Just 2 hours from Milan, Turin with its large Po river that flows through the city is an attraction which can also be reached by day from the Lombard capital. In fact, the city and the river that influenced the history of the city for over two centuries are inseparable. For this reason, we take you a journey to discover key places and unmissable activities to enjoy all the appeal of the city and the banks of the Po river.
Turin is a city of dichotomy, and is often thought to have two souls: the industrial soul associated with its large factories and several of Italy’s most influential companies, and another, more noble soul that is committed to culture and discovering the history and beauties of a city that was the first capital of Italy. But not many people know that the Savoy city has a third, greener side, consisting of parks, walks and waterways scattered around a single, large basin: the Po river. The banks of the river are the ideal place for an open-air outing that includes nature parks and places of culture, in addition to the world of sports and food.
A stroll through green surroundings
Our tour starts with some history. It’s important to know that since the city was founded, more than 2,000 years ago, the Po has always functioned as the sea for Turin, as a transport and trade route for goods and people. So it is not surprising that lush parks and ancient aristocratic dwellings can be found just a short distance from its banks. The most noteworthy is Parco del Valentino, one of Turin’s largest “green lungs”, which extends for over 10 hectares on the left bank of the Po.
Today, Torinese of all ages visit this sprawling park to run, picnic or indulge in a few leisurely hours of canoeing. The park’s interior houses numerous treasures including a botanical garden, the Castello del Valentino, a former Savoy residence, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, now home to the Turin Politecnico’s faculty of architecture, and a village of medieval inspiration. This was not merely the restoration of an ancient complex that had fallen into disuse, but rather building an ad hoc village to house the pavilion of ancient art at the General Italian Exposition of 1884.
By staying true to the canons of medieval construction techniques, architecture and decorations, the complex became an integral part of the cultural heritage of the park. Other highlights include the large Fountain of the Seasons and Months, a celebratory work in rococo style that is further enhanced by plays of water and light (castellodelvalentino.polito.it; borgomedievaletorino.it).
If you bike or walk from the park, and follow the course of the Po and the lazy flow of its waters, you’ll reach Corso Moncalieri, on the opposite side of the river, where nature lovers can indulge in a romantic walk in the Ginzburg Garden, one of the Savoy family’s favourite parks. Located at the foot of Monte dei Cappuccini, this green space, dotted with age-old chestnut trees, enjoys a clear view over the Po River.
Turin and its water
The banks of the Po River, located on the long stretch of land that runs from Parco del Valentino to the Church of the Gran Madre di Dio, are go-to meeting places for lovers of water sports. It was here, in the late 1800s, when the Po’s embankments had not yet been built, that the first canoeing clubs, initially only reserved for men, sprung up.
Today, there are more than 10 clubs and sports associations, several of which are for members only, where people can practice canoeing or hire a canoe and paddle down the Po river while admiring the view from a different perspective. The origins of the Murazzi, the characteristic landing stages and boat sheds located on the banks of the Po, were used until the end of the 1950s. Since losing their original function, the term Murazzi is now commonly associated with the long walkway lying in correspondence to the high walls that act as a dyke, and run as far as Piazza Vittorio Veneto, one of Turin’s favourite nightlife spots.
Dining “pieds dans l’eau”
There is nothing more perfectly typical than dining alongside a river, while sitting comfortably in an outdoor area with a view, savouring typical dishes of Piedmontese tradition. These are the plus points of Imbarco Perosino, one of the favourite haunts of Torinese locals set at the foot of Castello Valentino, where you can sample typical buffetstyle antipasti, including anchovies in a green sauce and vitello tonnato, as well as roasts, bagna caoda, Piedmontese mixed fries and homemade desserts (www.ristoranteperosino.net).