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669km (415 miles) NW of Rome, 140km (87 miles) E of Milan

It's often said that Turin is the most French city in Italy or the most Italian city in France. The reason is partly historical and partly architectural. From the late 13th century to Italy's unification in 1861 (when the city served very briefly as capital), Turin was the capital of the House of Savoy. The Savoys were as French as they were Italian, and their holdings extended well into the present-day French regions of Savoy and the Côte d'Azur, as well as Sardegna. The city's Francophile 17th- and 18th-century architects, inspired by the tastes of the French court, laid out broad avenues and airy piazzas and lined them with low-slung neoclassical buildings.

After Napoleon's occupation, the city's intellectuals began percolating the ideas that would eventually blossom into the Risorgimento unification movement, with hometown king Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy as its royal ruler. Italy's first prime minister was Torinese gentleman artist Massimo d'Azeglio, followed by the Risorgimento's political leader and another local hero, Camillo Cavour. Later the Italian Communist Party was born here on the Fiat factory floor under the leadership of poet Antonio Gramsci, though that same factory floor also gave rise to the ultraradical Red Brigades terrorist group in the 1970s.

Most visitors come to Turin with business in mind (often at Fiat, in the sprawling industrial outskirts). Those who take the time to look around the historic center, though, will find an elegant and sophisticated city that has changed little since more gracious centuries, with some fine museum collections and the charm of a place that, for all its Francophile leanings, is quintessentially Italian and perhaps the most pleasant big city in northern Italy.

Festivals & Markets -- Dance, opera, theater, and musical performances (mostly classical) are on the agenda all year long, but September is the month to really enjoy classical music -- more than 60 classical concerts are held on stages around the city during the month-long Settembre Musica festival (tel. 011-442-4703; www.mitosettembremusica.it).

Bric-a-brac of all kinds, be it household utensils, books, or used clothing, fills the stalls of the Mercato del Balon, held every Saturday at Piazza della Repubblica. Gran Balon fills the piazza the second Sunday of every month and is a larger affair, with some genuine antiques and artworks included in the mix. Mercato della Crocetta, at Largo Cassini, sells clothing at very low prices. For a look at the bounty of the surrounding farmlands, wander through the extensive outdoor food market at Porta Palazzo, open Monday through Saturday from 8:30am to 1:30pm and Saturday all day until 6:30pm.