As The Games Begin

For most people, the historic Italian city of Torino–Turin in English–is known mainly for housing the shroud reputed to be Jesus Christ’s burial cloth. But as the setting for February’s 2006 Olympic Winter Games, this metropolis of about 2 million will take center stage.

Torino–which lies between the Po River and the western Alps in the Piedmont region–is a hidden gem among Italian cities, but its low profile may change once Olympic spectators catch glimpses of this architecturally grand city. Torino is attempting to transform itself into a tourist-friendly arena for the 850,000 expected visitors. Coming attractions include 2,500 new hotel rooms, a 21-stop underground transport system, and a host of sports stadiums.

Although the city will play host to the Olympic Village, competitions for skiing, snowboarding, and bobsledding will be staged in nearby mountain towns Pragelato, Bardoneccia, and Sauze d’Oulx (

While world-class athletes are vying for medals, culture enthusiasts can soak up the Torinese lifestyle. The Torinesi are known for their strong work ethic, but they also revere leisure, which is most apparent during aperitivi. In a tradition akin to happy hour, the Torinesi savor cocktails and full appetizer spreads in trendy bars on Piazza Vittorio Veneto and in historic cafés.

Pasta dishes adorned with regionally grown truffles are popular, as are Piedmontese wines like the full-bodied aged Barolo. Vermouth was born here in the 18th century.

La dolce vita reigns in this former royal city of baroque castles and old-world cafés. During the frosty winter months, drop into a warm historic spot like Caffé San Carlo ( for bicerin, the famous hot Torinese beverage concocted from chocolate, espresso, and fresh milk that’s layered into elegant small glasses and topped with whipped cream. Cioccolato, or chocolate, is celebrated with a March festival throughout Torino and Piedmont. And shopping is a dignified affair with tiny boutiques and stores housed along via Roma and via Po.

A city with more than 40 museums, Torino is home to the famed Museo Egizio, with the second most extensive collection of Egyptian art outside of Cairo. Wine aficionados can visit the Martini Museum of the History of Enology in the countryside toward the town of Asti. Although the Museum of the Holy Shroud (www.sin offers the faithful a glimpse into the history of this venerated linen with guided tours, the original shroud is on display at the city cathedral–the Renaissance-inspired Duomo.

Despite its proud links to the past, Torino possesses a contemporary sophistication. Boutique hotels such as the 90-room, four-star Boston ( offer visitors a Soho vibe with contemporary art adorning public spaces and guest rooms. Ristoranti and lounge bars in the gentrified Quadrilatero Romano district like AB+ ( are as sleek and chic as any you’ll find in New York or San Francisco.

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