For those that follow the tourist trail through Italy – taking in Rome, Florence, Venice, and everywhere in between – arriving in Turin can be somewhat perplexing.
“What is there to do here?” a lost-looking Scandinavian asks The Local on a recent visit to the city.
But to dismiss Turin as the discarded lover of Fiat, an industrial powerhouse that has lost its way, is to risk missing out on one of Italy’s most vibrant cities.
“We could recall the city’s great urban transformation over the past few years; or the historical cafes, the beautiful squares, the rivers, the vast green spaces,” says councillor Maurizio Braccialarghe, trying to pin down what it is that attracts visitors to Turin.
Tasked with promoting the city, Braccialarghe waxes lyrical about the “extraordinary atmosphere” of often-overcast Turin. But his enthusiasm is supported by stats – more tourists visited Turin last year than when the city hosted the Winter Olympics in 2006.
Many come to visit a remarkable anomaly – the Egyptian Museum – which vies with its Cairo counterpart to claim the title of world’s largest collection of the country’s ancient history.
While Italy has no shortage of ancient artefacts of its own, the country has often come under criticism for poor museum management.
The well-curated Egyptian Museum has succeeded in bucking this trend and is set for an expansion next spring. When visited by The Local this autumn, the museum was packed with visitors, marvelling at the incredibly well-preserved “Book of the Dead” and rows of mummies.
Just a short walk away is one of Italy’s most striking landmarks – the Mole Antonelliana.
Designed as a synagogue in the 1860s – when Turin was Italy’s capital – the Mole now houses the national cinema museum.
Even for those that aren’t fanatic about film, this Turin hotspot rivals London’s Science Museum for its level of interactive fun. Adults put away their smartphones and play with toys, recreating the first steps of cinema. Children appear to have a nice time, too.
Turin will never be able to boast the collections held by the Vatican Museums of Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, but Braccialarghe is keen to point out other popular museums.
The Unification Museum cements the city’s place in the foundation of Italy, while the National Automobile Museum is a must for those who like to talk Ferraris and Fiats.
But without a famous list of “must see” sights, tourists in Turin can also enjoy a slower pace of travel.
Tour groups are bussed into the country’s first Eataly superstore, sampling some of the country’s famous foods before leaving with bags full of bottles and ingredients. Those looking for a more local experience head to Porta Palazzo, Europe’s largest outdoor food market which appears to have enough food for all of Italy.
While visitors are travelling to Turin in increasing numbers, the city still has a long way to go before it can rival the country’s capital. There were 4.3 million visitors to Turin’s Piedmont region in 2012; in the same year around 12 million tourists visited Rome.
Braccialarghe is aware there is still work to be done, promoting Turin nationally and internationally so that tourists see the city “as a city worthy of a great holiday”.
But based on his experience so far, he remains convinced tourists will soon be flocking to the city in even greater numbers. “The thing that strikes us the most is the enthusiasm and appreciation of those who come to our city and say; ‘I hadn’t thought Turin would be this beautiful’,” he says.