Carolina Lessona's postcard from... Turin
Turin was Italy’s first capital, seat of the kings and the very first city to have a public park. It housed the first Italian television studios, saw the birth of Fiat Italian cars and in 1905 produced the first coffee machine - the renowned Lavazza. As for gastronomy, in 1684 the royal baker produced another Turin specialty, the breadstick (il grissino). But Turin’s story and traditions can’t be told without mentioning chocolate, which first arrived in Piedmont thanks to Caterina of Spain, wife of King Carlo Emanuele. Today, Turin’s chocolate manufacturers and artisans still produce some of the best chocolate in Italy. Don’t leave the city without trying the following:
Pasticceria Gerla (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 82; +39 0 11 54 54 22) opened in 1927 but became famous in the 1950s thanks to its 42 types of chocolates, six types of chocolate blends and homemade cake made from Gianduia cream, chocolate and whipped cream. An undisputed brilliant chocolatier is Peyrano (Corso Moncalieri, 47 and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II 76; www.peyrano.com) thanks to its gianduiotti (made from sugar, cocoa and hazelnut), cremini (soft chocolates) and Bicerin made with cocoa, Piedmont almonds and honey. Guido Gobino (www.guidogobino.it) is famous for its gianduiotti tartlets as well as Amarissimo (very very dark chocolate) wafer with chocolate shavings. And Stratta (Piazza San Carlo 191; +39 0 11 54 79 20; www.stratta1836.it) is something of an institution, not just for cakes but for sweets too. Above all, it’s famous for its marrons glacé, chestnuts peeled one by one by hand and let to rest for 80 hours in a sugary solution for icing.
For other sweet treats Turin’s historical coffee bars are a good bet. Some of the most notable include Caffè Torino (Piazza San Carlo, 204; +39 0 11 54 51 18; www.caffe-torino.it) for delicious coffee and croissants. It has a dramatic winding staircase, chandeliered ceilings, tromp l’œils and inscriptions of famous phrases from literature. Long a secluded spot for the international jet set - James Stewart, Brigitte Bardot (a marron glacé lover) Walter Chiari and Ava Gardner have all sat in peace, hidden away from the paparazzi. Caffè al Bicerin (Piazza della Consolata 5; +39 0 11 43 69 325; www.bicerin.it) is the city’s oldest cafe, where you can still enjoy a traditional Bicerin.
Another gem that’s been in existence since 1875 is Baratti & Milano (Piazza Castello 29; +39 0 11 44 07 138; www.barattiemilano.it). Its decoration is exceptional: a façade covered with the yellow marble from Siena and crowned with bronze armorial bearings. Meanwhile, at Caffè Platti (Corso Vittorio Emanuele), the splendour of its original, late 19th C decoration has been carefully restored. Baroque stuccoes shine from the ceiling and walls of the bar room while the tea room has Empire style swags, large mirrors and sparkling chandeliers. And to eat? There’s a choice of traditional sweets, chocolates, cakes and, the specialty of the house, la torta Platti, a delicious cake made from gianduia chocolate and accompanied by fresh season fruits. A stop here for an evening aperitif is also a must: Platti is rightly famous for its pink and green drinks.