Literary City Guide | TURIN, ITALY


Dressed as a Jesuit, and mischievously enjoying the curiosity I aroused, I arrived at Caffè Al Bicerin, close to the Sanctuary of the Consolata, to taste their milk, fragrant with cocoa, coffee and other flavors, served in a glass with a metal holder and handle ... It was a magnificent place, with its wrought-iron front edged by advertising panels, its cast iron columns and capitals and, inside, wooden boiseries decorated with mirrors, marble-topped tables and behind the counter, almond-scented jars with forty different types of confections.
— Umberto Eco

Tour Guide: ROSEMARIE SCAVO

Rosemarie is an Australian food writer and photographer who offers cooking classes to locals and visitors from her home in Turin. She shares her passion for Italian cooking and food history on her blog, Turin Mamma, and on social media, where you can find her as @turinmamma. (Photos by Rosemarie Scavo.)

Literary City Guide to Turin, Italy

Q&A

Relationship to Turin: I'm originally from Sydney, Australia and I always dreamed of making my way to Europe. I first went to France, then the UK and finally, the land of my ancestry, Italy, to teach English. By chance, I ended up in the hidden Baroque gem that is Turin 10 years ago. I soon began to feel the same way German philosopher Friedrich Nietsczche did after living in the city in the late 19th century. In a letter to a friend in 1888, he wrote: "Turin is not a place you can leave." 

I fell in love with so many things about the city:  a local man (now my husband and father to our three-and-a-half year old daughter), its ornate architecture, porticoes and wide, tree-lined boulevards, reminiscent of a town or city in neighboring France. And of course, there were the city's open neighborhood markets and its food, which I now write about regularly on my blog. 

Writer you’d like to invite to dinner: Could I bring Pellegrino Artusi, author of seminal Italian cookbook Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well back to life for one evening? I'm sure he'd be very charming company and have many an anecdote to share about the food and dishes being prepared. 

Chef you’d like to prepare the meal: His cook/housekeeper, Marietta, who tested all the recipes in his book. I love restaurants but my true love is home cooking.

Writing soundtrack: I need silence to write. 

Pen or Pencil: f I answered this question a couple of years ago, I would definitely say pencil. It's much easier for corrections and rephrasing of first drafts. I'm sad to say though that in this digital age my writing tool of choice is increasingly becoming a keyboard. 

Coffee or Tea? Coffee, except when I’m sick. In that case, I’ll reach out for loose leaf English Breakfast Tea or make myself a tisane infused with lemon and sage. 

Paperback or Hardback? Hardback for cookbooks but without those annoying dustcovers! Paperback for all other genres.


Good Reads


BOOKSTORES

Libreria Internazionale Luxemburg. Open since 1872, this bookstore draws lots of readers into its doors thanks to a well-stocked English-language and international section of books and magazines. Also notable for its Travel and Jewish sections. 

La Bussola. Located on porticoed Via Po, my pick for whenever you're desperately on the lookout for that rare or out-of-print book. Friendly staff who will go out of their way to accommodate your unusual requests. 

Libreria Mercurio. Another lovely independent bookstore on Via Po. Highlights include extensive children's literature, art, and photography sections. 

Mood Libri e Caffè. Italians generally drink coffee standing up at the counter and aren't really into sitting for hours in cafès reading and studying as is often done in Anglophone countries. This bookstore, however, is one of the few places in Turin, where students and avid readers can indulge in this pastime without raising local eyebrows.

Caffè Sourire. It's actually more cafè than bookstore but here's another place where you can combine leisurely reading and coffee. Do have a wander around afterwards along tree-lined Corso Francia and the backstreets to admire some of the Liberty buildings typical of the surrounding neighborhoods, Cit Turin and San Donato.

LIBRARIES

Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria di Torino. Founded in 1720 by Vittorio Amedeo II, the National University Library in Piazza Carlo Alberto survived a fire in 1904 and was almost completely destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. Rebuilt between 1958 and 1973, the library is now home to over 763 833 books, 1,095 periodicals and 1,600 incunabula.

Biblioteca Reale di Torino. Located under the porticos of Piazza Castello, the Royal Library of Turin was founded by Carlo Alberto in 1831. Home to over 200 000 works, the library is best known for being the custodian of Leonardo da Vinci's self-portrait. 

Biblioteca Civica Centrale. My husband's library of choice when completing his thesis at university. One of the many civic libraries managed by the Comune di Torino.

READINGS & CONFERENCES

Salone Internazionale del Libro. Italy's largest trade fair for books, held annually in mid-May at Lingotto Fiere. Writers, publishers and readers all come together in this enormous exhibition space for book presentations, discussions and readings. 

Il Circolo dei Lettori. A very special public space in Turin, in stunning Palazzo Graneri della Roccia, dedicated to reading and literature. Il Circolo dei Lettori (The Readers' Circle) offers a vast array of events, including courses, workshops, reading groups, book signings and author talks.

Portici di Carta. Turin's porticoes are home to many vendors of secondhand books. In homage to this long-standing tradition, those very porticoes are converted into 'the world's longest bookstore' one weekend in October. A series of events such as author talks, readings and walking tours are held to celebrate the occasion. 

Literary City Guide | Turin, Italy

OTHER FINDS

Il Circolo dei Lettori. This organization occasionally hosts literary walking tours of the city. Local writer Giuseppe Culicchia takes visitors on a tour of Friedrich Nietzsche, Antonio Gramsci and Umberto Eco's old haunts, among many others.

La Civetta di Torino. Manuela Vetrano, a local woman passionate about funerary art, customs and history, offers a guided tour of the resting places of local writers, publishers and typographers in Turin's Cimitero Monumentale.

Le Passeggiate di Portici di Carta. Walking tours tracing the steps of local and international writers in Turin are held as part of the annual Portici di Carta fair held in October.

Good Eats


COFFEE SHOPS

Caffè Mulassano. Once the exclusive hangout of royals and performers at the nearby Teatro Regio (Royal Theater), this tiny, historic cafe is one of my picks for a coffee or better yet, an appetite-whetting aperitivo in the city's centre.  Try their housemade sweet Vermouth accompanied by one of 40 different tramezzini (sandwiches said to be of the café's invention).  

Farmacia del Cambio. Located in beautiful Piazza Carignano is the sister establishment of ultra posh Ristorante del Cambio, a reconverted 19th century pharmacy I highly recommend for a coffee or an aperitivo. Seating is available outdoors year-round thanks to some swish heating in the colder months. The perfect vantage point for people-watching while sipping on a cocktail and nibbling on mini burgers, saffron-flavored puff crackers, and wasabi-coated nuts.

Caffè Al BicerinAnother historic café, best known for its invention of the bicerin. Meaning little glass, this drink is made with layers of espresso coffee, chocolate, and cream. If coffee's not your thing, try their cioccolata calda (hot chocolate) on a cold winter's day instead. And, oh yes, they also make toasted chocolate sandwiches! 

Pasticceria Alicino. My local café-patisserie makes excellent cakes, crostate and bignole, small-sized choux pastries typical of Turin. In the mornings, I love nothing more than stopping by for a cappuccino and brioche (the northern Italian term for croissant) while making my way to my local market in Corso Brunelleschi.

Perino Vesco. This bakery makes some of the best sourdough bread in the city. At the back, you'll find a café area, where I highly recommend accompanying your cup of coffee with some baked delights. Look out for the panettone and focaccia della befana in the Christmas-New Year period! 

A PROPER MEAL