A flu has kept me stuck at home on this cold day. I look outside the window, overlooking the roofs of Santa Rita district in Torino, and the grey and white lines of the hill beyond it.
My mind wanders, thinking of the way that this city, Italy’s first capital, considered for years a drab, grey, industrial city, has managed to change its destiny, placing itself on the Italian tourist map as a true gem.
Its size makes it more of a grand open-air sitting room than a metropolis, and its character is at the same time typical Piedmont — meaning utterly reserved — and open to the different languages and colours that have changed its character over the years: a tradition which traces back to the time when the city opened its doors to thousands of southern Italian workers, who came to work at the Fiat factories in town. Turin is art, culture, history, nature, mystery, industry, people, sports, markets… and much more! Even if you think you might not like it, there truly is something for everyone here: Turin is a multi-faceted treasure, everyone can find its favourite aspect of it and make it their own, to fall in love with it.
One of my favourite shades of Turin is its elegance, which can be admired in Turin’s historic cafés. Whether you’re surrounded by car traffic, by the crowds out to shop or at a sports event, worry not — the moment you walk into a historic café, when you shut the door behind you, you’ll feel like you traveled back in time, and find yourself swallowed by a quiet, reserved, soft ambiance… The kind of atmosphere where you wouldn’t be surprised to see the Count of Cavour or Savoie’s Queen Elena walk in, to order “An cafè par piasì” (“A coffee, please.”)
Historic cafés in Turin you just cannot miss (you really can’t!)
Baratti e Milano
Even though the name might make you think of Turin’s neighbour, Milan, this is actually an extremely refined Turin cafè and patisserie, which is turning 160 this year. Enjoying its utterly elegant location right off central Piazza Castello, it works as a place for literary gatherings and much more. Its chocolates and sweets, as well as their coffee specialties, are top notch.
The marble fountain is the central feat of this beautiful Art Nouveau café, decorated in bronze, brass, wood and mirrors. Toast bread made its first Italian appearance here, coming with the couple that bought and started running the place after several years in the US. When they started using toast bread without grilling it first, the Italian specialty tramezzino was born, thus named by the famous poet Gabriele D’Annunzio. It goes without saying that you should taste at least one of the several tramezzino types you can find here… Or more than one, why not? They make an ideal snack before spending your evening at the Teatro Regio.
Caffè al Bicerin
This small gem is located right opposite the beautiful church of the Consolata, in the lively Quadrilatero district. This historic café was the original inventor of bicerin, a specialty coffee made with chocolate, coffee and milk cream, to be rigorously tasted without any stirring. This coffee is a joy for the palate, mixing taste and warmth, ideal on cold days — but not only, since 1763. Nietzsche, Dumas, Cavour and Umberto Eco are only some of the numerous famous people who sat at this place’s small tables — get ready to queue for a bit before you walk in.
This place hasn’t changed at all since it was founded, and it offers amazing chocolate. When starting Peyrano, its owners invested a lot of money to make sure they would have the best tools to make cocoa into chocolate, from bean to end product. Today, they are famous for their quality chocolates, as well as for their canapés, their chestnuts and their Festivo cake, a delicious chocolate meringue.
This historic confetteria opened its doors in 1836, and their style and care for their products has not changed since then. Facing elegant piazza San Carlo, Stratta has a small, beautifully set up window showcasing its colorful cardboard boxes, showing off multicolor, small bon bons of many sorts. Their boxes close like a book would, come with a beautiful ribbon, and can be topped off with a photo print of old Turin, making them a perfect, refined gift idea.
La caffetteria di Palazzo Reale
Large rooms and high ceilings, its walls lined by glass cases storing amazing silver and china objects from the Savoie times. Have an 18th-century style merenda here: hot chocolate, biscuits to dip, chocolates and mini torroni. If you have a 19th-century merenda, you’ll also get a bicerin coffee.
So, are your tastebuds reclaiming a trip to Turin yet? The city is awaiting you, with all it can offer, from its present and future, but most of all… From its charming past!