ELISABETH BARBIER’S TURIN, ITALY
Turin is undoubtedly the least known of Italy’s major cities, the one that has been largely overlooked on the tourist circuit. It may not have the bling-chic of Milan, the monuments of Rome or the joyful frenzy of Naples, and it is often imagined as being cold, industrial and grey. The proof may be that it doesn’t attract the hordes of tourists you see everywhere else in Italy. But what a mistake: Turin is undoubtedly Italy’s best-kept secret! With a prestigious past and a lifestyle, bot gastronomic and cultural, praising a certain slowness, it’s a city full of treasures that offers even the most jaded visitor a warm welcome and refinement, far removed from the bling-bling and hustle and bustle of its fellow cities. Elisabeth Barbier, co-founder of Loc’Hall, is a keen traveller, equally at home in urban environments or on expeditions to the remotest corners of the planet. She has made this city one of her favourite, a love at first sight that has lasted for many years and whose magic is renewed with each visit. For us, she opens her precious Turin address book, where every visit invariably begins with a ‘colazione al bar’ in one of the mythical caffè of this beautiful northern Italian city.
A VOCATION THROUGH BEAUTY
Elisabeth Barbier is a traveller, in the noblest sense of the word, as much at home in Iran or deep in Ladakh trekking through the mountains with her tribe, strolling through markets, meeting the locals… as she is with her nose to the wind in Europe’s major capitals, sniffing out the zeitgeist, unearthing nuggets, confidential places, charming addresses, cultural sites overlooked in tourist guides, restaurants that are not yet fashionable. She has turned this curiosity and ability to find the best-kept secrets of cities into a profession, co-founding Loc’Hall, which unearths the most beautiful places in France’s heritage – museums, châteaux, abbeys and private mansions – some of which are inaccessible to the general public, to offer, exclusively to companies, totally original venues for business dinners, evenings, meetings, conferences and magical seminars.
A lifelong lover of beauty, culture and history, she has a long-standing passion for Italy, and as she began her career in perfume creation, notably for Italian luxury and fashion brands, she knows all about trips lasting a few days and departing on a whim. And for Elisabeth, Turin is Italy just around the corner, almost literally. She lives 2 steps from the Gare de Lyon in Paris, from which she can be in the centre of the city in 5 and 1/2 hours door-to-door, the shortest route to her beloved country.
DISCOVERING THE TURIN WHERE MOZART ONCE LIVED
The memories of her first visit to the city are of one August, a quick stopover on the way to somewhere else, an old, slightly decrepit hotel, a sumptuous ballroom, and Mozart who had passed through. There was also the almost guilty pleasure of a series broadcast mid-day on French television, Elisa di Rivombrosa, which she had discovered when she had just given birth. A romantic saga set in the 18th century in the then Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, to which Turin was attached, the series was a marvellous depiction of the splendour and beauty of the aristocratic city, capital of a Kingdom at the heart of Italy’s turbulent history.
From its rich history, Turin retains the splendour of beautiful palaces and sumptuous villas, a refined art of living, architecture that gives pride of place to Baroque and Art Nouveau, a patina that time has not altered. This is not a city that can be seen at first glance like other beautiful Italian cities. You need to be curious, push open doors, walk around and talk to the locals to discover its treasures. That’s what Elisabeth loves, those secrets that aren’t so easily revealed, that don’t appear in guidebooks. Vineyards in the middle of the city, decrepit facades that don’t reveal the incredible grandeur of their interiors, villas that you can visit on your own, with no tourists in sight.
Turin is also a city where you can eat marvelously, in a country that has made gastronomy a lifestyle in its own right. It was in Turin that the Slow Food movement took root, declaring war on fast food, and it was also here that Eataly, the fabulous chain that drew inspiration from this movement to open 37 locations around the world dedicated to Italian gastronomy, opened its first store. For Elisabeth, Turin means the pleasure of unpretentious restaurants where the love for the ingredients is reflected in the plate, and it also means, above all, these historic caffè from the middle of the 19th century, with waiters in white jackets and red velvet benches where you can drink an incredibly thick chocolate, or in its local version, the Bicerin, a mixture of espresso coffee, chocolate and cream.
ELISABETH’S ADDRESSES IN TURIN
A little out of the way, you need to book 2 or 3 days in advance.
A family-run restaurant since 1927, its cuisine is superb in its simplicity.
Discovered by chance, a very nice surprise: beautiful zinc and industrial decoration, excellent dishes and a very good choice of wines.
One of the oldest restaurants in Turin, with typical Piedmont dishes.
Europe’s largest market, has occupied almost the entire Piazza della Repubblica for over a century.
A favourite, Pescheria Gallina
The best fishmonger in town, offering a few dishes (with wine) to enjoy on the go or on the mini terrace in the sun. The food is excellent, very fresh and the welcome is charming. Only open for lunch.
An institution since 1757, chic and expensive, one Michelin star and sumptuous historic decor. The weekday lunch menu is more affordable (€40) and breakfast is also available.
A younger and trendier dining restaurant, Napples Pizzeria with excellent Neapolitan pizzas in a superb industrial decor.
GOURMANDISES: A must in Turin are the historic cafés for a cappuccino con brioche in the morning, a hot chocolate in the middle of the afternoon or an aperitivo at the end of the day.
Caffè Barattti et Milano My favourite for its wonderful, almost Viennese decor. Incredible hot chocolate, excellent pastries and the famous Gianduiotti.
Very small, renowned for its aperitivo overlooking the piazza.
Superb Belle Epoque decoration.
On the very aristocratic piazza San Carlo
, there are 3 more or less hidden under the arcades: The San Carlo, once again beautifully decorated inside and with a superb terrace overlooking the square, a rather chic spot, a Mecca for political and literary debate in the 19th century and a symbol of the fight for the unification of Italy; The Caffè Torino, right next to the famous giant illuminated MARTINI sign, with a small terrace inside and several lounges inside; The Caffè Stratta with its wood panelling and counters filled with multicoloured sweets.
And of course, the Caffè Bicerin where you absolutely must try the Bicerin, a drink known since the 18th century made from espresso, hot chocolate and cream served in a glass.
Another must-see is EATALY Turin, the historic birthplace of this fabulous chain that offers the best of Italy, and even though there are now a number of them in different parts of the city, you have to visit the original shop at Lingotto and take the opportunity to visit the pinacoteca Agnelli and possibly the car museum.
Of course, there’s the Palazzo Reale, the Mole Antonella and the Egyptian Museum in the centre of Turin.
For a tour of “Baroque Turin in the time of the Savoys”: The Veneria Reale the Versailles of Turin, magnificent, superb exhibitions and a very educational section on the Savoy dynasty if you are interested in history.
gmagnificent Baroque architecture and splendid views over the city with the Alps in the background. Don’t miss the monument at the back in memory of the plane crash that took the lives of the entire Torino football team (Juventus’ great rivals) in 1949… moving even if you’re not a particular football fan.
My favourite Villa Della Regina
on the Capuchin hill a pure Baroque jewel, a small palazzo with a dazzling interior decoration, a magnificent garden and a superb view of the city … and what’s more there are very few people. On the way down you can take a tour of the Monte dei Cappuccini and why not visit the superb Museum of the Mountain just next door.
built in a 19th-century villa on the River Po, the last secret home of architect Carlo Mollino (by reservation only).
and its beautiful gardens.
3 boutiques I love: Bagni Paloma
superbe fashion selection; Verdelilla
Italian chic; and Fané for vintage and decoration.