and his wife, which made it more personal, fun, and memorable! 

The first recipe he taught us how to make was traditional tomino cheese with extra virgin olive oil, chocolate, chili pepper, and Tuscan crispy bread. This appetizer was so good and flavorful! The chili pepper was not too spicy and paired well with the dark chocolate crumbles. Great start to our meal! 

Next up was the primi, which consisted of cocoa tagliatelle, pork sausages ragu and Extra-virgin olive oil with orange aroma. He was very patient while he taught us how to make homemade cocoa tagliatelle (a long pasta that looks a lot like fettucine). Then he showed us how to make the pork sausage ragu, which blended beautifully with the cocoa tagliatelle, and a drizzle of his homemade extra-virgin olive oil infused with an orange.  

Up next was the secondi, which was cocoa pork, baked potatoes, sage, shallot, savoy cabbage, and dried tomatoes. He really did slow everything down as he was teaching us how to make it. The dishes were beautiful and he even showed us how to plate it beautifully as well. He also teaches you different tricks to make the meal faster. 

For our dessert, we learned how to make a panna cotta with peaches, caramelized peaches, amaretti biscuits, and shaved cocoa. This dish was surprising because we never realized the proper and better way to make a panna cotta. He informed us that the panna cotta you see in cups (like the one he showed us how to make) are more traditional and better tasting because they have less gelatin, while the ones that can hold their own form more gelatinous and will not melt in your mouth. A lot of restaurants do the latter because it looks prettier, he said, but it will not taste as good. After trying his version (and we have also tried the other version), we have to agree he was right! It was so delicious and now we will be looking for restaurants that make it more like that. Once he was done with the class, he even emailed us the recipes, so it is something we can make later! We don’t make it a lot in our household just because it is very rich, BUT we always make it a priority to make it sometime in October to celebrate our time there (and, you know, the whole correlation between chocolate and Halloween). 

Torino Restaurants

The Piedmont region is known for its wine production. Specifically the 3 B wines of Torino: Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera. We tried all three and we recommend you do the same. They are all red wines with high tannins. Out of the three, the Barolo is known for being one of the best wines in Italy. 

Caffé Al Bicerin 

This café was so adorable! On the inside it was small, quaint, and homey. Be sure to get there before it opens because there was a line when we got there 10 minutes before it was about to open. We got a seat inside without a problem, but I can imagine with a lot of people that you might have to wait a little bit to be seated. 

We learned that this café says that they are the ones that created the first ever bicerin in the 18th century. A bicerin is a hot drink made of chocolate, coffee, and topped with cream. You can get the traditional drink or you can order the drink along with a biscuit selection, which is what we did. We also shared a croissant con crema gianduia, which is a croissant filled with the hazelnut chocolate spread. Everything we had here was amazing! 

Bistrot Turin 

This restaurant also doubles as a café and has a huge selection of wine. You walk in and there are wine boxes and wine scattered all over. We sat in one of the small areas downstairs, but they have more seating upstairs as well, so if you don’t see any seats downstairs, then don’t let that deter you. We started off our lunch by sharing a bottle of red wine (of course one of the B wines – Barbera) and the bagna cauda, which translated means “hot bath.” This appetizer consists of raw (or sometimes cooked) vegetables that you dip in the hot sauce (they keep it hot by adding a little tea light underneath it) that is a blend of olive oil, garlic, and anchovies. This sauce had a very distinct taste. It was something good to try and we liked it, but I can see how it would not be for everyone’s palate. Then we shared a primo, which was a pasta with shaved truffles. This region is known for their truffles and you can even do a tour where they will show you how to hunt for the truffles (we did not do it because it was too pricey for us). For those that have not had truffles, they are mushrooms with an earthy flavor and are a true delicacy in the culinary world. One thing we enjoyed about this restaurant is how they do not skimp on the amount of fresh truffles! Then we shared a secondo, which ended up being blocks of polenta and a beef cut with a gravy type sauce. The Northern part of Italy is well known for their red meats, but this region is known for making polenta and you’ll find it accompanied with a lot of main dishes, as shown in the picture. 

Bubble-Lab

We know that bubble tea is not a traditional Italian cuisine (yes, we know it is a Taiwanese drink), but since we have been in Italy for a while we start to crave other types of food. We used to get this drink all the time in the States, so we were so excited when we saw one in Torino. We both really enjoyed it and thought they did a great job with their flavors! If you do go here, then our go-to favorites are Taro or Thai Iced Tea with the pearls (be warned not everyone is a fan of them because they taste like a gummy). 

Porto di Savona

This restaurant is located in the long city square of Torino, Piazza Vittorio Veneto. When you walk inside then you will be captivated by some of its old historical charm. It makes you feel like you are in an old Italian house, which makes sense because this restaurant is known as being one of the oldest in Turin. This restaurant is very popular, so we had to make a reservation for another day. Make note of this if you want to make this a priority restaurant. 

We started out by getting their house red wine, which they bring to you in a pitcher. The appetizer we decided to share was an assortment of regional cheeses with a side of four different sauces, such as honey and onion jam. 

Then we went on to sharing a primo, which was another homemade pasta with shaved truffles. Truffles are not always easy to come by and in the States these dishes are usually very expensive, so we may have indulged in it a little bit! This place was really interesting though because they brought out a weight to weigh the truffle, then started shaving it on the pasta and told you to let them know when to stop. Once you said stop, then they would weight the truffle again and write down how much we used and that is how much extra your bill will be. So you can have as much or as little as you want, but just be aware that it will reflect on your total bill. We will say, though, that these truffles were the best we have had in Italy! The other place was good, but it almost tasted like they cooked the truffles with the pasta, while this was just put-on top of the pasta right in front of you. The taste as a result was more flavorful and they had a softer texture. 

We finished off our meal with a secondo, which was a red meat and potato platter. Everything we had here was very good and we were glad we got the chance to eat here. 

Caffè San Carlo

We asked our hotel owner to give us a recommendation on where we should go for breakfast and he gave us a name of a café that was located not far from the hotel. It is located in one of Torino’s main squares, the Piazza San Carlo. Even if you don’t go to this café, you should go and visit this massive square. We got a seat, but right after we sat down there was a huge tour group that came in. They weren’t there long, but that goes to show how much this café is respected if they feel confident in taking groups there to try their coffee and pastries. Honestly, even if you aren’t a huge coffee drinker, then you need to still go in and have a pastry and just sit down in there. The inside is absolutely breathtaking! When you are inside you feel like you are in a part of a palace with their marble tables, mirrors along the walls, decorative ceilings, gold-colored embellishments, and a grandeur chandelier. While in here we ordered pastries from their selection in the display and a chocolate coffee with cream. It was so decadent and creamy. 

Cafè Fiorio

The first room of this café is beautiful with its marble countertops! The rest of the rooms that they could sit you in have these gorgeous red suede chairs and hardwood floors. This café dates back to 1780 and serviced aristocrats, politicians, and famous writers (such as Herman Melville and Mark Twain). We were excited to partake in a cocktail at this historically renown café! We ended up getting a white vermouth and a red vermouth. Some people in Torino take credit for the invention of the martini, but whether they actually invented this cocktail is unclear. However, what is clear is that they did create the Martini (vermouth) brand. The drinks were very good, but we enjoyed it a little more with the tonic water to give it an extra fizz. 

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