In a little over six months, the winter sports world and associated media circus will be descending on the usually tranquil city of Torino, Italy, for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. Although Torino is basically sold out for the Olympic period, you still have several months to take advantage of the pre-Olympic fever with lower prices to a magnificent vacation destination in any season.
Known to the English-speaking world as Turin, and most synonymous with the shroud of undetermined origins, Torino and the surrounding Piedmont region is a diverse and beautiful part of Italy, so often overlooked by tourists that it may just be the last best kept secret in the country.
Located in the north west part of Italy bordering France and Switzerland, Piedmont is famous not only for its ski resorts and car industry heritage but also for its historic Baroque castles, culinary flair, fine wines, truffles, delicious chocolates and my personal favorite, Nutella.
Probably the best investment you can make if you'll be visiting Torino for a few days is the Turin Card. The card, which costs 15€ ($18) for 48 hours or 17€ ($20.50) for 72 hours includes travel on all urban public transport; entry into more than 130 museums, monuments, castles, fortresses and royal residences in Turin and Piedmont; access to the TurismoBus Torino, the panoramic lift in the Mole Antonelliana, the Sassi-Superga rack tramway and the boats on the river Po; and reductions on the lyric opera, theatre shows, concerts, guided tours, bicycle hire, the airport shuttle and much more. The card is available at Turismo Torino Information points and most hotels. You can preorder online at www.europeancitycards.com for pick up at a Turin information office, but it will end up costing more due to conversion fees charged by most credit card issuers. We say wait until you've arrived.
For the chocoholic, purchase the Torino ChocoPass, which offers you 10 mouth-watering tastes in 24 hours or 15 in 48 hours. Also available at Turismo Torino Information points located throughout the city, it costs 10€ ($12) for 24 hours or 15€ ($18) for 48 hours only. ChocoPass specialties include Gianduiotti: an exclusive mix of cocoa and hazelnuts; Pralines: chocolate with filling to discover; a hot chocolate from an original Turin Renaissance recipe; chocolate ice-cream; and chocolate cakes.
The official Torino Tourism website (www.turismotorino.org) features a number of diverse and low-priced tours and you are sure to find something of interest here. All tours cost only $6 per person and are conducted in three languages, including English. Each Saturday morning a guided tour is conducted of the historic center of Turin, including its magnificent Baroque architecture. Torino is home to a number of outstanding museums, including, strangely, The Egyptian Museum, which houses the second largest collection of Egyptian artifacts after that of Cairo. Take a $6 tour of the museum at 11.30am on a Saturday for greater insight into this magnificent collection (museum admission is additional). Do a combination of the Saturday city tour and Egyptian Museum tour for less than $8. Every Friday at 2.30pm, you can take a bus tour of the upcoming Olympic Games area and take a first hand look at the innovative designs of architects like Massimiliano Fuksas, Gae Aulenti and Arata Isozaki.
If you happen to be in Turin on September 21, October 24, November 14, December 1 or 5, 2005 consider taking the Fiat tour. Turin has long been designated an industrial design center thanks in large part to Fiat's home here. For true car design connoisseurs, the Pininfarina tour on October 20, 2005, will give you a peak into the oldest Turinese design and production facility. For those not familiar with Battista Pininfarina and his son Sergio, it was their masterful designs that brought us the Dino Ferrari (amongst other classic Ferraris) and the Alfa Romeo and Fiat Spiders. Today the design genius of Pininfarina continues within the automotive and technology industries. A pre tour introduction will take place at the European Institute of Design.
The Torino website also offers several package and travel specials including one at the Best Western Hotel Piemontese, a late 19th century liberty style building and three-star hotel, located in a quiet street in the historical center of the city and just 200 yards from the beautiful Parco Valentino and the main shopping area of Via Roma. Every weekend until 31st August 2005, enjoy a night in a whirlpool room with buffet breakfast, fruit in your room and a welcome aperitif for $103 per double room.
If you are a football fan, or should I say soccer, the "Juventus: Sport and History in the first Italian Capital" is the perfect package. The package is available every weekend when Juventus plays until December 31, 2005. It includes two-nights accommodation at a three-star or four-star executive hotel, buffet breakfast, and two tickets to an evening soccer game. This deal is priced at $162 or $181 for two nights per person.
For an indulgent long weekend Piedmont style, La Vita Vera (tel. 866/519-8837; www.lavitaveraitalia.com/tours.html) runs a range of highly exclusive land-only packages based at Hotel Castello di Sinio, a medieval castle built in1148 in the heart of Barolo Wine country with the snow-capped Alps as a backdrop. Each package is a four-day/three-night wine and fine food extravaganza, including cooking classes at La Vita Vera Cooking and Wine School, wine appreciation lessons, extensive winery tours and tastings, vineyard walks, Italian language lessons, sightseeing with history, art and local knowledge, delicious meals and world class wines plus all ground transportation. Even foraging in the forest to find fresh truffles in the fall is part of the extensive culinary program. Fall and winter bring the bounty of the harvest to the Piedmont area and each weekend focuses on seasonal specialties of the vine and the field.
The "Luxury Weekend Wine and Culinary Exploration" package from August 11 to 14, 2005 is priced at $825 per person. This package is currently on special, reduced from $1,150. The four-day/three-night "Spa Weekend Wine and Culinary Exploration" from August 25 to 28, 2005 is also $825 reduced from $1,150. The "Weekend Wine, Cooking and Truffle Extravaganza" is $825 reduced from $1,275 from October 20 to 23, the "Luxury Weekend Wine, Culinary and Truffle" tour from November 3 to 6, 2005 and the "Luxury Weekend with Wine and Truffles" from November 30 to December 3, 2005 are both $875 reduced from $1,275.
When visiting Torino, you have the choice of flying in to the local Aeroporto Internazionale Sandro Pertini in Caselle about 10 miles from Torino or the larger Malpensa airport that services Milan and is approximately 80 miles from Torino.
1800 Fly Europe (tel. 800/359-3876; www.1800flyeurope.com) has discounted round-trip airfares with one-stop from the US to Turin. From New York, fares start as low as $458 for midweek departures during the fall season. From Miami fares start at $527 and from Los Angeles flights start at $600. Taxes are additional. To Milan Malpensa, flight prices are even lower starting from $380 from New York or Boston.
For concise listings and online bookings of accommodation from five-star to one-star hotels, Bed and Breakfasts and apartments to rent in Turin, visit Venere.com. Apart from hotel reviews, photographs and descriptions, the site also provides maps of the areas in which the accommodation is located. Prices start as low as $54 per night in smaller pensioni where online bookings aren't available, but telephone and fax numbers are provided.
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