Piazza San Carlo
Begin in Turin’s grandest central square designed by architect Carlo di Castellamonte from 1637–1638. It is a rectangle of perfect proportions with a statue of Duke Emanuele Filiberto (House of Savoy, 1553–1580) at its centre and on its southern side is a twin pair of Baroque churches, Chiesa di San Carlo and Santa Christina.
Piazza San Carlo is flanked by seemingly endless, elegant porticoes which house historical cafes; the square has the nickname of ‘the drawing room’ of Turin because it was here that politicians and artists would meet to discuss the issues of the day. On leaving the square, take via Roma which leads to Piazza Castello; around a seven-minute walk.
Food/drink spot: Turin is synonymous with chocolate, and this is reflected in its historic coffee houses where chocolate delicacies and special coffee blends are served in charming period settings. Two of the best are the grand 19th-century Caffè San Carlo and the Art Nouveau Caffè Torino, both located on Piazza San Carlo.
The wide boulevard Via Roma underwent major renovation between 1931 and 1937 at the height of Italy’s Fascist period. The design, by Marcello Piacentini, is typical of rationalist architecture at the time, combining the neoclassicism of Novecento Italiano and Futurist-inspired modernism. The first six blocks remained in the 18th-century style reminiscent of Piazza San Carlo. En route to Piazza Castello, there is the option of taking a brief detour down via Principe Amadeo to see Piazza Carignano; around a five-minute walk.
It is worth dropping by this square to see Palazzo Carignano, the former residence of the Princes of Carignano (the cadet branch of the royal House of Savoy) now home to the city’s Museo del Risorgimento. It was designed by Camillo-Guarino Guarini, a monk who was also a brilliant architect and probably the most flamboyant of those working in Turin in the 17th century. For this 1679 commission, Guarini paired convex and concave frontage to create an undulating wave-like effect. The semi-circular balcony has a deeply inset curved hood and the windows are framed with fluid drapery. The fluidity and soft edges of Palazzo Carignano are distinct from the very angular, boxy palaces that were commonplace at the time. From here, return to via Roma and continue on to Piazza Castello; around a five-minute walk.
Piazza Castello hosts two major Baroque structures designed by architect Filippo Juvarra – Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) and Palazzo Madama. The latter was so admired by Napoleon that he made it his Turin residence. Juvarra is celebrated for his weightless details and dignified simplicity, and these two buildings stand in testament to his mastery of subtle majesty.
Palazzo Reale was originally built in the 16th century, but underwent modification by the architect at the request of Princess Christine Marie of France in the late 17th century. The ochre palace seems infinite, stretching out on three sides of a rectangle with an elegantly arched but simple frontage. Palazzo Madama dates from 1003 and the façade was added by Juvarra in 1718. The rear of the castle remains in its medieval form, so it is an incredibly unusual structure for this reason alone.
Juvarra’s façade is a true baroque masterpiece but the interior is perhaps even more spectacular – the monumental and lofty double stairway has been replicated in buildings around the world. Palazzo Madama is also home to the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica, which has a remarkable collection of paintings from the medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods.
Behind Piazza Castello lies a refined royal garden whose central pathway will take you to Corso S. Maurizio. From this main street, turn right onto via Montebello where you will be able to spot the Mole Antonelliana; around an 11-minute walk.
Food/drink spot: Da Cianci Piola Caffè is a charming, laid-back café/bistro serving generous dishes of hearty local food. It has a snug, kitsch interior and seating spills out onto the piazza.
The tall spire of Mole Antonelliana is the pinnacle of the Turin skyline and an iconic symbol of the city. It was built as a synagogue in 1848 when the freedom of worship to non-Catholic religions was officially granted. Today it is the Museo Nazionale del Cinema (National Museum of Cinema), housing equipment and memorabilia from the earliest days of film production to the present. But the real draw is the viewing platform at the top of the building, which offers amazing views of the city and mountains beyond. From Mole Antonelliana, make your way to the Po River and head south towards Parco del Valentino; around a 25- to 30-minute walk, or hop on a tram.
Food/drink spot: Michelin-starred Italian restaurant Magorabin is on Corso S. Maurizio opposite the Mole. In old Torino dialect, the ‘magorabin’ is a bogeyman that forces children to finish their meals, which speaks to the chef’s strong character.
Castello del Valentino
Parco del Valentino is located on the west bank of the quaint River Po that runs through the city. On your walk along the river to arrive at the park, you can admire the architecture of the grand villas and residences that line the river banks. Inside the park you will find the magnificent Castello del Valentino – one of the residences of the royal House of Savoy with UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Since the 16th century, the castle has been renovated and redesigned; the three main architects that worked on the residence were Carlo di Castellamonte (1560–1641), his son Amadeo di Castellamonte (1613–1683) and Domenico Ferri (1795–1878). Today, it is the central building of the Architecture faculty of the Polytechnic University of Turin. Either stop here and enjoy the greenery, or, if 20th-century architecture is of interest, exit onto via Claudio Luigi Berthollet and make your way to the Galleria Civica di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea; around a 25- to 30-minute walk, or hop on a tram.
Food/drink spot: The café in Parco del Valentino’s 19th-century mock medieval village (Caffe del Borgo Medievale) is definitely a touristy place, but the location is really lovely – you can sit on the veranda right on the river.
Galleria Civica di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea
In 1951, the city of Turin issued a nationwide competition to design a new site for the Civica Galleria d’Arte Moderna. The commission was awarded to architects Carlo Bassi and Goffredo Boschetti, who were not yet 30 years old. The brief called for an innovative, futuristic museum space, and the result is a concrete Brutalist wonder. Founded between 1891 and 1895, GAM was the first civic museum of modern art in Italy.