Turin: the alternative Italian city break

by Charlotte22

Turin may not have the ruins of Rome or the canals of Venice, but it more than makes up for that with chocolate, mountains and The Italian Job

If, like me, you like your holidays to include good food and a dose of the mountains, consider adding the often forgotten Italian city of Turin to your to-visit list. The mountains are clearly visible from this chocolate-laden city, the gateway to the French and Italian Alps.

The original version of The Italian Job was filmed here, so we started our visit with a tour of the sights where the movie was set. Conduct your own Italian Job tour by beginning at the Gran Madre di Dio, the imposing church next to the river Po, and marvel at how they managed to drive the Minis down the face of it. Then cross town to the Fiat Lingotto, the former Fiat factory where the Minis careered round the track on the roof. You can no longer drive round it - it's far too dangerous - but you can enjoy a jog round the track. Or, if that's too energetic, the factory is also now home to Le Meridien Lingotto, one of the plushest hotels in the city. Designed and decorated by renowned architect Renzo Piano, the former factory now has its own art gallery, shopping arcade and helicopter pad, plus huge rooms with floor-to-ceiling views of the Alps.

If you'd rather stay in town, the Grand Hotel Sitea has a central location behind the Piazza San Carlo and friendly staff who can help you make the most of your time in the city. This modern hotel is perfectly placed to rest your full belly after a day enjoying the delights of Italian food.

Also in town, you can't miss the Mole Antonelliana – its spire reaches high above the city and as well as hosting a cinematic museum it also has a panoramic lift that you can take to the top to enjoy amazing views over Turin and across to the Alps. Entry is €6.80 including the lift; visit www.museonazionaledelcinema.it for more information.

Turin is famous for its chocolate, and they'll even tell you it was invented here. One thing that was definitely invented here is Nutella, and you'll find the gooey hazelnut spread, and its velvety soft precursor (the gold-wrapped triangular Gianduiotti chocolates), everywhere in the city.

If you visit around Easter you may be lucky enough to experience the Turin Chocolate Festival (visit www.cioccola-to.it for 2011 dates). We stuffed our bellies with countless free chocolate samples of every variety – from chocolate pasta and 80 per cent cocoa blends to warming chocolate liqueur. The rest of the year you can buy the Turin Chocopass (book online at turismotorino.org) and for as little as €10 you can enjoy up to 23 chocolate tastings, or simply wander round town and conduct your own chocolate tour. Highly recommended is the hot chocolate drink Bicerin, which is akin to drinking liquid chocolate - heavenly. Try Mama Cacoa on Piazza Solferino for cinnamon and orange chocolate varieties.

For a cheap but yummy feed at night-time, hit the bars. Aperitivo, as they call it in Italy, is what we might call a buffet – Italian style. Instead of paying for food, you buy one drink and are granted a free rein on the buffet. This is a great way to sample a range of Italian food, as well as all the usual suspects – pizza, pasta and, of course, Nutella. The drinks are expensive (about €7 no matter what you have), so eat your fill of the buffet then move on to a bar for cheaper drinks. Aperitivo hour begins at six and extends into the night. Café Gabetti (on the corner of Corso Regina Margherita and Via Gabetti) has a amazing selection of food, and you can even cook your own meat on the grill. Or try Obelix (Via Garibaldi), which specialises in seafood aperitifs.

And so to the mountains... We hired a car to drive up, but take some spare change and keep your wits about you, as the route has several toll roads and plenty of hairpin bends. In the summer you can hike, mountain bike or try white water rafting, but we visited in winter to enjoy the ski slopes that hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics. We crossed the border into France and spent a glorious day snowboarding in the sun at the Montgenèvre ski resort, an easy day trip at just 40 minutes' drive from the city. If you prefer football to extreme sports, stay in the city and take a trip to the impressive Juventus stadium. Visit www.juventus.com to find out the latest fixtures of this world-renowned football team.

Turin doesn't suffer from crowds in the same way as Rome and Florence, but it will be swelteringly hot in the summer, so your best bets are spring, winter and autumn. The ski season at the nearby resorts runs from December to March, and we found the combination of snow, sun and chocolate in late March a perfect one. It's also worth noting that many shops and attractions are closed on a Monday – so bear this in mind if you want to extend your weekend break.