A healthy appetite and a dilapidated bike are ideal for tackling Turin, writes Richard Tulloch.
Squeak-scratch-rattle. My wife and I could have rented smart cycles at several places along the Po River in Turin, but our Italian friends have kindly lent us their battered old "anti-theft" bikes, as they affectionately refer to them. No one's going to steal them, and they're not taking us anywhere fast either.
No problemo. We're heading out of Turin to a lunch destination that sounds very interesting, but we're in no hurry. It's a sunny day, and an easy ride along a cycle path by the river. On the Po, rowers and kayakers paddle past and alongside it, hopeful fishermen have lines in the water, and there's a steady stream of joggers, dog walkers and cyclists.
Under the spring blossoms in the lovely Parco del Valentino, people sip coffee and slurp gelato as we squeak past. Novelty bikes seem to be the go here. Couples can rent tandems, and families are trying out weird vehicles with four sets of pedals. Papa usually does the heavy work, while mama and the bambinos enjoy the view. The quiet river slips by on the left and when we glance up to our right between the blocks of city buildings, we glimpse the snow-capped Alps in the distance.
Life in Turin is seldom hurried, it seems. Italy's fourth-biggest city is mostly famous for producing Fiat cars and Pirelli tyres, so it doesn't get the tourist hordes that flock to Rome, Florence or Venice.
We squeak to a halt by the Borgo Medioevale, with La Rocca castle towering above it. Signs (in English) warn us that this mediaeval town is not mediaeval. It was built for the Turin Exhibition in 1884, but people thought it was worth keeping. We're happy to give the backsides a break and explore it, crossing the drawbridge into a cobbled street lined with reconstructions of mediaeval shops, displays of miniature mediaeval soldiers and a mediaeval drink-dispensing machine. Information boards are all in Italian, but the gruesome mediaeval torture device (OK, maybe it's just a wine press) is interesting anyway.
A few rattling kilometres down the river we leave the cycle path and brave a little traffic to head into the Lingotto district. We've been told not to miss Lingotto's shopping centre, which at first glance is just like any other suburban shopping centre anywhere in the world.
There is one extraordinary difference, though. A lift somewhere between the gelato and Benetton shops takes us up to the fifth floor and the Pinacoteca Agnelli - an art gallery stocked with Canalettos, Picassos, Matisses and a Renoir, and a cutting edge exhibition of odd work too. The view of the Alps from the terrace alone is worth the modest price of admission.
Across the road is our lunch spot, Eataly, which local experts have promised will introduce us to Italian slow food. The pun in the name may be terrible, but we think the place is wonderful, the highlight of our day.
In 2007 an old vermouth factory was converted into a light-filled temple to all things culinary. Eataly is a food market, dedicated to slow food, where you can "buy, taste and learn about high quality foods", according to its website. What a great idea this is, and a simple one too - stock a market with high quality local produce, price it reasonably, display it brilliantly, with information about its provenance, staff it with people in aprons to make them look like they know their food and wine, and people will come!
There are seven separate restaurant areas within Eataly, each with its own specialty - pasta, meat, fish, etc. We go for the fish. We can sit at a counter to watch and learn as the experts prepare it in front of us, then serve it with a glass of beer or wine thrown in. While we wait we're dished up a basket of generous chunks of excellent fresh bread, olive oil to dunk it in and a litre of sparkling mineral water. Total cost around $20 a head, all inclusive.
We love the idea of the slow food movement - small-scale local producers, dedicated to protecting and fostering food traditions, defending biodiversity and running food education programs. There are Eataly branches in Bologna, Milan and Rome, and now also in New York and Tokyo.
After lunch we browse Eataly's market, with its fabulous displays of locally produced zucchinis, prosciutto, pasta and mozzarella. In the cellar we find a huge range of beers and wines, with attendants on hand to provide expert advice.
We could fill our own bottles from the barrels, but we choose a bottle of Barbera, a big red from nearby Asti, to take home.
Then we progress to the caffe bar. Mrs Tulloch takes a classic hot cioccolato for which Turin is famous - imagine a couple of whole chocolate bars melted into a cup.
I go for the Bicerin, the locals' beverage of choice. Chocolate in the bottom, whipped cream on top - pure evil, we know, but we hope that riding back on a gearless, squeaky anti-theft bike will roughly neutralise the effect.
Etihad flies from Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney via Abu Dhabi to Milan Malpensa. See etihad.com. The bus from Milan Malpensa to Turin takes two hours and costs $30 one way; there are also train services from Milano Centrale. For non cyclists, trains run to Lingotto from central Turin.
SEE + DO
Entry to the Borgo Medioevale is free, La Rocca castle entry is $7 and Pinacoteca Agnelli $10. A three day Torino Card costs $35 and gives entry to most museums in the area, as well as unlimited use of trams and buses.