We have often flown into Turin airport but never lingered in the city. It is three years to the day since our first book-related Piemonte visit to Alba for Grandi Langhe 2020 (and exactly three years since we first heard mention of Covid ‘19). Grandi Langhe is a two-day event at which Langhe producers show their newly released vintage, this time 2019. The event was cancelled in 2021, and in 2022 it was moved to Turin to take advantage of greater social-distancing space.
So here we are! I drove to Gatwick, parked the car at the Holiday Inn near the North terminal, and David joined me by train from a tasting at work. We left the hotel the next morning at a civilised 08.15, and after a ten minute ride on the Gatwick Hoppa, joined a very long queue for luggage check-in with BA, whose automatic check-in machines were out of action. No matter; breakfast and lunch purchased at Pret, we left almost on time, and landed at Turin soon after 14.00. Using the airport bus, we reached Porta Susa at 15.00 and were ensconced in the impeccable B and B Il Gioiellino (little jewel) at 100 via Vittorio Emanuele II by 15.30. Our third floor room and our hostess are both delightful.
We ate supper at a local, unpretentious restaurant La Cappanina recommended by our hostess Federica after spending a few hours walking the streets in the gathering dusk to orientate and acclimatise.
Saturday 28 January
We have a weekend to ourselves in one of Europe’s most elegant cities! Turin has a very french city feel with its grid layout and monumental classical and baroque buildings. It’s a very car-based city (not to mention the trams!) and we’re very glad not to be driving in these multi-laned and complex layouts.
Turin is rightly proud of its 18 kilometres of arcades on most of the avenues and boulevards which provide shelter from sun or rain, though the plethora of crossings by both large trunk roads and myriad tiny side streets punctuate the pedestrian’s progress!
The single metro line travels from the NW to the SE, and we used it on Saturday to reach the Lingotto suburb and the re-purposed site of FIAT manufacture between 1923 and 1982. Its designer was Giacomo Matté-Trucco, whose design incorporated five floors: the ground floor receiving the materials, and the line of production moved up the building until the finished vehicle arrived at the roof top test track. This influential, impressively avant-guarde building was once the largest car factory in the world.
A competition in the 1980s recruited architect Renzo Piano to re-imagine the vast plant, which now houses a hotel, cinemas, a shopping mall and a gallery – the art collection of the Agnelli family, original owners of FIAT: Fabrica Italia Automobili Turino
You may wonder at the sight of small children driving mini cars around the vast inner halls. Many adults would love to get their hands on a car to trial on the Pista 500 – the 1.5km track on the roof of the building! The great escape which features in The Italian Job was filmed in 1969 on this track whose velodrome-like corners can be seen on one of the photos above, and in the series below. The roof space is still used for testing electric vehicles, as well as housing one of the largest roof gardens (mainly grasses) in the world and the odd piece of contemporary visual art. David appears twice as a useful scale item, as does the 2012 Olympic arch and a whole new version of the children’s game Sleeping Lions.
The pinoteca (as an art gallery is called) resides in a rather ugly rectilinear metal block built by Piano on the very top of the structure. The views from the stairwell are spectacular with the Alps rising to the north, and Turin spread out below. The bar was surrounded by fine models of everyone’s favourite Fiat and plenty of civilised space. And the paintings on display were a joy to behold, in such clear light and so closely. As you can see – below
They are by Renoir 1882 La Baigneuse Blonde; Picasso 1901 L’Hétaïre; Modigliano 1917 Nu Couché; Manet 1862 Portrait of Laure; Matisse 1920 Méditation – Après le Bain, and Femme et Anémones .
We left the complex at lunch time, and walked to another restored and repurposed part of Turin’s famous past, adjacent to FIAT: the building in which Vermouth was made, having been invented by Antonio Benedetto Carpano in 1786. The Carpano building now houses Eataly, a movement so typical of Italy where fresh produce and primary ingredients of all kinds can be found under one roof, like a gigantic market, accompanied by any number of eateries, and sitting on top of a vast cellar with 35,000 bottles of wine from throughout Italy to choose from in this huge Enoteca. Spectacular!
We left Lingotto on the metro, heading north towards Fermi, but leaving at the Marconi stop to walk down to the river, and the Giardino Valentino, passing another fine palazzo, and the (closed) horticultural gardens as we walked north towards Ponte Vittorio Emanuele in the late afternoon sunshine. There were plenty of people, but the pace was leisurely and relaxed, with few tourists.
On to a second bridge, and then west along the Via Po, back to the central piazza and the Madama Palazzo. As we passed the Teatro Regia, adverts for the Opera Barber of Seville led us to the box office. Sadly tomorrow’s matinée is sold out. We returned to the apartment for an hour’s rest, before setting out for the Marchese Ristorante, with its excellent Timorasso.
Sunday 29 January
Another world famous attraction in Turin is the Egyptian Museum, which holds artefacts gathered by adventurous Italian archeologists throughout the nineteenth century and the massive volume of material brought back to Italy in the early years of the twentieth century by Ernesto Schiaparelli (1856 – 1928).
The huge brick building just off the fashionable via Roma, built by the Jesuits and owned at one time by one of the University’s science departments is now dedicated to a chronological display of his finds. These include the tomb of Queen Nefertari found in Deir el-Medina in the Valley of the Queens, and the previously undisturbed tomb TT8 of Kha, the royal engineer of the time. The museum was re-ordered in 2015 in oder to maximise access and information, and its fascinating visualisations, children’s and on-line tours are outstanding.
Our timed tickets were for 11.20. After leaving my driving licence as guarantee of the left luggage locker key (draconian but effective!) we followed the only available route through the displays which involves riding half a dozen escalators to the second floor, and slowly making one’s way through vast rooms arranged chronologically, well labelled and breath-taking in their chronological range.
Domestic artefacts from before 30,000 BCE ( ropes, baskets – looking almost new – small wooden chests, terracotta as well as naturally preserved, recognisable bodies whose toenails still look surprisingly like mine!) took my breath away. These simple, familial burials provide so much information. Where would history be without grave goods? The wall paintings include ships, donkeys carrying baskets, and antelope, which were domesticated and used for food and to carry and pull.
The exhibits had been preserved by the drying heat, and many had been found surrounding coffins (where they had been placed up to twenty five thousand years ago) to accompany the dead on their journeys.
On the walls around the exhibits are blown-up photos of the archeological sites, taken at the moment the tombs were opened. Note the objects (eg a mini-statue) on the dusty chair in the old photo, now arranged exactly as they had been millennia ago. The baskets, the ropes, all in extraordinary repair. And lastly, a charming family ‘photo album’ – the paler figures represent the daughters and granddaughters of the person at the top of the gallery.
It was a welcome surprise to find a small but efficient cafe next to room 7 as we descended to the first floor. Surprisingly few of the many, many visitors seemed interested in neither coffee nor croissant, so we had a civilised 20 minute break before tackling the massive, multi-layered coffins (some with their embalmed contents still in place), overwhelmed by the sheer size and elaboration of these tombs.
The coffins were highly decorated, and huge, fitting inside each other like Russian dolls, and finally enclosed in huge wooden chests. The enormous statues were transported by boat from Cairo to Genova, along with vast amounts of archeological finds in the early twentieth century. This museum has more Egyptian artefacts than anywhere outside Egypt; the British Museum’s collection looks modest by comparison.
We left the Museum at around 15.00 and headed for a very contemporary food outlet nearby – Fresh Cut, for a welcome sit-down and a late lunch. Our final piece of sight-seeing involved hunting down the Duomo, which being Sunday, was open.
The interior was lighter and airier than many Baroque churches, with the huge and undoubtedly very secure chest in which the city’s famous shroud resides, occupying the ‘royal box’. We suspect that Napoleon, and Turin’s very high profile in the subsequent Risorgimento successfully suppressed the traditional religious reading of the world, despite the long-standing occupation of Piemonte by the House of Savoy. Royal palazzi seem to outnumber or at least outshine the churches of Turin !
We headed back to our room, for a brief rest before setting off to La Ristonomia del Bertola, then back to prepare for Grandi Langhe. This is held at the OGR (Officine Grandi Riparazioni) another huge space (in which engines, carriages and other rail equipment were routinely repaired for decades) repurposed as a conference centre and large capacity venue. Here the wine producers of the Langhe assemble to show their latest vintage – 2019 and where we hope to meet many friends and contacts.
Monday 30 and Tuesday 31 January 2023: Grandi Langhe
Two days in this very comfortable and well-organised space was a real treat! (See winefriend.com for David’s report). For supper on Monday we ate in La Capannina (again – local and good value) and on Tuesday we tried Martina’s recommendation – the slow food Ristorante Consorzio. Lunches were purchased in the OGR’s own café Snodo; great value and civilised on both occasions.
We flew back on Wednesday, an easy, civilised journey by bus from Porta Susa to Caselle airport, onto a BA flight far from full, arriving on time and driving to Laura’s and Adam’s home in Orpington for the night. Then David took a train into London while I drove home via Basingstoke for lunch with Ralph.
A very successful break for us both !