Virginia is right. She did have to (practically) drag me kicking and screaming into the cab as we left Barcelona to continue our chocolat-tour. I really loved that city and didn’t want to leave the W! (What a hotel!) But we both knew we had many more good times to experience, and much more fantastic chocolate to taste and analyze as we continued the research for my upcoming book, Chocolatour. Once enroute to the train station, I slowly turned my attention to our next destination: Torino/Turin, in northern Italy.

we found it quite pleasant riding the trains in Italy

We had an overnight train ride to Turin, and arrived there after breakfast — just in time for our first day of touring. (Our guide was unaware of our delayed arrival and was waiting for us in the lobby of the NH Ambasciatori Hotel, as we arrived.) The hotel is conveniently located in the business district of the city and a short walk from the Gallery of Contemporary Modern Art.

Known in Europe as Torino, and to English speaking North Americans as Turin, this Italian city is a must for any chocolate lover, and anyone who has a great appreciation for history and architecture. I didn’t know what to expect other than what I had seen on television during the 2006 Winter Olympics: Torino is situated close to the Alps and has a semi-alpine persona. Our visit was at the end of September, so the weather was slightly cool (a light jacket was necessary for the mornings, but the afternoons warmed up nicely.)

The city proper has just under 1 million residents, and has a population of 2.2 million if you include the entire metropolitan area. It didn’t feel that big to me. What did feel big was its sense of humble pride. (I hope that’s not an oxymoron, but to me, it means being proud without shoving it in your face.)

Turin was Italy’s first capital city (losing its capital standing in 1864) and boasts the country’s third strongest economy, after Rome and Milan. Local literature tells me that the per capita income for the Piedmont (Piemonte) region of northwestern Italy is 20% higher than the European average. Torino is the capital of the Piedmont region, so for the most part, its citizens are enjoying a very good standard of living.

Overall, I found Torino to be a prosperous Italian city and a very pleasant place to be. It is quite clean and safe, is relatively easy to navigate, and has good public transportation. Its people are friendly and don’t seem as stressed out (rushed) as I have seen in other European capitals. English is spoken and understood by the young. Not so much by anyone over 40. In fact, the use of English was diminishing in our travels. Common in Amsterdam, less so in Barcelona, and even less so throughout Italy.

the entrance to the Royal Palace in Torino

The evidence of past glory is prevalent in Torino, with a royal palace, many ornate churches and monuments to behold. In some ways, it reminded me of our visit to Brussels. There is an unstated sense of modesty — a quiet calm, that sometimes leaves it unnoticed by travellers looking for a more showy, flashy or boastful city.

We enjoyed our two days in Turin under the wing of our most knowledgeable guide, Antonella Viano, whose stamina and brisk walking pace sometimes left me wishing I was 10 years younger — or that at least I was wearing track shoes!  Our first day was spent touring churches and briskly walking the streets looking at the architecture. It was the next day, that we slowed down and walked along the beautiful River Po, strolled through the Parc Valentino along its banks, and then met a selection of amazing chocolate makers. Let’s just say Day 2 was much more to my liking than Day 1!

the beautiful River Po

Tune into the blog during the week of January 3rd for more on that. In the interim, if you’re looking for more info on Turin, visit Piedmont’s official tourism website.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and that you will welcome 2011 with exuberance. I hear it’s going to be a really great year!

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