Chocolate holidays in Turin, Italy

It’s like stepping into a scene of Chocolate. As soon as you step inside the dimly lit Caffè Al Bicerin, tucked away in the historic quarters of Turin in northwestern Italy, you get the feeling that guilty pleasures await. Pairs of women huddle around small marble tables enjoying slow sips of a hot, creamy drink between quick bouts of Italian. It’s Turin’s signature brew, bicerin – a blend of coffee, chocolate and layered cream – that draws in customers, as it has for more than two centuries.

As she sets down the steaming bulbous glasses, Al Bicerin owner Maritè Costa advises us not to stir. The reason for her request soon becomes clear – the first bite delivers a strong shot of espresso, then comes a rich flow of milk chocolate and, finally, the three ingredients combine to deliver a flavor that explains why no less than 15 women Italians are crammed into a small cafe in the middle of the day.

But Turin’s love affair with chocolate is no secret. It was here, in the fourth largest city in Italy, that chocolate in its solid form was first created. To cope with the shortage of cocoa beans during the Napoleonic wars, chocolate makers in Turin mixed cocoa with more affordable hazelnuts, forming a delicious paste which in 1865 became the bocconcino or cicca (piece the size of a mouth). Turin’s original solid chocolate, gianduiotti, is an appetizing piece shaped like an upside-down boat wrapped in gold leaf.

Chocolate is very special in Turin,” says local guide Alessandra Angherà. “It has a long history in this town and we particularly appreciate good quality chocolate. It is a luxury, but without which one cannot live. »

From March 4 to 13, Turin celebrates its chocolate past with the annual CioccolaTo festival. This month-long event features food, wine, music, literature, film and art, all inspired by chocolate. Tasting trails are traced in each district of the city to help visitors locate cafés, restaurants, confectioners and workshops to taste the best chocolate delicacies.

As tenuous as the connection may seem, chocolate also plays a key role in promoting the city’s role as host of the 2006 Winter Olympics from February 10-26 and the Paralympic Winter Games from February 10 to March 19. This year, CioccolaTo is bringing sports to its agenda with events such as “Winning with Cocoa: Chocolate Sports” and the Chocolate Olympiad, which offer a taste of the sports featured during the games. The move is part of a concentrated effort to redefine the city’s image for a global audience.
Home to luxury car makers Fiat and major pen makers, Turin has long been overlooked as an industrial city and shunned by visitors in favor of Rome, Venice, Florence or Milan. Angherà says the Olympics offer Turin the perfect platform to update its image. “People have this idea of ​​Turin as a gray, industrial city,” she says. “We have the same level of culture here as any other Italian city, so it’s important for us to host the Olympics because it’s our chance to grow as a city and show the rest of the world what That we have.”

With less than 12 months to the start of the Games, physical evidence of this transformation can be seen across the city. An underground rail network is being created to complement the city’s existing tram and bus systems, while industrial space is being reclaimed to make way for sports venues, an Olympic Village, boulevards, cycle paths and shopping malls. public meeting and exhibition spaces. Most of the sporting action will take place in the Alps flanking the western side of the city, where facilities are being upgraded and created.
Despite its desire for change, Turin already has a lot to offer. With its assortment of museums, stunning architecture, art galleries, great restaurants and bars, friendly people and snowy slopes on its doorstep, the city has a solid base to build on. In February 2006, the world might be surprised to find out what it missed.

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