Nestled in the northeast of Piedmont is the small lake of Orta, a beautiful burst of blue that the locals call “Cinderella”. It’s home to the charming lakeside town of Orta San Giulio, with its narrow, cobbled lanes lined with honey and pastel-colored buildings. The lake is off the international tourist radar (most visitors aim for nearby Como or Garda), although the town can be exceptionally busy on weekends, when the torinesi come take the air and swim Passeggiata (promenade), so visit on a weekday if you can. Take the short boat ride to Isola San Giulio, home to a Benedictine monastery adorned with spectacular frescoes. Once back on the mainland, head to Sacro Monte, a hilly wooded area dotted with frescoed chapels – the golden hour views of the lake are worth the trip.
A dining room at Villa Crespi
The best restaurant
Piedmont’s culinary scene focuses on hearty dishes that make the most of local produce, including the region’s cheeses, game and white truffles, often enjoyed shaved over risotto or freshly prepared. tajarin (fine threads of egg pasta). Alba, home to the annual white truffle fair, is a foodie’s paradise, with traditional restaurants serving up delicious meals – but for la crème de la crème of cuisine head to Lake Villa Crespi Orta to taste the creations of Italian starred chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo. Combining the flavors of northern and southern Italy, his exquisite creations have earned his restaurant two Michelin stars.
Details Mains from £42; villacrespi.it
The great gallery of Venaria Reale
The best royal palace
Founded in the 11th century, the former royal house of Savoy ruled parts of Italy well into the 1940s. Turin was named the family’s capital in the 16th century, and the Savoys commissioned architects to build lavish residences in and around the city. Today known as the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy, they are all fine examples of Baroque architecture and testify to the power of the dynasty. The 18th-century Venaria Reale is also worth a visit to the north of the city – don’t miss the light-filled Grand Gallery with its 44 tall windows and beautiful black and white checkerboard floor. The grounds are equally stunning, home to a rose garden and the largest vegetable garden in Italy on 25 acres.
Details Tickets from £14; lavenaria.it
Chocolates by Guido Gobino
The best confectionery
The Savoy family brought chocolate to Turin in the mid-16th century and to this day most Italian chocolate is made here. In the shape of a boat gianduotti — delicacies made with Piedmont hazelnuts invented in the city in 1867 — are unmissable. Guido Gobino is the most famous confectionery in the city, with Cremino for sale his famous sweet creation. Book a factory tour in Via Cagliari or enjoy a tasting in Via Lagrange 1/A. Then choose from the many clever creations on display at the counter.
Sacra di San Michele
The best church
Perched on a rocky outcrop between dense forests and high mountains, the Sacra di San Michele, enveloped in mist, is one of the great medieval sites of Piedmont. Dating back to the 10th century, the abbey served as inspiration for Italian novelist Umberto Eco The name of the rose. You’ll climb the steep Scalone dei Morti, or Staircase of the Dead, where skeletons of monks were displayed until the 1930s, before reaching the carved Romanesque entrance to the church. It’s best accessed from the town of Sant’Ambrogio, from where it’s a 90-minute uphill hike (you can also drive up if you don’t fancy the walk). Visit early morning or late afternoon when the oblique light offers softer rays, allowing for golden views.
The terrace of the Palace of Turin
The best hotel in town
A stone’s throw from Turin’s Porta Nuova station, Turin Palace offers sleek, contemporary interiors with bold pops of color and lively pieces by local artists adorning common areas, while soft tones of cream, dusty pink and light blue dominate the rooms. In the summer, hotel guests and locals alike flock to the rooftop terrace for cocktails overlooking the city. There’s also a compact spa with hot tub, sauna, steam room, and Kneipp pool.
Details B&B doubles from £128 (turinpalacehotel.com)
● 24 of the most luxurious Italian villas
● Italy’s most delicious cities for food
The best vineyard
Piedmont produces some of the most famous wines in the world, with bold reds that pair beautifully with the region’s rich cuisine. The wine regions of Langhe, Roero and Monferrato are home to magnificent landscapes of vineyards with hilltop villages, the most famous of which is Barolo; the medieval hamlet lends its name to one of Italy’s finest wines. Step into WiMu, Barolo’s wine museum, to learn about viticulture (wimubarolo.it), then sample elegant nebbiolos and soak up vineyard views at Elvio Cogno winery, five minutes from road south from Barolo to Novello.
The best boutique hotel
La Villa, a family-run hotel in the heart of the Piedmont wine region, is a delight. Housed in an old farmhouse and cellar, it has 15 rustic-chic rooms equipped with antiques and second-hand finds. There is a verdant Zen garden, an outdoor wellness area, a small spa, a gym and a swimming pool among the vines, perfect for spending a lazy afternoon. There’s no shortage of activities to keep you busy, including cooking classes and visits to local wineries and cheese producers, as well as truffle hunting trips in the fall.
Details B&B doubles from £204 (lavillahotel.net)
Mole Antonelliana in Turin
The best museum with a view
Originally designed as a synagogue, Turin’s Mole Antonelliana – the symbol of the city – now houses the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, which offers a fascinating insight into the city’s involvement in early 20th-century cinema century to the present day. You can observe magic lanterns and learn about special effects and virtual reality through a range of interactive displays. Ride the glass elevator and head to the 85m observation deck to soak up the panoramic views.
Details Tickets from £10; museocinema.it
Fiats at the Museo dell’Automobile di Torino
Ideal for tankers
Most people inevitably associate Turin with cars – the city is the birthplace of Fiat, the country’s largest car manufacturer, founded by Giovanni Agnelli. It’s here that Italian work was filmed and you can still see the legendary test track on the roof of the former factory in the Lingotto building in Via Nizza. Today, Mauto, the Museo dell’Automobile di Torino, houses more than 200 vehicles tracing the history of the car, from early models to futuristic designs with sustainability at heart. In the basement is the open garage (by reservation only), where you can watch the restorers at work.
Details Tickets from £13; museoauto.com
The best mountain hike
Italy’s longest river, the Po, flows east through northern Italy before emptying into the Adriatic Sea. Its source is the Monviso, one of the highest mountains in Piedmont at 12,600 feet, which is an integral part of the region’s history and landscape. The alpine town of Crissolo makes a good base for climbing the summit and is also the starting point for the Pian del Re, where the river begins. Walk to Rifugio Quintino Sella, a rustic cabin where you can stock up on local delicacies and lay down for the night. Soak up the scenery on the way, with lush green pastures, alpine lakes and steep rock faces home to chamois, marmots and ibexes. It was at nearby Colle delle Traversette that Hannibal’s epic crossing of the Alps in 218 BC. J.-C. with his army and his elephants would have taken place.
Subscribe to our Times Travel newsletter and follow us on Instagram and Twitter