10 December 2009

City of Lights - Turin

TURIN, Italy – When people say the Turinese have their noses in the air, it’s true. But there’s a reason for it. It’s Christmas and at Christmas the sky above the city becomes a canvas where artists create a dazzling collection of twinkling sculptures. Strings of lights are transformed into planetary creations, comets seem to flash across the sky, at first bright and then dim, and celestial spheres create light shows before our very eyes.

In the large piazza in front of the Porta Nuova train station figures of tall wise men in oriental costumes announce the birth of Christ. Figures of children dance in celebration, illuminated by the thousands of lights that decorate the trees behind them. And in the center of it all, the Holy Family.

It's a pleasure to walk around Turin at any time of the year. The city is beautiful and has a strong sense of style. Stately baroque buildings house world class museums, an elaborate royal palace anchors the city center, and turn-of-the-century cafes rival those of Vienna.

Not one to rest on its architectural laurels, Turin is home to industrial design houses like Pininfarina and Italdesign Giugiaro, companies that became world famous designing Fiat, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo sports cars. Style is part of the fabric of this city.

Turin’s Egyptian museum has the best collection of Egyptian artifacts outside of Cairo. The city is also the keeper of the Holy Shroud. While the Shroud is rarely on display, there is a museum in the crypt of the S.S. Sudario church which documents the history of the Shroud.

Through the center runs the Via Roma, the city’s main shopping street. And there are still more shops on the long pedestrian only Via Garibaldi, and under the arcades of the Via Po. Two Italian department stores, Coin and Rinascente, are on Via Lagrange, and on the side streets there are many small specialty shops selling a little bit of this and that, including jewelry, fabrics and baking equipment.

Turin also has a number of world class cafes. With delightful 18th century gilded baroque interiors, they rival the cafes of Vienna. But in Turin the barmen are movie star handsome and dressed for a Hollywood opening in stiff white shirts and black bow ties.

If you are visiting in the winter, order a bicerin, a cold weather specialty, and watch them mix thick, rich hot chocolate with a shot of espresso coffee and top it with a layer of frothy cream, and do it faster than you can say delizioso.

Now, you’d think great museums, good shopping, fabulous cafes and easily the best cuisine in Italy would be enough for any city, but the best is yet to come. Turin is a chocolate lovers paradise. According to a popular guide to top European chocolate makers, there are more master chocolatiers in Turin than in all of Belgium and France combined. The two most coveted are Peyrano Fabbrica di Cioccolato, and Tourinto di Gobino.

Chocolate making is such a serious business here there is even an annual citywide chocolate festival called ChocolaTò, which is held every spring. With more than one hundred stands and kiosks set up around town, you can eat chocolate from morning ‘till night. City restaurants prepare special chocolate based menus, and chocolate shops, pastry shops and bars are decorated with eye-popping assortments of chocolate goodies. There are also chocolate tastings, chocolate seminars, chocolate displays, and chocolate competitions. It’s enough to make a girl’s head spin.

Photos: Christmas nativity, Wise men, handsome barman, Bicerin for Two

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