10 beautiful libraries and bookstores in Italy

There is something fascinating about the places that treasure books … maybe because they are able to contain and safeguard knowledge forever, passing it from hand to hand and from generation to generation. In Italy, countless libraries and bookshops also evoke emotions thanks to their beauty and authentic character.

Let’s have a look at some of the most beautiful biblioteche (libraries) and librerie (bookstores) around Italy.

 

5 beautiful libraries

The Reading Room at Biblioteca Vittorio Emanuele III, Naples. Image from espressonapoletano.it

The Reading Room at Biblioteca Vittorio Emanuele III, Naples. Image from espressonapoletano.it

Located in Piazza Plebiscito, Naples, Biblioteca Vittorio Emanuele III occupies the eastern wing of the 18th-century Palazzo Reale. To picture the splendor and history of the building, just imagine that this was one of the royal residences used by the Bourbon Kings during their rule of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies (1730-1860)! With 1,480,747 printed volumes, 319,187 pamphlets, 18,415 manuscripts – among other documents – this is the third largest library in Italy, after the national libraries in Rome and Florence.

The reading gallery at the Laurentian Library, Florence. Image from francigena.beniculturali.it

The reading gallery at the Laurentian Library, Florence. Image from francigena.beniculturali.it

The Laurentian Library, or Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, is built in a cloister of the Basilica di San Lorenzo, Florence. Built under the patronage of the Medici pope Clement VII, it features an exquisite architecture by Michelangelo in the style of Mannerism. Its precious treasure includes more than 11,000 manuscripts and 4,500 early printed books, many of which belonged to the private library of the Medici family.

The Aula Magna at the University Library of Bologna. Image from anagrafe.iccu.sbn.it

The Aula Magna at the University Library of Bologna. Image from anagrafe.iccu.sbn.it

The University Library of Bologna has an enormous wealth of written and printed heritage – now amounting to over 1,250,000 volumes! As if that weren’t enough, it also comprises an art collection made up of over 400 portraits of illustrious figures, while 16th century frescoes make the library an even greater visual feast for its visitors. The library came to life in the early 1700s thanks to a generous donation by Luigi Ferdinando Marsili, a noble of Bologna and General of the Empire.

A detail of Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome. Image from librari.beniculturali.it

A detail of Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome. Image from librari.beniculturali.it

In Rome, Biblioteca Casanatense was established by the Dominican friars in 1701 inside the Convent of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Its main hall was designed by Roman architect Carlo Fontana, and realized by Antonio Maria Borioni. The Library's collection contains approximately 400,000 volumes, about 6,000 manuscripts, 2,200 incunabula, including medieval and biblical manuscripts.

The Sistine Hall, originally part of the Vatican Library. Image by Michal Osmenda, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Sistine Hall, originally part of the Vatican Library. Image by Michal Osmenda, CC BY-SA 2.0

Located in the Vatican City, Biblioteca Vaticana is the library of the Holy See. It is one of the oldest libraries in the world. The mesmerizing Sistine Hall used to host the library, until the increasing number of books led Pope Sixtus V to commission architect Domenico Fontana to create a new building in 1587, where the library is still located today. It currently has 75,000 codices and 1.1 million printed books, which include some 8,500 incunabula. It is a research library for history, law, philosophy, science and theology, and it is open to anyone who can document their qualifications and research needs. 

 

5 beautiful bookstores

Milan features the super trendy 10 Corso Como, which goes beyond the concept of a simple bookshop. Fashion editor and publisher Carla Sozzani opened it in 1990 in a converted garage that also hosted the Carla Sozzani Gallery for photography, art and design. It offered a radical new union of culture and commerce, promoting slow shopping through a succession of spaces designed by American artist Kris Ruhs, a café, a flowering terrace, a courtyard and a garden.

White spaces at the Arion bookshop,  Rome. Image from palazzoesposizioni.it

White spaces at the Arion bookshop,  Rome. Image from palazzoesposizioni.it

Another modern design library is the one located in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, which is the largest interdisciplinary exhibition area in Rome. The Arion Esposizioni bookshop features cool, gleaming white rooms designed by Firouz Galdo, and has been included in Loney Planet’s Top 20 most beautiful bookshops around the world. Here you will find not only books but also cultural initiatives and exhibitions.

Vintage photo of Libreria Antica Fiorentino, Naples. Image from libreriafiorentino.it

Vintage photo of Libreria Antica Fiorentino, Naples. Image from libreriafiorentino.it

Switching to a ‘classic’ design, in Naples we find one of Italy’s oldest bookstores. Founded in 1936, Libreria Antica Fiorentino is the perfect example of how the passion for books is handed down from generation to generation, from Nonno Fausto to his sons and grandchildren. Although it is specialized in architecture books, the library also has many rare and ancient books.

The location for book chats at Palazzo Roberti Library, Veneto. Image from tips-and-travel.com

The location for book chats at Palazzo Roberti Library, Veneto. Image from tips-and-travel.com

Dating back to the 1700s, the aristocratic Roberti Palace hosts one of the most charming independent bookshops in Italy. Libreria Palazzo Roberti was founded in 1998 by three sisters and is located in Bassano del Grappa (Veneto). Within its walls – some of which are decorated with splendid frescoes – you can breathe a unique atmosphere and admire the elegant architecture that frames not only the books, but also conferences, classic music concerts and photography exhibitions.

The protagonist at Acqua Alta bookshop. Venice. Image by annejansen.com

The protagonist at Acqua Alta bookshop. Venice. Image by annejansen.com

And finally, one of the most original bookstores is located in Venice, where local boats literally embrace books. In fact, the Acqua Alta bookshop features an undoubtedly special shelving: a gondola! It offers a large selection of new and old books, some of which are used as furniture. For example, old encyclopedias, the kind that no one buys anymore, become steps in an amazing staircase, or cover the courtyard walls giving life to a colorful and bizarre location.

 

Literature itineraries and book repair courses for family & friends

Do you love books and literature? Do you share this passion with other relatives and friends? If so, you can discover Italy in a unique way, by exploring places where your favorite stories have been set, the historic homes of famous Italian writers and poets, and join book festivals and exhibitions. You can also participate in unique bookbinding, book conservation and book repair courses and workshops. Contact Italian Special Occasions for more authentic ideas and custom journeys & events.

 

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Calabrian Celebrations in Tropea

At this time of year many towns and cities are kicking off their festival season and the region of Calabria in southern Italy is no different. Tropea, a small Calabrian town familiar with many Italians due to its impressive beaches and turquoise coastline has some fantastic festival offerings.

"Harbour of Tropea by Norbert Nagel - Own work. Licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

"Harbour of Tropea by Norbert Nagel - Own work. Licenced under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Tre da cruci

The festival of the Three Crosses takes place on the 3rd of May of each year, marking the crosses which had been placed in the church of the souls in purgatory after the original holy site collapsed. The festival involves many elements which celebrate different events in the region’s history, culminating with a fireworks display marking the expulsion of the Saracens who occupied the region as well as a re-enactment of the battle of Lepanto, which took place in 1571 involving many Calabrian sailors.

A poster of the Tropea Blues Music Festival

A poster of the Tropea Blues Music Festival

Tropea Blues Festival

The Tropea Blues festival now over a decade old takes place in September each year. A series of live concerts take place in the town, with the Piazza Ercole taking a starring role. It really is a unique experience listening to live blues with the backdrop of this pretty Calabrian town.

Tropea's Red Onion, photo by Bristakya

Tropea's Red Onion, photo by Bristakya

La Sagra della Cipola Rossa

The red onions synonymous with the area are thought to have been introduced to this a part of Calabria by the Phoenicians or Greeks. Tropea red onions feature in many local dishes and even have a festival held in their honour each year on the 13th August. Games such as the ‘red onion race’ take place and dishes are served in the town’s pretty piazzas, with a firework display bringing the festival to a close.

The Coast of the Gods… La Costa Degli Dei

We’d like to share our top tips and must-see sites when visiting Tropea.

  • Known as the coast of the gods, Tropea is popular with many holidaying Italians between July and August. We recommend visiting between the months of April and May, meaning you avoid the crowds whilst still taking advantage of the pleasant weather.
  • Take a walk to Tropea’s Norman cathedral dating back to the 12th Century, and discover Calabria’s little-known Norman past. 
  • Foodie fans will be spoilt for choice. There are many excellent restaurants in the town but our most memorable foodie experience was sampling the local Tropea red onion ice cream! Give it a try when visiting one of the town’s gelateria.
Tropea's center, photo by Manfred Morgner

Tropea's center, photo by Manfred Morgner

  • Tropea is served by a train station located close to the town centre. With good links to many other towns in the region as well as the city of Naples, it’s an affordable stress-free way to enjoy the region.
  • Santa Maria dell’Isola is a pretty monastery which appears to be an Island of its own jutting out to sea. Upon vising it becomes clear that the Monastery is connected to the mainland and has pretty gardens and fantastic views out to sea.
Beautiful Tropea, image by Mac9 (own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5]
  • Italian Special Occasions recommend you make the most of Tropea’s coastal connections. Why not take a boat trip to the Aeolian Islands? Imagine an excursion to the volcanic island of Stromboli!
  • The town has many cobbled winding streets and hidden piazzas. One of our favourite things to do is get lost! That’s right, we love to lose ourselves in the old town and stumble across the perfect café to take a sip of latte di mandorla –a refreshing almond drink enjoyed by locals.
  • For those who want to take a back seat, Tropea and it’s neighbouring towns have many beautiful beaches and crystal blue waters, the perfect place for a quick dip!
The beach in Tropea. By Norbert Nagel - Own work. [CC BY-SA 3.0]

The beach in Tropea. By Norbert Nagel - Own work. [CC BY-SA 3.0]


If you’d like to take a closer look into exploring Calabria get in touch with Italian Special Occasions. This region has a rich cultural and historical heritage. You might be thinking about a family celebration somewhere special, an excursion on the open seas, or a gastronomic tour taking in the local produce of the area…contact Italian Special Occasions for your free customized quote and we’ll take care of the details!


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A view to Africa… from Pantelleria!

"Cala-gadir" by Mediterranean.web at wikivoyage

"Cala-gadir" by Mediterranean.web at wikivoyage

Many of you might have heard the whispers about a rugged Sicilian island less than forty miles or so from the North African coast. With black volcanic rocks, hidden caves and thermal springs, you could be forgiven for confusing it with a mythical place described in Homer’s famous Odyssey. In fact the Ancient Greeks wrote about this island calling it Koyssyra, today known by the name of Pantelleria. In keeping with our love for little known gems and unspoilt terrain, we decided to take a closer look.

 

Tell me more!

Part of the Sicilian commune of Trapani, Pantelleria has at various points throughout history been part of the Carthaginian empire, following that being occupied by Arab rulers, later becoming part of the Roman empire, as well as the Kingdom of Aragon, as well as surviving attempted invasions from both the Ottomans and Maltese. As you can imagine, there’s something about Pantelleria which means people keep coming back!

Map of Pantelleria - Created by NormanEinstein

Map of Pantelleria - Created by NormanEinstein

As a result of the various rulers and inhabitants throughout the ages, many influences are evident in the cuisine, language and architecture of the island. A perfect example of some of these influences is the way in which some words derived from the Arabic language now form part of the local dialect, along with the use of ingredients such as cous cous in many local dishes.

The island is located in a part of the Mediterranean Sea which has in the past seen much volcanic activity, leaving behind dark volcanic rock and thermal springs dotted around the island. On a clear day it’s possible to see the Tunisian coast and at dusk the magical sight of the sun setting over North Africa.

 

Island Life

A visit to the Montagna Grande nature reserve feels like a lifetime away from the rugged coastline surrounding the island. The green landscape and hilly terrain allows for some easy trails as well as some more challenging treks for those looking to add some more intense activity to their escape. A popular trail leads to a lake known as Specchio di Venere or ‘Mirror of Venus’ – the lake is an unusual turquoise colour and contains three thermal springs providing welcome relief and relaxation for the weary walker!

Specchio di Venere, Pantelleria - image by Mauro

Specchio di Venere, Pantelleria - image by Mauro

If rest and relaxation is your bag then the team at Italian Special Occasions recommend you stop off at the ‘’Siba’’ sauna, a cave containing a rift in the rock where hot water vapour escapes creating a natural sauna within the cave. It’s a truly unique experience coupled with beautiful panoramic views outside of the cave- why not give it a try?

For the intrepid traveller Pantelleria is the perfect place to go on an odyssey of your own and with a visit to the Sateria Cave thought to be the Calypso cave described by Homer, there’s no better way to experience your own mythical adventure. The sea cave has covered areas with hot thermal springs which resulted in the cave being named ‘’Soteria’’ by the Greeks, derived from the Greek word for health.

Mysterious caves - image by By fab. / Markos90

Mysterious caves - image by By fab. / Markos90

Top tips from those in the know…

Pantelleria is yet to register on the tourist trail for those outside of Italy, and as a result you’ll often find that you have the island to yourself when driving along the coastal roads or popping out for a bite to eat. For travel writers and bloggers who have visited Pantelleria in the past, many write of nothing but the food and lack of activity on the island, but this is far from the truth. For those in the know (meaning us of course!), there’s plenty of things to do whether it’s snorkelling, sailing, horseback riding, trekking, visiting ancient Phoenician tombs, or enjoying the many natural springs around the island.

For some local cultural experiences we recommend checking out the Festival of Cous Cous- yes that’s right, a festival devoted to the humble grain often associated with North African cuisine! History buffs will love the Neolithic tombs, Phoenician tombs and San Marco Acropolis.

Couscous... Buon Appetito! Image by Elcèd77

Couscous... Buon Appetito! Image by Elcèd77

For the team at Italian Special Occasions it was the foodie offerings which really caught our attention. Pantelleria is famous for its caper berries and if you haven’t already stumbled across some whilst taking advantage of one of the nature trails, then we recommend sampling some of the traditional local pâté containing capers, washed down with some of the award winning local Passito Muscat- the perfect aperitivo after a day on this mythical isle!

Bernhard J. Scheuvens aka Bjs

Bernhard J. Scheuvens aka Bjs

Our preferred time to visit the island is between April to late June as the island can become uncomfortably hot during the months of July and August. Pantelleria is known for a gentle breeze which is cooling during the summer months but can be little chilly between autumn and springtime.

With direct flights from Palermo, Trapani, Rome and Milan, as well as hydrofoil crossings from Trapani, getting to Pantelleria needn’t be a headache.

Whether it’s organising a special occasion for your loved ones, planning a sailing excursion to one of the hot springs or wine tasting with the backdrop of a North African sunset- let Italian Special Occasions show you something unforgettable!

 

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The clay boot: pottery itineraries in Italy

Various Italian regions have embraced the art of pottery at different times in history, creating a rich artisanal treasure that goes from simple dishes to precious art objects and from rough tiles to magnificent paneling for lavish buildings.

Ancient pottery factory in Selinunte, Sicily. Image from famedisud.it

Ancient pottery factory in Selinunte, Sicily. Image from famedisud.it

It is possible to admire the glorious history of this ancient tradition through the archaeological findings that occur regularly. Just some time ago, in late 2014, the largest industrial quarter for the production of ceramics of the ancient world was discovered in Selinunte, Sicily. Stretching for 1,250 square meters, it featured 80 kilns for the mass production of roof tiles and vases of every kind. It was operational from about 550 B.C., when the quarter was founded by the Greeks, to 409 B.C. when the Carthaginians conquered Selinunte.

Archaeological sites apart, we can discover the pottery heritage of local Italian artisanship through museums, workshops and small businesses. Let’s explore some of these beautiful attractions and traditions together!

 

Clay, History & Creativity, from north to south

Mondovì and Castellamonte have been Piedmont’s main pottery towns since the 1800s. The former is known mostly for decorating objects with landscapes, fruits, flowers, geometric shapes and pets by using quick strokes and glittery touches. The latter, instead, produces mostly stoves, chimneys and wall decorations with the typical local red terracotta. After the economic crisis of the previous century, Castellamonte found its own identity in this type of production, rediscovering a charming tradition that has made it one of the most important manufacture centers in northern Italy.

The Promenada of Albissola. Image from architetturadelmoderno.it

The Promenada of Albissola. Image from architetturadelmoderno.it

Moving towards the sea, the Ligurian town of Albissola used to have a number of kilns along the beach, proof of the local passion for pottery. One particular décor style for local ceramics is called “Antico Sovana”, characterized by blue color gradations on a white background, with ancient castles or mythological figures surrounded by floral patterns. You can breathe the town’s artistic spirit by strolling along the “Passeggiata degli Artisti”. This unique promenade was created in the 1950s and ‘60s by famous artists of the time, and is made of more than 20 panels with colorful, vitreous mosaic tiles.

In the 1700s, Venice incentivized the production of local pottery in order to reduce imports. The result is that today the region of Veneto has at least three important centers: Nove, Bassano del Grappa and Este. Highlights here include the traditional style of “Fiori Nove” featuring rich, baroque floral compositions; and the characteristic production of pharmacy jars at Bassano del Grappa.

We proceed towards the center of Italy, where – since the Middle Ages – the town of Faenza in Emilia Romagna has built its reputation by creating objects in gothic and oriental style first, and later by decorating pottery with Renaissance themes. For more, read our article called Faenza, the queen of maiolica ceramics.

In Tuscany, Impruneta was specialized in creating quality ceramics for urban decorations, including religious tabernacles to be placed on street corners. The artisans at Montelupo Fiorentino were inspired by Spain in their gothic decor, but they also specialized in the creation of the luxury items with the "zaffera a rilievo" technique, which features an embossed cobalt blue on a white tin-glazed ground. Sesto Fiorentino houses the famous Ginori (Doccia) porcelain manufactory, which was founded in 1737 and launched some innovative ideas under the artistic direction of architect and designer Gio Ponti in the 1920s and ‘30s.

The beautiful ceiling in St. Donato Church, Abruzzo

The beautiful ceiling in St. Donato Church, Abruzzo

Abruzzo has an absolute protagonist in the pottery world: the town of Castelli. For centuries, the nobility of Europe collected its majolica, which was a favorite dinnerware of Russian Tsars, so much that one of the most valued collections of Castelli ceramics is now housed at the Hermitage State Museum in St. Petersburg! Not to be missed is the Church of San Donato, which holds a majolica altarpiece by Francesco Grue (1647), a medieval silver cross of the Sulmona school, and Italy’s only example of a ceiling tiled with majolica.

Let’s hop across the Tyrrhenian Sea for a moment and visit Assemini in Sardinia. Here, the “strexiaius” workshops create delightful terracotta tableware adorned with nature or geometric patterns, either embossed or engraved.

Back on the mainland, Cerreto Sannita, Vietri sul Mare, Ariano Irpino and Cava dei Tirreni are the pottery centers of excellence in Campania. The Great School of Maioliche Cerretesi reached its apex with the baroque style, although local artists experimented with a variety of techniques and colors that you can appreciate when strolling around town. Vetri sul Mare is particularly famous for its votive tiles, which mix religious and pastoral traditions, as well as for the pavement tiles called riggiole.

A traditional pottery workshop in Grottaglie, Apulia. Image from italiaunica.it

A traditional pottery workshop in Grottaglie, Apulia. Image from italiaunica.it

The production of ceramics in Puglia is ancient yet still thriving, also thanks to the rich quarries of red clay found in this territory. Apulia’s master artisans are located mainly in Laterza and Grottaglie. The former was already famous during the Magna Graecia period.  To fully appreciate the historic mastery of local artists in the creation and decoration of ceramics, simply admire the maiolicas that adorn some churches, such as the three-colored depiction of the Immaculate Conception in the Mater Domini Sanctuary. Grottaglie hosts a centuries-old quarter of ceramicists, who excavated their workshops in the rock. The town is particularly famous for the "Bianchi di Grottaglie", made with white tin glaze without any other decoration.

We end our itinerary in Sicily, where we must stop in Caltagirone. The pottery tradition is so old here, that even the town’s name derives from an Arabic word meaning the Fortress of the Vases. Local ceramics have been used for centuries to decorate houses, parks, churches, streets and squares.  A visit to the Regional Museum of Ceramics is a must to appreciate the artistic value of Sicilian pottery and its evolution over the centuries. The town of Sciacca was already active in the production of ceramics at the time of the Norman domination. Local masters are to be thanked for the amazing tiles at Palazzo degli Aiutamicristo (1490) and the Duomo of Monreale (1498). Other important Sicilian centers of pottery production are Santo Stefano di Camastra and Burgio.

 

Clay & Creativity, for families & friends

There are 30+ towns that have been awarded the Artistic & Traditional Pottery brand by the Italian Government. Towns and local artisans proudly honor their artistic traditions by organizing workshops and exhibitions.

Pottery staircase in Sciacca, Sicily - image from cosedafareinsicilia.it

Pottery staircase in Sciacca, Sicily - image from cosedafareinsicilia.it

For families and friends visiting Italy with the desire to enjoy an artistic and enriching experience, a pottery course or workshop is ideal. Not only does it put their skills to the test in an entertaining way, it also brings visitors closer to local traditions. Not to mention how fun and instructive it is for the little ones, if children are part of the group too!

Are you planning or dreaming about organizing a family & friend gathering in Italy? Put Italian Special Occasions to the test! We’d love to hear what ideas you have, and help you customize your Italian journey

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48 hours in Turin

Turin, the first capital of a united Italy, offers great cuisine and surprising cultural gems. Current headlines feature it for the Exhibition of the Holy Shroud from 19 April to 24 June 2015, and for reopening its Egyptian Museum after a pharaonic €50 million revamp. However, compared to other Italian towns, Turin is an off-the-beaten-track destination. Let’s explore its treasures in 48 hours, and understand why it is a lot more than just the home to the Juventus soccer team and the Fiat automaker – as it is often erroneously dismissed.

Piazza Vittorio, River Po and the Church of Grande Madre di Dio

Piazza Vittorio, River Po and the Church of Grande Madre di Dio

Day 1: Augusta Taurinorum, the basics

Put on your best walking shoes, as Torino is the ideal city for wandering around by foot thanks to its 18 km of arcaded walkways. Its narrow streets are based on the original Roman grid, and are intersected by broad avenues. This neat layout and the ever-visible Alps to the north, make it easy to move around Turin without getting lost.

We’ll depart from one of the largest squares in Europe, Piazza Vittorio Veneto, which opens up to the Po River and offers a lovely view over the majestic,  Neoclassic-style Church of Grande Madre di Dio and the hillside of the Monte dei Cappuccini. Given the large area of almost 40.000 m² covered by the piazza, you can just imagine how spectacular this place gets in June for the Feast of Patron Saint John the Baptist, with its famous fireworks that gather up to 200.000 people!

The neon-red Fibonacci numbers on the Mole Antonelliana, image from guidaspettacoli.com

The neon-red Fibonacci numbers on the Mole Antonelliana, image from guidaspettacoli.com

Nearby is the Mole Antonelliana, the symbol of Turin that can also be found on the Italian 2 euro cent coin. Originally built as a synagogue and named for its architect Alessandro Antonelli, it today hosts the National Museum of Cinema. At the time of its completion in 1889, it was the tallest masonry building in Europe at 167.5 meters in height. If you observe the peculiar cupola, you will notice (especially at night) that one side of the four-faced dome features the first Fibonacci numbers written in red neon lights. This is part of the artistic work by Mario Merz, and represents the apparently chaotic growth process that is typical of many natural phenomena.

The Museum of Cinema deserves to be visited, and if you happen to be here in November, you cannot miss the international Torino Film Festival. Finally, the panoramic elevator in the Mole Antonelliana offers you an unforgettable, 360° view of the city and the Alps. Up from the dome, you can identify the typical Roman street pattern and imagine what this area looked like back in the days when it was still called Augusta Taurinorum!

While walking on the main road, Via Po, you will notice that both sides are made up of porticoed walkways, although only one side is continuously covered. The road crossings on this side were covered in the 19th century at the request of the king, who did not want to get wet when walking from Piazza Vittorio to Piazza Castello, which is our next stop.

The majestic Juvarra staircase inside Palazzo Madama. Image by Pantar

The majestic Juvarra staircase inside Palazzo Madama. Image by Pantar

Piazza Castello is the heart of Turin’s historic center. Its beauty is enhanced by the presence of the 16th-century Royal Palace of Turin, and the awkward Palazzo Madama: with its baroque façade and medieval walls, it almost looks like two buildings mashed together! This building also houses the Museum of Ancient Art.

Depending on the season during which you visit Turin, you can witness a show in the Teatro Regio, a truly unforgettable experience. Built in 1740, this is one of the most important opera houses in Italy and Europe. Even though it was destroyed by fire in 1936 and rebuilt in 1973, you can breathe its history from the moment you walk inside. Only the façade remains from the original construction, and it belongs to the UNESCO Residences of the Royal House of Savoy.

Day 2: Surprises & Delights

The area around Piazza Castello is dotted with more attractions that are usually part of a tourist’s standard itinerary in Turin, and for good reasons. For example, Turin Cathedral is a mandatory stop for many, since it has been the home of the Shroud since 1578. In addition, the Egyptian Museum is the only one outside of the Cairo Museum to be entirely dedicated to Egyptian art and culture, to the point that hieroglyph decipher Champollion commented: “The road to Memphis and Thebes passes through Turin."

Antique doll house at Balocco Arte. Image from Balocco Arte on Facebook

Antique doll house at Balocco Arte. Image from Balocco Arte on Facebook

However, the historic center also offers surprising gems like «Balocco Arte», a delightful shop with restored antique toys. Admire precious dolls, vintage teddy bears, ceramic Walt Disney characters, Swiss Reuge carillons that play entire classical music pieces, old carousels or pieces of merry-go-rounds, mechanic nativity scenes… These items have been brought back to life by Daniele Santi, one of the few Italian experts in the restoration of all types of toys. 

Our final stop before moving away from the historic center is at Café Al Bicerin, which has more than 250 years of history! Opened in 1763, it is famous for having invented bicerin, a bittersweet drink made of chocolate, coffee and milk. Even Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour – a leading figure in the movement toward Italian unification – used to enjoy his bicerin at a table here.

Our gastronomic journey takes us to the multicultural neighborhood of San Salvario, where we stop at Lo Spaccio Alimentare. It serves regional Italian cuisine, inspired by local traditions, using exclusively seasonal products that are sourced from local farmers! Piedmontese wines, such as Barbera, Barbaresco or Nebbiolo, will complement your meal to perfection.

A medieval village in Turin?! Image from museotorino.it

A medieval village in Turin?! Image from museotorino.it

Proceeding towards the south of Turin, in the Parco del Valentino you’ll come across a place that is a surprise to most visitors… The Borgo Medievale is a medieval village tucked away in the center of the modern city, protected by the garden that surrounds it. What’s most fascinating about this oasis is the history behind it: it was built in 1884 for the Torino Expo, as an exact replica of a 15th-century village in Piedmont.

It is complete with a castle, a church, a prison, and even workshops of potters, blacksmiths and weavers. The Medieval Garden includes the Garden of Pleasure with flowering plants loved by the Middle Ages courts; the Garden of Simple Remedies, used as medication by medieval pharmacists; and the Kitchen Garden full of vegetables and fruit trees with the willow tree and the rye shed.

If you have already visited Piedmont’s capital, what is your favorite attraction in Turin? Feel free to comment below and to suggest additional places that must be part of a 48-hour visit in the area!

 

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