Piedmont Region: Turin & Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso, Italy

“You can’t buy happiness…but you can buy chocolate, and that’s kind of the same thing.”

There are three things that the Northern Italian city of Turin are widely known for: chocolate, food, and Fiats. If you’re a foodie, this is the city for you to be in!

Fiat Collage
I may or may not have gone around on a Fiat treasure hunt challenge to take a photo of as many colors as I could possibly find…and it wasn’t difficult, nor did I have to go far to find them! Every other car in Turin is a Fiat, including our rental!

The locals here say that “if you want to piss off a Turin local, tell them that you love Milan.” The two cities, located only two hours apart, seem to compete, and while we didn’t visit Milan, we thought Turin was a lovely city and off the beaten tourist path. The chocolate alone was worth the visit here.

My blog post on Turin will be short and sweet for a couple of reasons: 1) My Nikon DSLR broke back in Lake Garda and I can’t get a new one until we get to France (so pardon the low-quality iPhone photos for this blog post), and 2) We just so happened to visit during Ferragosto, Italian’s summer vacation period which begins on 15 August (my birthday), so several shops and restaurants were closed, making the large city feel like a bit of a ghost town. However, we made the best of our three days here, exploring both the city and the mountains.

Turin

Things to do in Turin

1) Visit the Mercato di Porta Palazzo

The Mercato di Porta Palazzo is the largest outdoor market in all of Europe, open every day. We had fun picking out ingredients to make dinner at home. I prepared wild boar ragout with orecchiette.

Orecchiette Dinner

I have been cooking Italian food since I was in my early 20’s, drawing inspiration from my first trip to Italy 11 years ago and learning from my Mamma, a lover of Italy and an outstanding cook. However, my cooking style tends to stray from the traditional Italian cooking, which we noticed tends to be quite simple: pasta with only a tiny bit of sauce. I prefer to have meat and vegetables be the main focus with only a bit of pasta mixed in. I love adding as many goodies as possible to my dishes to enhance and pair flavors so that I don’t get bored halfway through the meal, which is often the case with a simple pasta dish such as gnocchi with pesto.

Ingredients in the above dish from the market: tomatoes, yellow string beans, onions, garlic, sweet peppers, sun dried tomatoes, homemade hot pepper oil (a gift from our Airbnb hosts in Vescovato), topped with parmesan cheese. I love that markets in Italy are super local, meaning mostly locals shop there, which means that items are cheap since the food is being sold directly from the farmers. I purchased €10 worth of ingredients, which will feed us for well over five meals. The same ingredients in Seattle, even from farmers markets, would have been over $35 USD, which is disheartening. I feel that everywhere in the world should have affordable markets for locals to purchase goods directly from the source so that we stimulate our own economies and support local farmers.

2) Try the “Best Hot Chocolate in the World”

Awarded by the Chocolate Academy, Guido Gobino boasts the best hot chocolate in the world. From bean to bar, this artisanal chocolate is made right here in Turin. It was great, but in our opinion as amateur hot chocolate connoisseurs, Sasha and I put together our own little award ranking for “BEST HOT CHOCOLATE IN THE WORLD” awards in highest order:

1) Hot Cakes – Ballard, Washington State (we love the taste of pine and Pacific Northwest twist, especially on a cold winter Seattle day)
2) Bacari – Quito, Ecuador (all around excellent hot chocolate)
3) Newman Cafe – St. Petersburg, Russia (the notes of cardamom were warm)
4) Chocolati – Green Lake, Washington (rich as heck, but soooo good)

The History of Chocolate in Turin

Turin is the fourth-largest city in Italy and the capital of the Alps. It is also the Italian capital of chocolate! The famous gianduja, a hazelnut and chocolate paste (the origin of Nutella), was originally created here. It was the direct result of the English embargo on cocoa during the Napoleonic wars. To curb the embargo, Turinese chocolate makers had the idea to mix hazelnuts into the chocolate, since hazelnuts were abundantly available in the Piedmont region (where Turin is located.)

Guido Gobino uses all natural and responsibly-sourced fair trade chocolate from Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico. Their chocolate truffles are very likely the best I’ve ever tasted in my whole life (and I have tasted a LOT of chocolate!) 😉 My favorite was the chocolate cherry, a real cherry (not one of those nasty fake maraschino cherries) coated in chocolate and filled with liquor. (Be mindful of the pit inside.) Be advised that this is not cheap! For two hot chocolates and two cherry liquor truffles, our total was €16 for the two of us. It was completely worth it, and they even give you a few complimentary truffles to go with your beverages! Don’t drink it too late otherwise you will be up all night buzzing like a bumble bee, unable to sleep because of a total sugar high. They have both an indoor and outdoor cafe area to enjoy your beverages. There is no Wi-Fi, but who needs Internet when the main focus is chocolate?!

3) Visit the Egyptian Museum (Museo Egizio)

HOURS:
Monday: 9:00AM – 2:00 PM
Tuesday – Sunday: 9:00AM – 6:30PM
Cost: €15 per person (audio guide is free and excellent!)

The Egyptian Museum houses one of the largest collection (over 30,000) of Egyptian artifacts.

4) Visit PARCO NAZIONALE GRAN PARADISO

Located only a 1 hour, 45 minute drive outside the city of Turin, lies Gran Paradiso National Park. We have done a LOT of driving on this six-month travel adventure, and besides having great conversations about our life and future, we pass the time by listening to audio books through Audible. We are currently listening to “Shoe Dog”, an autobiography of Phil Knight, founder of Nike. So we hit “play” and before we knew it, we were out of the big city and engulfed in beautiful nature.

There are several rifugios around the lake so you will be able to find something to eat, but most eateries in Italy close their kitchen between 3:00 – 7:00 PM, so be sure to grab food before then so you aren’t stuck in what we call “the starvation period”. Many eateries will remain open and serve only toast and beverages, but no real food until they reopen for dinner. Because we are listening to a book on Nike, and Phil Knight was an avid runner, it inspired us to lace up our running shoes and take a pleasant 5.5-mile run around the perimeter of the lake, which struck me as the Italian equivalent of Green Lake in Seattle, only much larger.

Running Around Lake Ceresole

Distance around the Full Perimeter of the Lake: 9 kilometers (5.6 miles)
Terrain: Easy and flat with a few small hilly sections
Dog Friendly?: Yes
Toilets?: A few rifugios around the lake as well as portable toilets
Parking: Free all around the lake

Lake9Lake10Lake11Lake12Lake16

While I was training for racing while living on O’ahu, my average mile time for a half marathon (13.1 miles), was 9:59 per mile. Since I haven’t run over two miles in several months and am out of running shape, I thought for sure I would run a slower mile, but I completed 5.6 miles in 53 minutes! I’ll take it! Sasha, on the other hand, has significantly longer legs than mine. We started the run together and he was so fast I eventually lost sight of him. I would catch a glimpse of him way around the bend every now and then, his long legs moving like a graceful gazelle, merely a silhouette passing through the trees like a figment of my imagination. His time for a 5.6 mile? 45 minutes. Impressive.

I get really competitive with myself when it comes to sports, and especially running. I don’t like to stop or walk when I am running for time. I run the whole way and eventually I enter this meditative-like state where I merely feel like an extension of the path underneath me, my legs feeling as though they are simply floating. Just put one foot in front of the other, I keep telling myself.I kept hearing Phil Knight’s voice in my head…”don’t stop…just…keep…going”. I love the feeling of filling my lungs to capacity with the freshest of mountain air, feeling the sun on my skin and breeze on my face. I love the way my muscles contract and tighten, a sign that I am working my body and pushing myself. Sasha and I agreed that short-distance runners are athletes; long-distance runners are mental warriors. There comes a certain point where you become numb to the pain and learn to push through it.

After our run, we dunked our entire head into a nearby waterfall to cool off and have a sandwich. What I am holding and pointing to in the below photo is a popular pastry found in Torino (Turin) filled with hazelnut filling. Think cream puff. I’d say we deserved it after our run! 🙂

Lake7

Since we consumed copious amounts of chocolate yesterday at Guido Gobino, we decided a run wasn’t enough and we should do a hike nearby. We decided on Lago Di Dres.

Hiking in Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso

LAGO DI DRES
Starting Point: 
Ceresole Reale – Villa Poma
Duration
: 3 hours round trip
Views: forest and open fields. You will pass a rifugio but they do not serve food. Cows, rams, goats and sheep are present.
Elevation: 500 meters (1,500 feet)
Classification: Moderate
Distance: 8 kilometers (5 miles) round trip
Month and Year Visited: August, 2017

One thing to keep in mind when hiking in Italy is that the signs can be a bit confusing (to Americans) since distances and times are listed differently. For example, when you see a sign like this:

Lake2

“Lago Dres: 0.20” – this means that you have 20 minutes to go until you reach the top. When you begin the hike, you will see the same sign simply with the number “2” next to the name of your hiking destination. This does not mean two kilometers or two miles, this means two hours one way (to the top). When we saw this, we thought that two hours would be the total round trip time, so we had a bit of a longer hike than anticipated! By the end of the day, we ran 5.6 miles and immediately afterwards, hiked another 5 miles. Our legs definitely felt it that evening! The views were spectacular and serene and we only saw a handful of other hikers along the way.

Lake6
Feeling mighty strong after our run! 😉
Lake14
You’ll start off with easy ascents like this.
Lake8
You’ll go through the trees before reaching an opening.
Lake1
The ascent to an opening.
Lake3
Towards the top it can get much cooler, even in August, so bring a jacket!
Lake4
Beautiful cows, free roaming the fields.
Lake5
Lovely streams and waterfalls along the way.
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Some pretty spectacular panoramas.
Lake13
At last, you reach Lake Dres, which is actually quite unimpressive, but it’s mostly about the journey rather than the end destination.

One observation that Sasha and I had during our one month in Italy, is that Italians don’t swim in lakes. They hike, they run, they paraglide, and they love to picnic by the lake, but they never get in the lake. As water-lovers, we found this to be quite strange. We asked one of our hosts, a local from Puglia in Southern Italy, if there was an explanation for this, and he responded with, “Italians swim at the sea, but are scared of swimming in the lakes because it is deep and they can’t see what is underneath.”

NEXT UP: HIKING THE CALANQUES: CASSIS, FRANCE

6 thoughts on “Piedmont Region: Turin & Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso, Italy

    1. Your blog is excellent! My Fiance and I spent an entire month in Greece and did quite a bit of hiking on Crete Island. I’ve written several blog posts on our time in Greece. It is our favorite place in the world, and if you live there, you sure are lucky! 🙂

      Like

      1. Thank you for the kind comment and I’m pleased to know you like the Olympus Mountaineering blog.

        Spending a month in Crete can only be a great experience. Crete, besides having some nice (simple) hiking routes, has beautiful beaches, traditional mountain villages, unparalleled historical culture and of course the famous Cretan cuisine. So, I believe you, when you say you enjoyed your time there. 🙂

        Although I don’t live in Crete I have visited the island many times and each time I enjoyed my stay there a lot.

        Again thanks for your reply and looking forward to your next post.

        Like

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