Just back from a whirlwind trip to Turin, the business and cultural centre in northern Italy and the capital of the Piedmont region, which was inspiring. For sure I would recommend it for a short city break or as a base for exploring the wider region. There’s so much to see and do.
Often referred to as the Capital of the Alps, as it sits a short distance from the foothills of the Italian Alps, but other popular epithets are the Automobile Capital of Italy and the Detroit of Italy.
As the home of FIAT, visitors can make a trip out to the car giant’s former plant located in the imposing Lingotto building in Via Nizza. Designed by French-born architect Giacomo Mattè-Trucco construction started in 1916. Eighty different car models were manufactured during Lingotto’s lifetime - including the FIAT 500 ‘Topolino’ that launched in 1937.
When the facility opened in 1923 it was the largest car factory in the world and regarded as avant-garde and influential. Indeed, Le Corbusier called it “one of the most impressive sights in industry” and “a guideline” for town planning.
Finished cars emerged at rooftop level to go on the test track, which years later was used for some scenes in the film 'The Italian Job' (1969) with Michael Caine. The view from the top is quite immense, but don’t look over the edge as the drop is five floors!
Before descending by lift from the rooftop visit the Pinacoteca Agnelli, which permanently houses 25 masterpieces from Giovanni and Marella Agnelli’s private collection (http://pinacoteca-agnelli.it/visit/collection/). The artworks include Canaletto’s Venice, Bernardo Bellotto’s stunning paintings of Dresden (c.1748) and seven Matisse masterpieces.
For the real classic car enthusiast out there this June (11-14) saw the new open air car show at Parco del Valentino (www.parcovalentino.com), a popular public park in the city located on the west bank of Po river. Covering an area of 500,000 square metres it was the Italy’s first public garden.
Between 1935 and 1954 several now defunct paved street circuits held races in the park - including the 1948 Italian Grand Prix won by Jean-Pierre Wimille - and a member of the French Resistance in World War II. The official title given for each of the races was the Gran Premio del Valentino.
In contrast to traditional automobile shows with their usual captivating internal settings, the cars were displayed par excellence along the beautiful avenues of this park and drew inspiration from the exhibitions of the early 1900s. The show combined both minimalistic and modern design.
As for the cars - from 25 manufacturers from twelve designers – they included two world premieres. Entrance, which was free, made this an event usually aimed at enthusiasts and professionals an all-round celebration - so ensuring more exposure.
The 2015 Parc Valentino witnessed an opening parade on the Sunday (14 June) led by the Lancia D-50, winner of the last Gran Premio del Valentino in 1955. It was followed out in groups by Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Touring Superleggera, Jaguar, Pagani, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz amongst others.
Out a plethora of amazing cars on various podiums my eye caught a 2013 red Ferrari, which was dedicated to Sergio Pininfarina, the Italian automobile designer from Turin and who oversaw the designs for Ferrari that the prancing horse is famous. And, if you missed the event you can always attend next year's Parco Valentino Salone from 8-12 June.
When finally satiated with viewing all the grand cars and designs we head down a few lanes to the quaint L’idrovolante (hydro plane in English) restaurant (www.lidrovolante.it) nestled right on the banks of Po. It’s tranquil here and the food is excellent with specialities from land and sea - including sword fish rolls on a bed of creamed aubergine that I chose. Others might opt for their gnocchi with prawns and ginger scented chickpeas.
Whatever you do though don’t pass up the chance to sample some premium Menabrea beer (www.birramenabrea.com/en/home-en), which comes from Italy’s oldest brewery (1846) in Biella some forty miles north of Turin. With 160-plus years of brewing history and tradition it’s older than Peroni. The passion for brewing here is immense. Time permitting you could even pay a visit to the brewery’s atmospheric restaurant housed in a former stables building and bump into Franco Thedy, Menabrea's managing director and a fifth generation descendant of the founders. It’s well worth it.
- Roger Aitken is a London-based journalist and a contributor to Forbes Europe.