Royal Italian families – the Savoys, the Bourbons, the Gonzagas, plus the merchant Medici family, famously sponsored and eventually shared fabulous works of art with the public. But there was more than just art on their plates. Less well known are their contributions to Italy’s cuisine. The “foodies” of their time, they applied the same quality standards to the table as they did to marble and canvas. Here are some opportunities to dine your way through their artistic treasures.
The Savoys’ Turin, a Gourmet’s Paradise
Turin, famous for its car factories, is actually an elegant city full of art and history, with one of the richest and tastiest cuisines in the world. All thanks to the Savoy family who, in the middle of the 19th Century, unified Italy from their base in Turin. Their French inspired gastronomic legacies are to be found everywhere in the city. For a sample, try the classic café, Guido Gobino (Via Lagrange 1) with its superb deserts and chocolates. Afterwards, visit the stunning Savoy palace, Venaria Reale with its art treasures and impressive halls used for luxurious parties. Its magnificent garden recalls royal European living at its finest. Book the Guided Visit to Venaria, it will leave you breathless!
In the city’s center, Piazza Castello, you will find the17th Century baroque Royal Palace and the beautiful Palazzo Madama. Built by the Romans and richly transformed by the Savoys it is now a UNESCO heritage site. Take a walk from Piazza Castello following Via Roma up to the stunning Piazza San Carlo for coffee at the historical Cafe Torino (Piazza San Carlo 204) Don’t forget to tap your heel against the Golden Bull on the floor for good luck!. Then, take Via dell’Accademia to find beautiful fashion design studios as well as gourmet food shops where you can purchase truffles, cold cuts, sweets and fine wines.
And there is more… Superb red wines from the Langhe area (Nebbiolo, Barolo and Basrbaresco) pair well with strong-flavored dishes such as the Bagna cauda (“hot bath”, a sauce with garlic and anchovies) the Brasato (flesh of Piedmontese cattle cooked with regional wine) and the salame di Turgia (a typical salami produced with the most valuable parts of the cow’s flesh). Give them a taste while basking in the ambience at the elegant and fascinating 19th century La Smarrita (Via Cesare Battisti 17A), and conclude with a bicerin (a typical cappuccino) in Piazza della Consolata.
A good way to save on Turin’s sights is by purchasing the Torino – Piemonte card, available in 2, 3 or 5 days denominations. The card gives you access to the Mole Antonelliana, an imposing building, symbol of the city that now houses the fascinating Museum of the Cinema. The card includes transportation discounts in case you have eaten too much to walk comfortably.
Mysterious and Hidden Turin
Against the backdrop of the city’s beauty and light is Turin’s dark side. Discover Magic Turin, an intriguing path between Masonic enigmas and esoteric symbols, the mystery of the Portone del Diavolo (the Devil’s Gate), the spectral dragons, the legend of the alchemical caves, and the veiled woman holding the Holy Grail. Or follow the Thriller Turin, a century of crimes and unsolved mysteries with Turin as scenario of thrillers, intrigues, sensational facts and cases of crime news.
Did you know Turin has an Egyptian Museum, second only to that of Cairo? Discover it on your own or with a Guided Tour!
The Arranged Marriage of French and Italian Cuisines
During the Renaissance, the wealthy Medici merchant family ruled Florence and became part of European dynasties through arranged marriages. When Cosimo married Eleanor of Toledo, he purchased for her the magnificent Pitti Palace as their residence, passing to the Lorenas on the 18th century, and then to the King of Italy when Florence became capital of the Italian Kingdom. The Pitti Palace is one of the most beautiful pearls of Florence, with sumptuous furnishings and invaluable works of art (Raphael and Titian among others) in the Palatine Gallery, and the Boboli Garden, the prototypical Italian garden featuring stunning views over Florence.
Caterina de’ Medici married Henry II King of France, and took to Paris the Florentine art of food, creating what later became French Nouvelle cuisine. Join our Cheese, Wine and Oil Tasting Tour in Florence and taste classic Tuscan flavors, olive oil and the Ribollita (typical bread and vegetable soup). For gourmet cuisine strongly rooted in Italian tradition choose the upscale restaurant Cibreo (Via del Verrocchio 8r) by chef Picchi, or his Trattoria (Via de’ Macci 122r) where you can find the same dishes at more affordable prices. Alternatively, for a trip back to the Medici times, choose the Renaissance Banquet, a spectacular dinner with period music and costumes.
The Bourbons and the Margherita Pizza
The Bourbons enriched the landscape of Naples with royal residences including the Royal Palace. It’s now a magnificent museum that houses their huge collection of art, furnishings and statues, as well as important ruins from ancient Rome. Visit the palace in the city center and plan a short trip to Reggia of Caserta, Italy’s copy of Versailles by the architect, Vanvitelli. Less than 30 minutes away from Naples’s center, the Reggia has one of the most beautiful gardens in the world as well as sumptuously decorated rooms containing invaluable works of art.
Few realize that Italian royalty is largely responsible for the simple but noble Italian dish, the pizza Margherita. The name is credited to a young pizzaiolo who dedicated this dish to the Queen of Italy during her visit to Naples. Taste the real Pizza Margherita in the area of Corso Umberto I. Choose one of the pizzerie with over a century of history such as Antica Pizzeria di Michele (Via Cesare Sersale 1), Sorbillo (Via dei Tribunali 32) or the world famous Trianon da Ciro (Via Colletta 44/46). After lunch, visit the Capodimonte Museum, another Bourbon site with a huge collection of ceramics and ancient ruins.
Mantua, City for gourmet
A very special destination for modern foodies is Mantua, close to Verona and the Garda Lake. Mantua is the kingdom of good food. The greatest Italian chef, Gualtiero Marchesi, started his career here using high quality products and recipes from the local tradition created by the Gonzagas family – Italy’s contribution to European nobility. The Gonzagas lived at Palazzo Ducale, one of the most beautiful palaces in Italy with sumptuous rooms full of frescoes, furniture and paintings from the 16th century and later. Visit the Palace and Palazzo Te (famous residence, created for feasts and entertainment of Mantua’s Doge); and don’t leave the city without tasting their food delights as pumpkin tortelli or the risotto with sausage (we suggest the Aquila Nigra in Vicolo Bonacolsi 4). The beauty of the city and the excellence of its cuisine will delight you.