SPORTS FANS worldwide are already glued to their TVs watching the 20th Winter Olympics in Italy, but with the main event venues spread around the glorious Turin area, why not visit the greatest sporting games on earth in person?
If you fancy a trip to the Winter Olympics, you are not alone – the games run until February 26 and organisers expect more than a million spectators to descend upon the city. Then, between March 10 and 19, the city will revive its Olympic spirit as the host of the Paralympic Games. The good news is that Turin is being hailed as the best organised Olympic venue to date, so there is plenty of accommodation and tickets are available for most events. For non-sporting types, Turin offers plenty to see and do for art, chocolate and culture lovers.
Sports fans’ heaven
Olympics fans will need to tour some of the wonderful Piedmontese countryside to catch many of the events, although the opening and closing ceremonies are being staged in the Torino Stadio Olympico. Speed skaters will compete at the Oval Lingotto, ice hockey will take place at Torino Esposizioni and the Olympic Palasport, while figure skating and short-track speed skating will be held at Torino Palavela.
Up in the Alps, snowboarding will be held in Bardonecchia, in Alta Val di Susa. Cesana, around an hour’s train ride from Turin, is a tourist resort where the biathlon, women’s Alpine skiing, bobsled, luge and skeleton will take place. Pinerolo is about a 45-minute train ride from Turin and will be the site for curling. Pragelato, which is in Val Chisone at the foot of Mount Albergian, about a two-hour drive from Turin, will play host to ski jumping, cross-country skiing and Nordic combined competitions. You can get to both the freestyle skiing events at Sauze d’Oulx and the men’s Alpine events at Sestriere in an hour.
The best way to make sure you catch the events that interest you is to visit the official Olympics Web site, www.torino2006.org, before you leave for Turin. Comprehensive and user-friendly, it provides invaluable information on events, ticketing and transportation, also containing a downloadable spectator’s guide.
For those who prefer to steer clear of winter sports, Turin is a great place to explore. It is the centre of Italy’s contemporary art scene, the birthplace of Italian cinema and home to some of the country’s finest delicacies, including sublime chocolate, truffles and wines.
As part of the Olympic charter, the city is also staging a cultural programme, the Cultural Olympiad – more than 50 events, including art exhibitions, concerts, theatre performances and tours around historic sites.
Visitors who intend to make the most of the culture on offer should pick up a Torino Cultural Card (Torino Card Olimpiadi della Cultura), available at one of the information points in the city, (39-011) 535-181, www.turismotorino.org, until March 31. It provides access to all visual arts events in the Cultural Olympiad and other discounts, only costing 16 euros (for two days) or 30 euros (five days).
For those more interested in gourmet activities, Turin is a goldmine – Piedmontese cuisine boasts some fantastic dishes that shouldn’t be missed. The city’s trattorias, wine bars and restaurants are excellent, providing the ideal place to sample the great Piedmontese wines and the lovely DOC wines produced in the hills, just outside the city in Freisa di Chieri, Malvasia, Bonarda and Barbera.
But, perhaps the most famous gourmet treat on offer in Turin is chocolate – from filled pralines and hot chocolate to sweet-smelling cakes and spectacular fondants … If chocolate is your thing, you must visit Turin. The pastry and chocolate shops of the city are crammed with rich creations that are famous across the world. So proud is the city of its chocolate, that it even offers visitors a ChocoPass – a special discount scheme that allows you to savour 10 mouth-watering ‘tastes’ in 24 hours, 15 in 48 hours or, if you can handle it, 23 in five days. Venues range from tiny handicraft workshops to big factories, such as Ferrero, Caffarel and Novi. You can buy your card at the Turismo Torino Information Points for 10 euros (24 hours), 15 euros (48 hours) or 20 euros (five days).
But, if museums are more your scene, Turin contains several jewels. The Mole Antonelliana was originally constructed as a synagogue, but now contains the National Museum of Cinema and a viewing platform where you can admire the nearby Alps. Film fans will also know that Turin was the setting for the original film version of The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine.
The Egyptian Museum contains one of the world’s largest collections of artefacts, spanning virtually the entire history of ancient Egyptian culture. Among the 30,000 pieces on display are two sphinxes, a massive, richly painted statue of Ramses II, mummies, funerary objects, and a papyrus Book of the Dead.
PDM verdict: With elegant buildings, fabulous natural landscapes, amazing museums and delicious food, a visit to Turin offers something special for everyone – and the Winter Olympics are the icing on the cake.