As Turin prepares to host the next Winter Olympics, Christina Pfeiffer checks out the city
1 Royal House of Savoy residences
Located at the top of the Italian boot, and bordered by France to the west and Switzerland to the north, Turin was the first city to house an Italian government, when Victor Emmanuel II became king of Italy in 1861. Most of Turin's grand buildings were created during its golden age when the House of Savoy flaunted their imperial prowess for 900 years. It started with Emmanuel-Philibert, Duke of Savoy, who moved his capital to Turin in 1562 and began a series of building projects ranging from the Royal Palace in the centre of town to country residences and hunting lodges. In 1997, this vast network of buildings was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Furnished with royal antiques and paintings and now open to the public, the Palazzo Reale was the official residence of the Savoy dukes and kings for more than two centuries. Various epochs of Turin's heritage overlap in Palazzo Madama. This palace incorporate parts of an ancient Roman gate. In the 17th century it became the residence of the Madama Reale or Royal Widow. In 1721, architect Filippo Juvarra gave the palace a baroque facade. Today, the Palazzo Madama houses the Civic Ancient Art Museum.
2 Turin Shroud
One of the most controversial items in Christian history is kept at the cathedral of San Giovanni Battista in Turin. The Holy Shroud is an ancient linen cloth that bears the image of a crucified man, which millions believe to be the cloth that wrapped Jesus Christ's crucified body. Scientists have completed hundreds of thousands of hours of analysis on the shroud, yet the controversy rages on. At Turin's cathedral you can gaze at the satin-covered box that it's kept in, and inspect a smaller copy hanging on the wall. A full-size copy is also on display in the baroque church of San Lorenzo on Piazza Castello.
3 Historic Cafes
Turin's historic 18th- and 19th-century cafes are not to be missed. Flamboyantly decorated in gold and crimson, with ornate marble tops, chandeliers, frescoes and mirrors, these cafes look more like grand museums than eating houses. Cafe San Carlo (Piazza San Carlo) served Alexander Dumas his first bicerin (hot coffee, chocolate and cream); at Caffe Fiorio (Via Po 8), Cavour and Garibaldi plotted the future of Italy; and the closet-sized Caffe Mulassano (Piazza Castello 15) has been long favoured by artists from the nearby theatre.
4 Egyptian Museum
The Turin Egyptian Museum is a treasure trove of Egyptian artefacts, and the largest such repository in the world outside Cairo. The size and enormous variety of the collection makes it a fascinating place to spend a few hours. All periods of ancient Egypt are represented here: from rows of mummies to giant sculptures, grooming implements to furniture, no type of surviving artefact is missing. The top crowd-pullers are the 4,000-year-old body of a woman, a large black granite statue of Ramses II, and the Tomb of Kha. There's also an extraordinary collection of papyri, including the Royal Papyrus, which lists all the Egyptian kings up to Ramses II (1279BC); paintings from the tomb of It (discovered in 1911) and the oldest painted cloth in the world (3500BC) depicting boats, hunting scenes and ritual dances. The Tomb of Kha dates back to 3500BC and houses sarcophagi and statues, a bed, clothing, cooking utensils and grooming items.
5 Mole Antonelliana
At 167 metres tall, the Mole Antonelliana building towers above Turin's classical city skyline. Originally commissioned as a synagogue but rejected by the Jewish community, this 19th-century brick building, topped by an aluminium spire, was recently transformed into a temple of film. The Museo Nazionale Del Cinema contains five floors of exhibits dedicated to celluloid history. The heart of the museum is the Temple Hall surrounded by 10 chapels glorifying the cult of cinema. You lie on a bed watching classic love scenes as a glass elevator whizzes people up through the galleries to a terrace that has the best city views (www.museonazionaledelcinema.org).
As Olympic fever begins to stir in Turin, host of the 2006 Winter Games, head to the slopes of Sestriere. The resort is an hour's drive west of the city and will host most of the alpine skiing events. As new spectator venues go up in the mountains, planners are getting ready to re-market Sestriere as Europe's newest alpine playground. Sestriere is part of a region nicknamed the Milky Way, which includes five Italian ski playgrounds: Sestriere, Sauze d'Oulx, Sansicario, Cesana and Claviere. While the resort is popular with European skiers in winter, summer visitors have the village and its 18-hole golf course to themselves. Other summertime options include mountain biking, kayaking, climbing, horseriding and hiking.
Given the wealth of the Savoys, it's no wonder Turin is well stocked with Old Masters. More surprisingly, the opening of several new galleries has seen it emerge as a destination for showcasing contemporary art. The former Fiat factory at Lingotto has been re-invented to house shops, cinemas, hotels and the Pinacoteca di Giovanni e Marella Agnelli (www.pinacoteca-agnelli.it), which contains 25 priceless works from the Agnelli collection, including pieces by Canaletto, Picasso, Dali and Matisse. The Fondazione Sandretto de Rebaudengo (www.fondsrr.org) is a vast space for cutting-edge exhibitions, built in the rough San Paolo district. The remains of a royal castle, Castello di Rivoli (www.castellodirivoli.org), have been turned into an intriguing art museum that exhibits radical new works in rooms decorated with its original 15th-century murals. The Galleria Civica D'Arte Moderna E Contemporanea, known as the GAM, has a permanent art collection of 20,000 works (www.gamtorino.it). The Turin Card provides access to more than 120 museums, as well as unlimited use of the city's transport system. A two-day card costs Euro15 ($155).
8 Piazza San Carlo
Admire the architecture at Piazza San Carlo, with its elegant palaces and the twin churches of San Carlo and Santa Cristina. In the centre there's a statue of Duke Edmondo Filiberto on his horse - brandishing his sword after the battle of Saint Quentin - a symbol of the end of war and the beginning of a period of reconstruction. The streets around the square are alive with cafes.
9 Boating on the Po
Catch the river ferry from the Murazzi and float along the River Po, between city and mountain. Located between the Ponte Umberto I and the Ponte Isabella is the 30-hectare Valentino Park, which contains a former royal palace, the Castello del Valentino. A little further along is the Borgo Medievale, a reproduction of a medieval castle that was built for a major exhibition in 1884. It now houses antiques and craft shops. Old river landing stages have been converted into bustling cafes and restaurants. The hills above are dotted with the villas of the nobility and churches.
10 Olympic Turin
As Turin prepares for the Winter Olympics, you'll have to dodge the city's extensive programme of roadworks. In 2006, 82 medals will be given out over a 17 days. The athletes will compete in seven sports - biathlon, bobsleigh, curling, ice hockey, luge, skating, and skiing - at eight competition sites. New speed skating and ice hockey stadiums are being built, while the older stadiums are undergoing major renovations. The opening and closing ceremonies will take place in the Stadio Comunale. Tours of the new Olympic buildings are available (www.turismotorino.org).