We arrived at the station knowing very little about
Turin other than that we were to spend the next few days with one of N’s friends who was in town for an exhibition. So with few expectations and a handful of spots to meet for a drink, we hopped on a tram to our next Airbnb on the other side of the River Po.
As a city with a heritage of industry – home to the factories of Fiat, Nutella and Martini – we quickly discovered that Turin, far from industrial, is actually a very beautiful and refined city with an elegant cafe culture and regal history.
Turin is Italy’s capital of the aperitivo: a bitter drink such as a spritz, negroni or prosecco
enjoyed with snacks intended to ‘open your stomach’ before dinner. Locals have indulged in this activity for over 200 years in the city’s grandiose cafes, paying no more than €10 for a drink and a bite to eat. We soon discovered that these early evening drinks are a great alternative to the formal evening meal, cafe hopping to try different buffets over a negroni. The Italians take pleasure in dressing up for aperitivo, so we donned our smartest outfits and wandered towards the heart of the city. We found the two most beautiful and historical spots under the arcades of Piazza San Carlo, where Caffe Torino is emblazoned with a neon Martini sign, glowing rosso under the buttery stone arches.
We soon discovered that cocktail hour in Turin goes beyond a drink and a few nibbles. We chose a table outside to make the most of the warm September evening, and the bow-tie-sporting waiter presented us with our drinks on a silver tray, followed by plate after plate of canapés, cured meats and thick slices of pecorino, and the most divinely gooey potato croquettes.
We savored our drinks over an hour as we flicked through the Wallpaper city guide, and devoured the snacks, which easily replaced dinner. The bill was €12.
At the other end of the arcade, the San Carlo is one of the most opulent cafes in the city,
and their aperitivo offering is equally sumptuous. Dating back to 1822, the cafe is adorned with glittering chandeliers, gilded mirrors and marble tables. The staff were smart and courteous, not treating us not like tourists and instead like valued guests. It was wonderful. Slightly more pricey than the former, but certainly worth it for the fabulous setting. The next day was filled with exploring, from the Fiat Factory and Eataly at Lingotto, to the brutalist Museum of Contemporary Art and a ‘slow food’ market stretching through the city’s main high street. We sat down at Cianci Piola Cafè for a hearty lunch. Silky piles of twisted tagliatelle, followed by coniglio al limone washed down with a carafe of plump red wine, then coffee and cantucci – sweet almond biscuits. Our table was shared by a gentleman whose newspaper covered his face for most of the meal. Later, we joined friends, and headed to the river for early evening aperitivo.
En route, we came across a stunning 18th century palazzo called Floris House.
The building is now home to a beautiful shop, overflowing with perfumes, candles, flowers and accessories, and, tucked in the back, a cocktail bar. The friendly waiter seated us outside, and presented us with veritable fish bowls of aperol spritz laden with fresh berries, slices of citrus fruit and clinking ice, followed by two cake stands overflowing with fancy canapés and little hors d’ouevres.
We continued to the river, passing vans bursting with flowers and stylish locals busting towards the city for aperitivo towards the glittering water at the end of the street. The sun set behind the grand bridges of the Po, leaving behind the soft light of early evening: prima sera.
Back in England and dreaming of warm evening aperitivo, we have been recreating the joy of this after-work ritual. We invested in oversized wine glasses to furnish with ice-cold Campari Spritz and wooden platters to laden with meats, cheese and tangy tomato-topped bruschetta, appreciating the good company of family and old friends to share it with. Although distinctly lacking in warm balmy evenings and Italians in tuxedos, it’s a special time to stop and relax before dinner that is completely ours.