Turin seems to be a paradox. Whilst possessing over 10 miles of pedestrianised arcades (the largest area in Europe) through which to wander and enjoys its beautiful shops, cafes and restaurants, it is also home to Fiat and some of the worst air pollution in Europe.
The most striking feature of the city is the vast array of linear arcades offering perfect protection from the elements. They look particularly appealing at night.
What adds a strongly retro flavour to some of the arcades is the presence of neon lights.
Of course being Italy, and Turin being the home of Lavazza coffee, it is not surprising the city has a wealth of wonderful historic cafes. We regularly punctuated our exploration of the city in order to venture beyond the stylish cafe facades to get our next shot of caffeine. Standing at the counter and watching the barista effortlessly serve up your next perfect espresso is one of the great joys of being in Italy.
The latter cafe doubles as a gelateria or ice cream cafe, and most of the cafes serve decent food, which is no surprise given Turin’s high culinary status.
Another historical claim for Turin is that it saw the birth of the Italian film industry. Today film culture is especially celebrated in the National Museum of Cinema housed inside the majestic Mole Antonelliana tower.
Inside, there is an interesting mix of displays with the strongest emphasis given to the Italian neo-realist movement of the late 1940s which featured such powerful films as Bicycle Thieves and Rome, Open City.
Elsewhere in Turin we came across some contrasting cinemas varying from the 1934 art deco classic, the Lux, to the 1958 Cinema Romano, the first officially recognised art house cinema in Italy, and the more contemporary art house cinema, Cinema Centrale.
Turin featured very strongly in the 1969 British cult film, The Italian Job, which included scenes in the city centre’s streets and most famously the rooftop test circuit of the Fiat Lingotto Factory.
The factory closed in 1982, but the unusual structure towering over the track contains an art gallery designed to showcase the personal art collection of the late Gianni Agnelli, formerly head of Fiat.
The factory itself also underwent a conversion to a shopping centre, offices, etc. The whole Lingotto redesign was overseen by Renzo Piano, the architect responsible for the controversial Shard building in London, Europe’s tallest building to date. The rampart used to enable cars to gain access to the roof is still evident next to the shopping centre.
To get to Lingotto, we travelled on the latest section of the Turin metro network opened in 2011.
It would seem that more investment in public transport is needed in Turin to help offset the pollution which was very evident during our stay.
Earlier in December, the city made all public transport free to try and reduce the dangerous levels of pollution recorded in the city. It would seem that Turin’s prosperity based on the success of car production is now literally contributing to the choking to death of its citizens. It was sad to discover its once great tram network criss crossing the city has been reduced to just six routes. It seems not enough Italians can forgo their love of cars.