Before leaving Madison, I took language lessons from Roberto, an Italian graduate student. Roberto is from Torino (Turin), and in between trying to teach me how to ask for discounts for my children and order food in restaurants, he kept insisting that I had to visit his hometown during the year. That turned out to be great advice!

Torino is the capital of the Piemonte (Piedmont) region of Italy that abuts France and Switzerland. And after Bologne (a city that really captured our hearts and stomachs), I’d rate Torino as a fantastic city that deserves more attention that it receives from tourists. I loved my visit there. The city has style and its own charm– and it felt very different from other cities we visited in Italy. It reminded me that not long ago, the regions of Italy were in fact separate countries, and Torino was the seat of a glamorous one.

Torino is known for industry, especially as home to Fiat and the Italian automobile industry. We saw vestiges of the gracious old style Piemontesi from the city’s powerful years in the 19th century. Torino flourished much later than other major Italian cities, so the look of the buildings, streets, piazzas, and caffés has much more in common with Paris than with Rome. In fact, if Paris had stayed a small city, it might look a lot like Torino. Through our wanderings, we stumbled upon fantastic, highly decorative piazzas that in Paris would house elegant and expensive caffés, but in Torino remained humble neighborhoods. The city also has the grit and cultural diversity of a city now populated by laborers from North Africa.

One aspect of Torino that really stood out for us was what an amazing job the city does with its museums– each one was better than the next. We began with the Egyptian Museum (the largest of its kind in the world outside of Egypt and the second largest including Egypt). The collection was amazing. And because Eli’s class had done a unit on ancient Egypt this year, he was able to add all sorts of interesting facts to our visit. We also went to the newly opened Automobile Museum. This isn’t ordinarily our sort of thing, but we all had a fantastic morning there. The museum not only had an incredible collection of vintage cars and futuristic prototypes, but also put the automobile into historical and cultural context in a way that was accessible and extremely thought provoking. It provided a cultural commentary about post war United States that we had not considered before. (A funny incident at the Car Museum was that we encountered a group of high school students visiting from Istanbul; they and their teacher were so delighted to see a kid in Torino wearing their city’s soccer team jersey that the kids asked if they could pose with Eli and take pictures to show their friends back home.)

We ended with a fun trip to the National Museum of Cinema, housed in the Mole Antonelliana, originally constructed as a synagogue. This place definitely is not a museum in the traditional sense- though it included famous stage sets, contracts from famous actors, original screenplays from famous films, an opportunity for us to insert ourselves into existing movie clips, and a two-story viewing area with chaise lounges where one can watch highlights from famous movies. We enjoyed the special exhibit on the history of Looney Tunes!

Atop the tower of the Museum of Cinema. The view was great, but so was the ride up in the glass elevator!

Nell inserted herself into a film that then played on a large screen over the Museum atrium.

Besides cars, lots of good food stuff came from Torino. . . chocolate in the form of bars or individual pieces was created in Torino (and we had some outstanding examples), vermouth (the herb-and-wine drink that was later married with gin to form the martini) was born here, the Slow Food movement was founded here, as was Lavazza coffee and GROM gelato. So this is one serious food place.

At Bicerin.

One of our favorite caffes was Bicerin (Piazza della Consolata 5), the oldest caffé in the city with continuous operation (since 1763) that has always been owned an operated by women. The caffé is named for the famous beverage it serves—a combination of hot coffee, chocolate, and cream. The bicerin, we were instructed, is not stirred, but sipped so that each layer of liquid stays separate and mixes in the mouth. It was amazing, and just as good as the special chocolate that they serve. My favorite was their cioccolato Ratafia, a dark chocolate bar favored with cherries. If I ever hear of anyone passing through Torino, I will plead with them to bring me back just one bar of Ratafia!

We had some really great meals, each a fun experience.

Absolutely horrified that Nell was a vegetarian, and was turning down his offer of house cured prosciutto, the owner of Valenza threw bread at her. Fortunately, she caught it and it was excellent.

At Trattoria Valenza (Via Borgo Dora 39) in the heart of the antiques market, the seemingly inebriated owner, Walter, walked from table to table singing, threw (literally) pieces of bread at us, and kept bringing free samples of different foods to the table for the kids. When there was something we didn’t want, he picked it up with his fingers and ate it himself. The menu was a single piece of paper with a few items handwritten on it. When we ordered, the waiter would tell us they didn’t actually have that item and cross it off our menu with his pen. Finally, we simply asked him what we should order! The food was simple, authentic, and outstanding. It was one of our most enjoyable meals and cost only a fraction of a lunch in Rome. This place oozes authenticity- and it made us feel like time stood still: old clocks on the walls, paintings of every variety covering every inch of wall space, yes, even a little dust as a reminder of times gone by. The house barbera by the carafe was unbeatable, as was the warmth. We felt like we got to sample a bit of the city from the past. . .and it was fun to walk through the Balon market to get there.

We had a very tasty dinner at Trattoria l’oca fola (via drovetti) a typical Piedmontese osteria, where a wonderful assortment of antipasti began arriving at the table even before we ordered. The restaurant’s logo—a goose—pops up on the table, plates, napkins, and all around

Usually a fan of whites down in Lazio, Eli liked the reds in Piemonte and became our official wine taster.

the room. Everything was organic and simple with a local menu that changes daily, and our polenta was perfect.

It turned out that our lunch at Con Calma was on the day that would have been Jenny’s father’s birthday. And we were all especially delighted when a bottle of mineral water arrived bearing a label that we had never seen before—Saint Bernardo. So we felt like Bernie was joining us!

For Mothers’ Day lunch, we booked a table at Con Calma (Strada Comunale del Cartman 59) on the Superga Hill overlooking the city. This rustic restaurant occupies an old, yellow-painted village house and is cosy inside. We were welcomed by Renata, who runs the place and supervises her young staff with a sure hand. . .and who offers kids an opportunity to draw a picture that she then adds to her substantial collection. The food is classically prepared Piedmontese fare – I had three courses that all featured local asparagus. And Nell was happy because it is unusual to see a menu in Italy that notes many dishes that can be altered so as to be vegetarian. The waiters gave Eli a hard time because he was wearing a Juventus jersey and they, surprisingly to us, were not fans of Torino’s champion team. After lunch, Jenny suggested that we take the “short” walk from the restaurant to the Tram that would bring us back down to the city. But this turned out to be our own Olympic event. After a big meal and a bottle of fantastic Nebbiolo, it turned out that Jenny had started us off on what turned out to be a 3 hour uphill hike that included mudslides, walking along a highway, twisted roads, and maybe even cutting through some people’s back yards.

Another meal highlight was a casual and extremely fun dinner that we had in a wine bar. L’acino (via San Domenico) is a small but bustling place with a well-priced and colorful wine list. The food and the desserts were truly outstanding, and the gregarious owner made a point of stopping by our table to chat. I still remember my red peppers with bagna caoda!

Enjoying the native vermouth before dinner.

Our last meal in Torino was at Re Calamaro! “King Calamari “was opened by the great grandson of the guy who came up with the idea of fried calamari. (The story told at the restaurant is that grandpa received a batch of bad squid that couldn’t be served sautéed or grilled, so he decided to deep fry it to mask the poor quality- and people loved it). The restaurant interior is in the shape of a boat, and the calamari is served in large paper cones that fit nicely in the metal cone-holders that accessorize each of the small tables.

We were fortunate to be in Torino the day the city was celebrating their team’s winning the Italian Soccer League. Crowds in Juventus black-and-white went through the city cheering and the team met them in the center of town. It was really festive.

— Seth