Turin is often lauded as ‘the Paris of Italy’ due to its royal past and majestic architecture. The French House of Savoy moved its capital to Turin in 1562 and embarked on numerous extravagant building projects in the city and its periphery. The Royals employed some of the best architects of the time and as a result, the grand boulevards and piazzas are lined with glorious palaces and castles. The royal palaces of Stupinigi and Venaria on the outskirts of Turin are resplendent baroque estates reminiscent of Versailles in France. The city is also home to many brilliant examples of Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture – geometric, stained glass windows; plasterwork with floral motifs and curvaceous ironwork decorate the elegant townhouses and cafés; and dreamy villas on the Po River. Milan also has much architectural merit (and is probably more diverse in style) but due to its industrial past, the beautiful competes with a lot of ugly. Turin is better for those who value traditional grandeur and romance.
In Milan, the ratio of green space per person is terrible and its largest central park, Parco Sempione, is a measly 95 acres; to give you some scale, Central Park in New York City is 840 acres. Understandably, all of the parks in Milan are overrun with dogs, runners and children so the romantic idea of quietly reading a book under a shady tree is remains just that, a romantic idea. Turin, on the other hand, has more tranquil areas to enjoy. The main green spaces, Parco del Valentino and Parco della Colletta, are both over 100 acres and border the quaint Po River. Parco del Valentino makes for lovely walks – along the river you can admire the architecture of the grand villas and residences that line the river banks. The park is also home to Castello del Valentino – one of the residences of the royal House of Savoy with UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
In 1585, the Turin-based Duke of Savoy, Charles Emmanuel I, married the daughter of Philip II of Spain and through the Spanish colonies, raw cacao arrived in Italy. Turin’s expertise for chocolate burgeoned in the hands of innovative chocolatiers, who turned the city into the chocolate centre of Europe. Today, Turin is still synonymous with the sweet treat and its residents remain just as passionate. Visitors to the city can delight in sampling exemplar chocolate in dozens of legendary confectioners, new and old. Learn more about the history and what to try here.
Milan might seem the obvious base to explore Northern Italy but there are many more day trip options from Turin – visit Lake Orta, hailed as ‘The Italian lake tourists haven’t discovered yet’; hike in the Gran Paradiso national park in the Aosta Valley at the foot of the Alps; attend a wine tasting at the famous Barolo vineyards of Langhe, or sparkling wine in Asti; take the dramatic and atmospheric accent to the hill-top ancient pilgrimage site, Sacra di San Michele.
Turin has a long and prestigious history of car manufacturing, and even if you’re not a car fanatic you have probably seen the film The Italian Job. Visitors to Turin will enjoy spotting venues that featured in its many iconic scenes – the rooftop race track of the old Fiat factory (1923–1982), the stairway inside the baroque Palazzo Madama. In addition, there is a major museum housing over 200 original vehicles from 80 different car brands which tell the history of the automobile. Museo dell’Automobile also investigates the future of the car industry and new engineering technologies. Visitors can see iconic models, prototypes that were never realised and historically important game changers. It is one of the world’s most famous technical-scientific museums, and the display is very interactive. The buildings are vast and architecturally very impressive in their own right.
Milan is a small city with two official Fashion Weeks a year and many more unofficial events throughout the year. Whilst this can make for great (occasionally ridiculous) people-watching, it also means all of the cool accommodation and nice restaurant options are regularly fully booked. Pick Turin if you’d rather not share your holiday with Euro-fashionistas.