November 2020: Italian Impressionists, Van Gogh, world largest maze and a weekend in Turin

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Exhibitions in Italy in November:

Exhibitions in Italy in November:

The Macchiaiolli:  Masterpieces from the Italian Unification.  Palazzo Zabarella, Padua; 3 December to 18 April, 2021; www.zabarella.it/en/.  The Macchiaolli were a group of Italian painters active in Tuscany in the second half of the nineteenth century. They strayed from antiquated conventions taught by the Italian art academies, and did much of their painting outdoors in order to capture natural light, shade, and colour. Their practice was related to the French Impressionists who came to prominence a few years later.  This exhibition presents over one hundred paintings by these much loved artists.

Van Gogh, Monet, Degas:  The Mellon Collection of French Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.  Palazzo Zabarella, Padua; 3 Dember to 11 April, 2021; www.zabarella.it/en/exhibitions/van-gogh-monet-degas.  The Palazzo Zabarella will also be acting as the exclusive host in Italy for over seventy masterpieces by Edgar Degas, Eugène Delacroix, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and others, celebrating Paul and Rachel ‘Bunny’ Lambert Mellon, two of the most important and refined patrons of the arts of the twentieth century.  It covers a period from the mid-nineteenth century to the opening years of the twentieth, bridging the era that stretches from Romanticism to that of Cubism.

Frida Kahlo:  The Chaos Within.  Fabbrica del Vapore, Milano; 3 December to 28 March 2021; https://mostrafridakahlo.it/  There is no doubt that Frida Kahlo is a central figure of Mexican art, as well as the most famous Latin American painter of the twentieth century. With her husband Diego Rivera, one of the most important muralists in Mexico, they form one of the most emblematic couples in the history of world art.  Complimented with multimedia technology, this marvellous exhibition is a journey into Mexico and the world of Frida Kahlo.

Events in Italy in November:

Events in Italy in November:

The Mason’s Labyrinth of Franco Maria Ricci; Fontanello (Parma); www.labirintodifrancomariaricci.it/en/labirinto-masone/home-en/  Franco Maria Ricci was one of Italy’s most celebrated publishers, friend and collaborator with the likes of Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco.  Inspired by the passion his friend Jorge Luis Borges (the Argentinian author) had for mazes, Ricci created the world’s largest maze near Parma. It is now opened to the public daily.  The splendid estate also includes a museum displaying Ricci rich art collection and a library displaying his extensive collection of books.  There is also an a café and an excellent bistro.

Family home movies online, www.homemovies.it/memoryscapes.  Memoryscapes of Home Movies is the National Italian Archive of family home movies, a collection of over thirty thousand of amateur home movies shot between the 1920s and the 1980s shot in a variety of formats from Super 8 to 16 mm.  Some in black and white in colour they record Italian daily life from days on the beach to picnics in the country; from walks in the mountains to the Giro d’Italia.  They are group in two sections: Lungo la Via Emilia (which show life in central Italy) and Cartoline Italiane (Italian Postcards).  Click on the link and explore.

Hidden Italy Weekend: Turin, my favourite city in Italy (for now)

Hidden Italy Weekend: Turin, my favourite city in Italy (for now)

If I was able to spend next week in any Italian city, I would choose Torino (www.turismotorino.org/en).  I love this northern city for many reasons.  It is a beautiful city: once a grim industrial place, with FIAT moving production off-shore, Turin has been reborn, sprucing up the many vestiges of its glory days as the seat of the Dukes of Savoy and reinventing itself as a city of design, art, culture, start-ups and museums.

Turin has a striking setting, surrounded by the snow-covered peaks of the Alps.  It’s a culinary and wine centre, with a Gallic twist (the French border is only eighty kilometres to the east).  But best of all, it’s not a tourist city: the locals are famously hard-working and reserved, you are considered an incidental guest not a nuisance, and you can enjoy the daily life as goes on around you.

The centre of Turin is small and well-organised, worthwhile even for a day trip, but there is much to see and enjoy in and around the city that you could easily spend a week exploring.  We’ve tried to reduce it to a weekend, but, once we are able to travel again, see if you can’t stay a bit longer!

How to get there:

By car:  many freeways lead to Turin:  the A32 from France; A5 from Switzerland; A4 from Milan and Venice; A6 from Liguria and southern France; and the A21 from central and southern Italy.  They all have turn-offs onto the A55, the ring road that circles the city.  To reach the city centre, take the exit for Corso Regina Margherita in the north or the exit for Corso Allamano in the south.  By rail:  Turin has two main stations, both within walking distance of the historic centre.  Porta Nuova is the main hub connecting the city to the other Italian cities and the European capitals.  The city centre is a ten-minute walk straight up Via Roma from here.  Porta Susa is smaller and traditionally more connected to France.  It’s a ten to fifteen-minute walk from the centre.  By air:  Torino Caselle is the local airport, thirty-minutes drive from the centre.  Milano Malpensa airport is connected with regular shuttles to the centre of Turin, which take around two hours.

Where to stay:

Townhouse 70 (Via XX Settembre).  This boutique 4-star hotel close to the Royal Palace in the centre of the city has a contemporary style within an historic building, elegant and discrete.  Its room are large and quiet.  Double from 130 euro.

NH Collection Piazza Carlina (Piazza Carlo Emanuele II).  Set in a restored 17th century palazzo, this 4-star hotel has a cool, minimalist interior.  It has a terrace with garden, a cocktail bar and a very good restaurant.  Double from 169 euro.

Dogana Vecchia (Via Corte d’Appello 4).  Possibly the oldest hotel in Turin, this 3-star hotel has been operating since the early 1700s.  It has 58 comfortable rooms.  Double from 75 euro.

B&B Magazzini San Domenico (Via San Domenico).  This elegant B&B is set in an 18th palazzo in the funky ‘Quadrilatero’ area.  It has six rooms and a common room.  Doubles from 100 euro.

Where to eat:

Consorzio (Via Monte di Pieta).  A modern interpretation of a traditional ‘osteria’ that has been a great success and requires booking well in advance.  It has a simple and welcoming atmosphere and serves contemporary versions of local classics:  tajarin (fine strip pasta) with lambs brain and black truffle; agnolotti (a small version of ravioli) filled with veal; pork cheeks with calamari; deep fried anchovies.  From 40 euro per person.

Ristorante del Cambio (Piazza Carignano).  An historic restaurant (creaking parquet floors, chandeliers and linen) that is one of the oldest in town.  It's elegant but very welcoming and is an institution of Italian dining.  Completely renovated two years ago, it is now under the command of Michelin-starred chef Matteo Baronetto.  Degustation menu 105 euro per person.

Le Tre Galline (Via Bellezia).  Close to one of the city’s busiest markets, this timber-lined restaurant is probably the oldest in town and serves a compendium of traditional Torinese and Piedmontese cuisine (which can be a bit of a challenge to the uninitiated): ‘bollito’, a pot of boiled meat offcuts served at the table with a green or red sauce; ‘brasato’, beef braised in Barolo red wine; ‘finanziera’, same type of ingredients as ‘bollito’ but generally fried (rooster crest and liver are essential).  They also have a marvellous cheese cart.  Dinner from 50 euro.

Osteria Antiche Sere (Via Cenischia, Borgo San Paolo).  This marvellous traditional ‘piola’ (an old-school café where wine is sipped and cards played) is a bit out of the centre but well-worth the effort.  Classic dishes in a lovely atmosphere: vitello tonnato, insalata russa; sliced tongue with green sauce; tajarin with porcini mushrooms; agnolotti with roast sauce; rabbit cooked in white wine; tripe; and, to finish, bunet, the classic Piedmontese sweet: a dense chocolate dessert.

What to do:

Friday evening:

Check into your hotel.  Take a walk outside for an aperitivo and dinner.

Saturday morning: explore the centre of the city:

Walk up Via Roma, starting at the Porta Nuova railway station end.  This elegant, arcaded street was refashioned in the 1930’s under the Fascist regime.  It is one of the principle shopping streets in the city, the stores getting more elegant as you get closer to Piazza Castello.

On the way, you past through the very gracious Piazza San Carol, with its twin churches and an equestrian statue of one of the Dukes of Savoy in full battle-cry in the middle.  You will find here several of Turin’s famous historic cafes including Café San Carlo and Café Torino, both of which date from the early 19th century.  Other sights around the square include Cioccolateria Stratta (a chocolate and lolly maker since 1836) and Paissa (a rather snobby delicatessen that has been serving the good burghers of Turin since the mid-1800s).

Via Roma finishes at Piazza Castello, the geographical and historic heart of the city.  On the right (at the head of Via Po) is the marvellous Palazzo Madama, a medieval castle (incorporating a fortified gate from Roman times) that has been much modified over the centuries.  It is now the seat of the Civic Museum of Ancient Art (www.palazzomadamatorino.it/en)

In front of you, at the northern end of the square behind wrought iron gates, is the impressive Royal Palace.  It was for many centuries the home of the Dukes of Savoy, who became the kings of united Italy in 1860 and were sent into indefinite exile in 1946 because of their association with Mussolini and the Fascist regime. It is now the home of the Galleria Sabauda, one of the largest and most comprehensive museums and art galleries in Italy.

I’d suggest saving visiting these very interesting and extensive museums for the afternoon or Sunday and continuing to get to know the city centre by walking through the bronze gates of the palace, crossing the vast courtyard and then taking a small walkway under the palace to the square on the western side of the palace.

As you will see from the archaeological sites around you, you are now standing on the edge of the Quadrilatero, the narrow streets and squares follow the lines of the original Roman town.  It’s a funky area – apartments, bijou shops, art galleries, bars and small restaurants.  Before you go exploring turn around.  Behind you are the stairs of Turin’s cathedral, the home of the most famous relic in Christendom: the Shroud of Turin.  Not much to see but worth a quick visit.

Apart from its picturesque streets, the Quadrilatero has one of the most charming corners in the city: Piazza della Consolata.  It’s dominated by a fabulous Baroque church (La Consolata) opposite which is my favourite café: the tiny Al Bicerin, which opened in 1763 and has, apparently, only ever been run by women.  It is the home of one of the city’s great treats: bicerin: coffee, hot chocolate and fresh cream, layered not stirred.  Grab a chair outside and watch life go by.

From here you can walk down to Via Garibaldi, the longest pedestrian street in Europe which takes you back to Piazza Castello.

Saturday afternoon:

After lunch in one of the wonderful historic cafes in the area (eg Baratti & Milano or Mulassano) walk down Via Po which joins Piazza Castello to the River Po.  After for a short way, turn left and visit the Mole Antonelliano, the unusual spiked tower that dominants the inner-city’s skyline (www.moleantonellianatorino.it).  It was built in the mid-19th century, a heroic piece of engineering.  There are two reasons to visit the Mole.   Firstly, the excellent and innovative cinema museum which fills its bell-like interior.  Secondly, the views.  Take the elevator to the top of the tower and enjoy the extraordinary panorama over the city, plains and the spectacular Alps, in the not so distance.

Afterwards, continue walking down the lovely Via Po, which  has arcades on either side, filled with bookshops, second hand stalls and coffee shops.  It finishes in Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the largest square in the city and the most lively, which is lined open air cafes and restaurants.  A great place for an aperitivo before dinner.

Saturday evening:

I would suggest having dinner at one of the historic restaurants.  If you have the wherewithall, put on your glad-rags and head for the Ristorante del Cambio for a special treat.

Sunday morning:  fine food and art at the Lingotto

One of the most fascinating institutions in Turin is the Lingotto, a fabulous example of industrial archaeology which is a twenty-minute walk or a short taxi ride south from the centre.  Admired by Le Corbusier, this extraordinary complex was built in the 1920s as FIAT’s main car factory, an enormous lingot shaped building complete with an elliptical racetrack on the roof to test the finished vehicles.

Decommissioned in the 1990s and converted by Renzo Piano into a hotel/congress centre, shopping centre, cinema and culinary centre.

Apart from admiring the building, the two main reasons for going there.  The first reason to visit ic the marvellous Agnelli Gallery, a small butexquisite collection of works by Canova, Matisse, Picasso, Manet and Modgiliani amongst others (www.pinacoteca-agnelli.it/visit/).  The gallery sits on top of the roof over looking the racetrack and has wonderful views across to the mountains.

The second reason to visit is that the Lingotto is the food.  The Lingotto is the home to one of the largest branches of Eataly food emporiums, which includes a vast market and shops were you can buy the very finest that Italy.  There is an excellent cafe, a modern pasta and pizza trattoria, a wine bar and a Michelin-starred restaurant (www.eataly.net/it_en/stores/turin-lingotto/).  What better way to pass a Sunday morning?

Sunday afternoon: squeeze in a visit to one of the city’s fine museums

After a light lunch at the LIngotto, I would suggest visiting some of the city’s museums this afternoon.  The complex of museums and galleries that are held in the palaces that surround Piazza Castello are known collectively as the Royal Museums (www.museireali.beniculturali.it).

The place to start is the Royal Palace itself, the home for many centuries of the Savoy dynasty.  The tour visits sumptuous galleries and private apartments, the reception rooms and the dining rooms.  From here you lead into the Royal Armory and the Royal Library, which includes among many other things, Leonardo da Vinci’s celebrated self-portrait as an old man.

The next stop is the Galleria Sabauda (Savoy Gallery) in the recently restored new wing, which holds the Savoys’ private art collection, including works by Mantegna, Van Dyck, Rubens, Reni and Gentileschi.  Behind the palace is the also recently restored Royal Gardens, which was laid out by the architect of the gardens of Versailles.

Another one of the star turns of which the city is most proud is their Egyptian museum.  It is said that this museum’s collection is second only to that of the museum in Cairo (something the English might challenge).  Classifications aside, it is a magnificent museum to ancient Egypt.  It is a collection built over two hundred and fifty years by the Savoy dukes, the first piece arriving in 1630.

In response to Covid 19, the museum (and all galleries) are closed until 3 December.  The director, though, has prepared a guided tour through the museum.  It is all in Italian but marvellous all the same: www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-QxzdwQnQo&list=PLg2dFdDRRClGtp33i7xqUwFO82TEVnMz2

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August 2021: Impressionists, Damin Hirst and a weekend cycling around the heel of Italy

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