By Frankie Chee
Aside from spaghetti and pizza, chocolate and all-natural gelatino abound in Turin.
Turin's many gelaterie serve up a mind-boggling array of colourful gelato in every flavour imaginable.
The north-western Italian city is also home to numerous castles and palaces housing art and cultural exhibits.
In fact, there are so many museums there that English teacher Tan Ee-Ling, 34, cannot seem to finish visiting them all, despite having lived there since 2003.
Plus, the exhibits are changed regularly.
Tan, who lives there with her husband - Italian marketing manager Marco Silvano, 40 - is in the minority in Turin.
Unlike cosmopolitan Singapore, the city's population of about 2.27million people has few foreigners.
But that has not kept her from enjoying the city with its weekend markets, sidewalk cafes and beautiful parks, not to mention the vineyards and Alps outside the city.
The hilly vineyards of Bellavista are ablaze with colour in summer.
The best way to explore the city is by...
Foot, to better appreciate the many baroque-, neo-classical- and art nouveau-style buildings and parks, and to explore the quaint little lanes and admire the surrounding Alps, visible from the city.
The best time to visit is...
From May to July or September, when it's sunny but not humid. The parks, balconies, surrounding hills and countryside will be blooming with spring or summer flowers and the days are longer so there is more time to enjoy the outdoors.
Which places in the city excite you?
The castles and numerous palaces which house various art and cultural museums. They are all located in the city centre. The impressive squares, the many varied open-air markets and the gelaterie (ice-cream parlours) are nice too.
FOOD AND WINE
Bistrot Samambaia is a cosy watering hole which serves up homemade cakes, pastries and tasty sandwiches.
Your favourite breakfast is at...
Bistrot Samambaia (Via Madama Cristina, 20, tel: +39-011-6698 624). It's a very intimate and cute little cafe which serves a moveable feast of homemade cakes, pastries and tasty sandwiches. The fritelle di mele (apple fritters) are a must.
Your favourite eating place is...
Bistrot Samambaia again. There is an extraordinary buffet lunch prepared by the chef and owner, Beppe Pugliese, from noon to 3pm. The choice is wide and the homemade desserts are extremely inviting and unforgettable.
If you really want to pamper yourself, have a long, lazy late breakfast there and proceed to lunch soon after - something I've done a few times, especially during the holidays.
The coolest place to chill out is...
In any of the intimate cafes or bars in the trendy Quadrilatero Romano area, located in the city centre, for an aperitif from late afternoon till early evening.
What's the biggest difference between Singapore and this city?
Singapore is extremely multicultural and cosmopolitan and hence, variety abounds in the people, language, architecture and food. Whereas in Turin, non-Italians are still a minority, albeit a fast-growing one.
What do you think Singaporeans will like most about your city?
The chocolates, ice creams, pastries and historical cafes. Turin is the city of historical cafes - old cafes that date as far back as the 1800s.
You can have breakfast, spend a lazy afternoon or enjoy a cosy pre- or post-dinner gathering with friends in one of the many beautiful and well-preserved historical cafes around the city. You get to savour local chocolates, ice cream, sublime pastries and coffee all in one place.
Dining with husband and friends in the countryside outside Turin.
During the colder months, you should try a steaming cup of hot chocolate, a maroocchino (coffee served in a chocolate- or Nutella-coated cup) or the characteristic bicerin - a drink made from coffee, chocolate and cream.
The well-loved cafes include Baratti & Milano (127, Piazza Castello), Mulassano (9, Piazza Castello), Caffe Fiorio (8, Via Po) and Caffe San Carlo (156, Piazza San Carlo).
Buildings with ornate, antique, wooden main doors (right) are a common feature in Turin.
THINGS TO DO
Where's one place you would always take your friends when they visit you?
The Mole Antonelliana (20, Via Montebello, tel: +39-11-8138 564/565) for a spectacular 360-degree bird's-eye view of Turin. It's the city's most famous and tallest landmark which distinguishes its skyline.
There's also the interactive Cinema Museum with five floors of movie memorabilia housed within. With about 300,000 pieces, the collection comprises movie posters, playbills and all the advertising material from the first pre-cinematographic shows to today's films.
What is the one thing visitors in your city must do?
For those who love milky ice cream, eat a gelato or two from a tantalising gelateria like San Pe at Eataly (230/14, Via Nizza) or Caffe Fiorio (8, Via Po). Popular flavours from San Pe are those made from the fruits in season, while crema (cream), cioccolato (chocolate) or nocciola (hazelnut) are great flavours to try at Caffe Fiorio.
GROM has three locations (1D, Piazza Paleocapa/4, Via Accademia della Scienze and 11, Via Garibaldi) selling enticing gelati that uses the best ingredients from all over Italy and the world. Their most popular flavours are cream, gianduja and nougat.
What do you do on your weekends there?
Explore one of the many museums - there are more than 40 - which change their exhibits regularly.
Relax in one of the many parks or take a long stroll along the River Po that runs through the city.
Or check out an outdoor market to stock up on fresh local produce such as vegetables and fruit, or a specialised weekend antique furniture or vintage market.
A street vendor sells gourmet cheese in the picturesque town of Barbaresco which is an hour?s drive out of Turin
Where is the best place to go on a shopping spree?
The best place is actually outside Turin, in the small town of Serravalle, where the McArthur Glen Designer Outlet (1, Via della Moda, I - 15069 Serravalle Scrivia (AL), tel: +39-014-3609 000) is located.
There are more than 180 shops in this ever-growing "outlet town" with discounts from 30 to 70 per cent off all the famous brands such as Diesel, Dolce & Gabanna, Hugo Boss and Bruno Magli.
The best time to shop there is in January or July when the super bi-annual sales take place.
It takes 11/2 hours to get there by car, or about two hours if you take the special daily coaches from Turin.
Luckily for me, the outlet is just a five-minute drive from my in-laws who live in the countryside.
Are there any notable festivals that travellers should look out for?
Ciccolato (Chocolate Festival) is usually held in late February or early March, and lasts for more than a week. Turin is where the giandujiotto chocolate originated.
It's a tender and soft paste made of cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter and hazelnuts from Langhe, a nearby hilly countryside.
It is claimed that chocolate has been produced in Turin since the 1500s and so, fittingly, chocolatiers are aplenty and the art of chocolate-making is celebrated each year with Ciccolato.
More than 50 exhibitors set up stalls in the city centre, allowing you to discover, sample and purchase many different types of chocolate in many different forms.
The best chocolatiers in town are Guido Gobino (15B, via Cagliari/1, via Lagrange) and Peyrano (47, Corso Moncalieri/76, Corso Vittorio Emanuele).
Salone Internazionale del Gusto (Taste Fair) is the most important gastronomic event in Italy.
It is promoted and organised by the Slow Food Association and is held every two years in the autumn, usually in late October.
It is a week-long huge exhibition and market featuring not only food and wine producers from Italy but also from around the world. It's a must for foodies.
A LITTLE FURTHER
Resting at the mist-shrouded mountain range called the Dolomites is a soul-stirring experience.
Are there things to do or see outside of the city?
The choices are endless.
Palaces and castles such as The Stupinigi, the Hunting Lodge of King Vittorio Amedeo II or The Veneria, a recently renovated baroque-style palace likened to Versailles in France, await.
You can also take a drive and explore the countless vineyards, wineries and restaurants in the wine-growing Langhe area of Piedmont, which is about an hour away by car.
There's a lot of wine-tasting to be done, or simply buy a few crates of famous local wines such as Barolo, Barberesco, Barbera and Moscato home. Restaurants in the countryside are also the best places to savour north Italian cuisine.
Other things you can do is hiking in one of the many surrounding mountains and skiing in the Alps in winter.
IN TURIN WITH...
Occupation: English teacher
Length of stay: Five years
Photos by Tan Ee-Ling
This article was first published in The Straits Times on September 21, 2008.