I’ve been hawking my upcoming tour to Salone del Gusto in October pretty much nonstop. I think it’s a great trip, having attended Salone del Gusto in 2012 (you can see my blogs about it here and here.) But it occurs to me, my foodie bias is showing. I’ve been so focused on all the greatness that is Salone — the wines, the artisan and craft foods, the star-chef dinners, the cooking classes, the workshops – did I mention the wines? — that I almost broke my own first rule of the Morso travel experiences I curate: discover undiscovered Italy. Boy, was I ever reminded of the importance of my own mission on my recent “test run” to Turin and Alba in mid-July.
So, before I begin to wax effusive about Turin, a little background. Over the years, I’ve visited or passed through Turin a few times, two of them very memorable. On my first visit, in 1990, my husband, Jonathan, and I capped off a one-month second honeymoon with a one-night stay in Turin. It almost led to divorce. Why? Where do I start?
First, it was Ferragosto, the time of year in Italy when any sane person, Italian or otherwise, avoids the cities and escapes to their vacation home for a month or more. Restaurants are “chiuso per ferie,” closed for holiday, as are small businesses. The sidewalks are rolled up. The streets, deserted. I was in Rome once during Ferie, and the only other living creatures for miles around were the cats at the Torre Argentina.
No one goes to an industrial city like Turin in August. No one, that is, except the Rolling Stones. And, apparently, us. My husband, now an aging rocker, then an ardent one, just had to see the Stones on their European tour. I was not happy. The notion of spending the last night of my second honeymoon with Mick, Keith, and 70,000 of their bff’s did not rock my world. But love is about compromise.
So, we booked a hotel, in those pre-internet days, by fax. Got the confirmation the next day, at least I hoped it was the confirmation, the quality was so bad. I tucked it in among our traveling papers, never giving it a second thought as we wended our way from Barcelona through the South of France and across the Ligurian Coast by car, using the late and lamented Gourmet magazine as our travel guide. We saw great sights and ate some of the best meals of our lives. Finally, four weeks later, to Turin we went in the heat of an Italian summer.
Turin was bleak; hot and desolate. The first harbinger of bad things to come: our hotel was closed for renovations. Damn that hard-to-read fax. After finally finding a guest house, we ended up eating at the only place open, a small bottega that had menus with pictures of food on them, and descriptions in four languages. Never a good sign.
After a supremely unsatisfying meal and less satisfying espresso, we navigated our way, sans GPS, to the only stadium on our map. Covered in graffiti, boarded up and looking more like a relic from a ghost town in a post-apocalypse film than the venue for a world-class concert, we were obviously in the wrong place. A few questions later, we were directed to Stadio delle Alpi, Turin’s new stadium. Glad to put the intrigue behind us, we parked, grabbed our backpacks and walked about 2 miles to the gates, only to be searched and relieved of just about everything we owned by the Carabinieri. Buggers.
Thoroughly pissed off, I sat fuming through the whole show while Jonathan reveled in the greatness that is the Glimmer Twins. It wasn’t over soon enough for me.
Fortunately, my second memorable experience was Salone in 2012. Wanting to spend every moment possible at the show, I barely explored the city, in retrospect, a serious mistake. In my last 48 hours in Turin, when I finally had overdosed on every artisan product under the sun, I rushed from one fabulous neighborhood to another, trying to take it all in. I more than made up for it during this trip.
Turin is a beautiful, cosmopolitan, eminently walkable city, with neighborhoods that vary from baroque to modern to industrial to medieval. Jonathan thinks it feels a lot like Madrid (high praise indeed).
As the birthplace of Italian Unification, there is plenty of history at your fingertips, including Italy’s first parliamentary chambers, and the birthplace of the first King, Vittorio Emanuele II. Museums abound on assorted subjects including Eqyptology, National Cinema, and of course, Italy’s legendary automobiles.
For foodies, Turin boasts the largest open air market in Italy, Porta Palazzo, and the Balon, an amazing caffé culture whose heritage is preserved at Caffé Bicerin and Caffé Florio. Gelato? How about Grom? Chocolate? The inimitable Guido Gobino awaits.
Needless to say, the Torinese take their food seriously. And how could they not? The Slow Food movement was born of the Torinese culture, and thrives there as a living, breathing part of every day life.
How whet is your appetite? If you’re thinking about Fall travel, think Turin. Salone del Gusto. And the amazing wines of vineyards surrounding Alba. Did I mention October is white truffle month?