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  • Torino: Italy's Hot Spot in the Cold
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    DECEMBER 4, 2005 - In less than 100 days, from Feb. 10 to 26, the 2006 Olympics will take place in Torino, Italy. Aside from the sport and pageantry, this is an opportunity for Italians to show the world that Torino is more than an industrial city but is rather a rival to Venice, Florence and Rome for its art and culture. So, should you book your flight now before the trendy and the famous catch wind of the news?

    For years, Torino has been known as a grey city, headquarters for Fiat, the automaker. But those in-the-know say it's so much more than that. For me, it is the home to Juventus, one of the world's greatest soccer teams, which also happens to be the most popular and winning club in Italy. (In fact, forgive me if this column is not as smart as usual; Juventus is distracting me by playing Fiorentina as I write this. I can't look away. We're up 1 to 0 in the 28th minute!)

    As the home of the Shroud of Turin, the burial garb of a crucifixion victim that some think belonged to Jesus, the city has an inescapable aura and mystique. (Oh no, Fiorentina just tied Juventus, 1 to 1.) The Duomo di San Giovanni, where the shroud is kept, is not scheduled to put the fragile linen on display again until 2025. But built in 1498, the Duomo is a fine example of Renaissance architecture and is a site worthy of a visit all on its own.

    Combined with the city's desire to be a major patron of the arts - featuring contemporary works everywhere, even billboards - the city is downright magical. And, in fact, many will be happy to fill you in on the myths and legends that have Torino as a major player. For instance, the holy grail is said to be buried there.

    Foodies will go on about the vermouth and bread sticks and the influence of the French on the city's distinct cuisine. Right here on, you can find a complete run down of the city's gastronomy including its reputation for chocolate making, especially gianduja (gianduia) made of cocoa, sugar and hazelnuts. Business Traveler offers some suggestions on places to dine on its Web site. The dishes may add to your cholesterol level, but you'll enjoy every bite.

    The city has cleaned itself up for the Olympics and officials say it's more spectacular than ever. It should be. The games will cost about 3.5 billion euros when all is said and done. At this point in the planning, workers at the various venues are being trained and festivities are already underway. Yesterday, Alberto Tomba and many others turned out for a party opening the Superstore of Torino 2006 in Piazza Vittorio, which will be open until the end of March 2006. The store will include more than Olympics merchandise. Large Plasma screens will display Olympics pictures and films and there will also be other forms of entertainment for sports lovers. You can also buy tickets to various Olympic events there.

    Organizers of Torino 2006 also offered a preview of the ceremonies in the last week. The focus of the ceremonies will be passion, Italianness, and dynamism, according to a press release from the committee. The International Olympic Committee reported that performers would speed around the stadium at speeds of more than 40 miles per hour using an innovative propulsion system specially designed for the event. (Juventus just scored to take the lead, 2 to 1 with few minutes left on the clock.)

    But the Olympics are just an excuse to visit this city that has gotten a bad rep all these years. Travel experts can't get enough of the place. "Forget what you have heard about it being an industrial city and a one-company town," says Kathy McCabe, editor and publisher of the travel newsletter, Dream of Italy that has the Olympics as its focus in the November 2005 issue. "It's simply not true." McCabe rates Torino as one of her favorite places in Italy, and she should know - she's traveled all over the country.

    She advises tourists to book flights now. Tickets to Milan from New York cost just $500, adds McCabe. Think of it this way: In just two months, 1,674 Olympians will win medals and take their place among Torino's storied history. (Juventus just clinched the win, 2 to 1. Game over.) You can be a winner, too. Just take a trip to Torino either in your dreams or in reality.


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