Why Turin is Italy’s most underrated destination for a cultural getaway

Lingotto commercial and trade center Turin Italy
The Lingotto building is 'one of the most remarkable constructions of the 20th century' - Alamy

Standing on the roof of the Lingotto building in Turin in November, as the wind whips down from the distant Alps, is a slightly bracing experience. But I was nevertheless enjoying the view over both the city and those snow-cloaked mountains which form such a picturesque backdrop. And for me, as well as memories of Michael Caine, the viewpoint offers a new dimension to a city, whose quieter more picturesque qualities I have long preferred to the brash, showiness of fashion-fuelled Milan, its neighbour and rival.

The roof is home to the former test track of the Fiat factory and the building that supports it is one of the most remarkable constructions of the 20th century. You may remember it from The Italian Job, when three escaping Minis – on their way to the famous cliff-hanger ending – raced around the high-baked corners and launched themselves off a ramp to elude the police.

The Italian Job 1969 Paramount film
Some scenes from The Italian Job were filmed in Turin - Alamy

Built by the company founder, Giovanni Agnelli, it opened in 1923, a visionary attempt to create a seamless production process for Fiat cars. The factory, perhaps one of the most beautiful concrete buildings ever made, is 1,640ft (500m) long and operated over five floors. Sheet metal and other raw materials were loaded into the ground floor reception areas and the production line continued up through the building. The finished cars emerged at the highest level and could then be test-driven around the 0.9-mile (1.5km) track before running down the spiralling exit ramp at one end. In its day it was the largest car factory in the world and 80 different Fiat models were made here.

When it closed in 1982, Renzo Piano won the competition to convert it into a public utility which now includes a shopping centre, hotel, theatre and an art gallery, the Pinacoteca Agnelli. The track, known as the Pista 500, was reopened as a roof garden last year. Landscaped with more than 40,000 plants, it is an extension to the Pinacoteca and interspersed with contemporary art installations. My favourite is Against the Run, by the Polish-German artist Alicja Kwade. This is a clock which revolves both forward and backwards, but always shows the correct time.

Installation view, Alicja Kwade, 2023, Pista 500, Pinacoteca Agnelli Torino
Art installation Against the Run by Alicja Kwade can be found on the rooftop of the Lingotto building - Sebastiano Pellion di Persano

But the real highlight for me is the Giovanni and Marella Agnelli Collection, which consists of 25 works donated by the Agnelli family. They are housed in a one-room gallery, part of the boat-like extension designed by Renzo Piano which sits on top of the former factory and houses paintings by Picasso, Canaletto, Manet and Modigliani plus an exceptional group of pictures by Matisse.

Currently there are also temporary exhibitions by the Scottish painter, Lucy McKenzie and the German pop artist Thomas Bayrle. The original wooden prototype design for the Fiat 500 also takes pride of place in the gallery cafe.

The Agnellis may be Turin’s new royalty and its biggest sponsors of the city’s contemporary cultural life (as well as Juventus football club). But it was the Savoy dynasty, the first and former kings of Italy, which originally transformed the city’s fortunes and ensured that it punches above its cultural weight, even in a country so rich in art treasures.

With one or two interruptions, Turin was under the sway of the House of Savoy from 1051 to 1946. It was the seat of the Duchy from the 1550s and when Victor Emmanuel became the first king of Italy in 1861, Turin became the national capital (only to be supplanted by Florence in 1865 and then Rome, from 1871).

Equestrian statue dedicated to Duke Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy
The stamp of the Savoys is all over the city of Turin - Corbis/Getty

The stamp of the Savoys is all over the city. So different from the congested medieval centre of Milan, Turin’s ordered layout of boulevards and squares stems from the family’s penchant for 17th-century baroque architecture. The great Royal Palace, which virtually encloses the cathedral at the centre of the city, is the centrepiece. Behind those measured facades are some of the greatest art collections in Europe, the foundation of Turin’s remarkable cultural heritage. It makes a brilliant city break – just don’t travel by coach.

Treasures of Turin

Sabauda Gallery

As well as the sumptuous state rooms on the piano nobile, the upper floors of the Royal Palace are home to the Sabauda (Savoy) Gallery (museireali.beniculturali.it/en/savoy-gallery), which houses one of the great royal art collections of Europe. Amassed over several centuries there are many masterpieces, including some which are directly relevant to our own history.

Van Dyck’s portrait of the three eldest children of Charles I – including the five-year-old Charles and two-year-old James who were both to become kings – is here. As is a portrait of Charles I by Daniel Mytens and Hendrick van Steenwyck. And among the many many other old master paintings are works by Rembrandt, Mantegna, Bellini, Jan van Eyck and Veronese. Also here, though from a different collection, is one of the versions of the Venus made by Botticelli after the success of the Birth of Venus in 1485.

The Palazzo Madama

This medieval fortress turned baroque palace is another repository of treasures once owned by the Savoy family and houses Turin’s collection of “ancient” art. In truth, the works displayed at Palazzo Madama (palazzomadamatorino.it/en) range from the 8th to the 19th centuries, with the best of them housed in the 15th-century Torre dei Tesori. And the grand staircase which is so imposing when you first walk in? That was also used as part of Michael Caine’s escape route in the Italian Job.

Museo Egizio

If you prefer your art even older, you are a fan of ancient Egypt, Turin has one of the biggest collections of antiquities in the Museo Egizio (museoegizio.it/en). Largely acquired by the Savoys in the 18th- and 19th-centuries it out-guns the Louvre and the British Museum and is generally considered the second greatest collection of Egyptian treasures after the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

GAM Torino
GAM Torino is a first class museum of modern art - Getty

GAM Torino

Turin also has a first class museum of modern art. The collection in the GAM (gamtorino.it/en) traces Italian art through the 20th century, including paintings by the surrealist, Giorgio de Chirico and still-lifes by Giorgio Morandi, as well as works from other key European artists such as Picasso and Chagall. There is also an important collection of Arte Povera installations – the movement which was largely based in Turin in the 1960s and 1970s.

Pinacoteca Agnelli

Temporary exhibitions by the Scottish painter, Lucy McKenzie and the German pop artist Thomas Bayrle both end on February 4 (pinacoteca-agnelli.it/en). Also temporarily installed as part of the Pista 500 sculpture garden is Julius Von Bismarck’s The Expressions of Tethys, a sea buoy suspended between the exit ramps which mirrors the movements of a real buoy out in the Atlantic.

German pop artist Thomas Bayrle has a temporary exhibition at Pinacoteca Agnelli
German pop artist Thomas Bayrle has a temporary exhibition at Pinacoteca Agnelli - Sebastiano Pellion Di Persano

Castello di Rivoli

About 40 minutes’ drive outside Turin, the Castello (castellodirivoli.org) adds another dimension to Turin’s cultural attractions. Used as the Savoy’s hunting lodge, pleasure palace and also to display art from the family collection now in the Royal Palace, it has had a chequered architectural history. A 482ft long gallery was built in the first half of the 17th century as the exhibition space for the Savoy collection. Known as the Manica Lunga (Long Sleeve) it was – arguably – the first ever purpose-built private art gallery. But the building work was never quite finished, in fact, it looks as though the end doors have been blown off. The Castello is now the leading museum of contemporary art in Italy and has a stellar collection and an outstanding programme of exhibitions.

Even if contemporary art is not always to your taste, the location of the castle with its sunny terraces overlooking the snow-capped Alps will surely heighten your aesthetic responses. Somewhere up there, Michael Caine spoke the immortal words “Hang on a minute, lads. I’ve got a great idea” as the coach teetered on the edge of the cliff.

The Cerruti Collection

Just a few minutes’ walk from the Castello is a new addition to the Turin art scene. Francesco Federico Cerruti, who died in 2015, was a secretive collector who made his money in printing Italian phone directories. He lived a modest life, but spent lavishly on buying art and furniture of the highest quality for his modest villa in Rivoli (castellodirivoli.org/en/cerruti-collection). It is now open to the public (visits must be pre-arranged) and while the aesthetic is extremely eccentric, there is no doubting the quality of the paintings. They range from medieval altar pieces to works by Cezanne, Modigliani, Paul Klee, Egon Schiele, Giorgio de Chirico and Francis Bacon. Book visits on the Castello website.


If you are a buyer rather than a viewer, you might want to consider a visit in November, when Artissima (artissima.art/en), Turin’s annual contemporary art fair  is held in the OVAL Lingotto Fiere conference centre near the Lingotto building.


Where to stay

See our reviews of Turin’s best hotels at telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/italy/piedmont/turin/hotels.


BA (ba.com), EasyJet (easyjet.com) and Ryanair (ryanair.com) all offer flights from the UK to Turin.

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