Forget Rome and Milan - Here's a tastier (and less crowded) Italian city break
Weekend Getaways: Turin
Italy's first capital is less stuffy than Milan, less crowded than Rome, and tastier than both, says an enchanted Isabel Conway.
Set the mood
Turin, Italy's first capital, is home to Fiat, football, fabulous food, fine art and that most famous and enigmatic Christian relic, the Turin Shroud.
As I stroll around this elegant and lively city, however, bordered by the Po and snow-covered Alps, part of the jigsaw is missing. It soon finds me. A rather gorgeous male (aren't all Italians in their own minds irresistible to every woman?) crashes the red light. We eyeball each other. At the wheel of his Alfa Romeo, he is irresistible (regardless of age), so I duly jump back.
Turin is one of Italy's great cities - less stuffy and more beautiful than larger Northern rival Milan; less crowded, more foodie friendly and better value than Rome.
Add good looks, and what more could you ask for?
The ancient waitress balances a tray laden with glasses of Bicerin (€6) at Caffé Cioccolateria Al Bicerin (bicerin.it).
Turin's signature drink - an intense, alcohol-free mix of coffee and hot chocolate sipped through a thick layer of cream - was invented in this very spot centuries ago. It's best enjoyed after slogging around museums, browsing chic shopping arcades and traversing Turin's wide boulevards and spider web of narrow streets.
Elsewhere, the Piemonte tasting menu (€25 for three courses) at Tabernalibraria (tabernalibraria.to.it) is a cosy, authentic experience with memorable food - such as beef braised in Barolo and sea bream in crusted candied orange.
The Apericena (numerous appetisers turning into supper) is a Turin institution. Check out Caffe Nazionale (18 Via Po) or chill out inside gorgeous art nouveau Baratti & Milano (barattiemilano.it), just steps from Piazza Castello.
Turin's cafés and bars vie to present the most lavish buffets of delicious snacks and antipasti, with all you can eat for around €7-€9. We splurged on Piedmont's finest, "the king of wines and wine of kings", Barola.
We were saving so much on food, it would have been rude not to.
Fancy free admission to over 180 cultural sights and museums, with public transport thrown in? The local Torina+Piemonte card, sold in tourist offices (turismotorino.org) costs €25 for two days for one adult and child under 12, and €34 for five days.
Legend says the Shroud of Turin was used to wrap the body of Christ from the Cross, but it only dates from the 14th century, according to the latest technical research. The cloth is concealed inside a casket deep in Turin's magnificent Duomo Cathedral so you cannot see the real thing. A detailed copy can be scrutinised at the chapel adjacent to the intimate Museo della Sindone Via san Domenico, however.
Time and space seem relative notions in Italy. An airport official guided us to a non-existent train, our tickets were non-transferable, and we ended up shelling out afresh for one of the intermittent Saturday buses to the city.
Get me there
Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies from Dublin to Turin direct on Saturdays throughout the winter ski season. Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies to Milan Linate daily (the two-hour train connection to Turin costs around €27).
I stayed at the comfortable Best Western Hotel Genio (hotelgenio.it). Housed in an atmospheric, 19th-century palace hotel, Genio is at the heart of the action, with double rooms including a generous breakfast buffet from €80.
See also turismotorino.org/en.