‘Secret cities’ would have been an absurd subtitle for two such major places, but did suggest itself because of the rarity with which Britons find themselves in Genoa and Turin. But every art lover should go. The prevailing images are perhaps still predominantly commercial and industrial, but not only do both have highly attractive centres but both are distinguished by the large number of magnificent palaces and picture collections.
Genoa lays claim to the largest historic centre of any European city. It was one of the leading maritime republics of medieval Italy (it remains the largest port in the Mediterranean), and enjoyed a golden age during the 17th century. In the 1990s civic improvements and building restorations were undertaken to prepare the city for celebrations connected with the quincentenary of Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas, and the cultural momentum has continued.
In the earlier 17th century Genoa was artistically the equal of almost anywhere in Italy except for Rome and Naples. More than any other Italian school of painting, the Genoese was indebted to the Flemish school: Rubens made a prolonged visit in 1605 and Anthony Van Dyck was based here from 1621 to 1627. Many of his paintings remain here.
Turin was developed on a grand scale in the 18th and 18th centuries as the capital of Savoy, an independent state which became a kingdom from 1720. The region of Piedmont formed the majority of the kingdom’s mainland territory (which included Sardinia), and in the 19th century Piedmont became administratively and industrially the most advanced state in Italy – and the springboard for the risorgimento. Turin was the first capital of the newly united and independent Italy, 1861–65.
Turin’s centre is laid out on a regular plan with broad avenues and piazze of remarkable architectural homogeneity. Guarino Guarini (1624–83) and Filippo Juvarra (1678–1736), among the best architects of their time, both worked here for much of their lives.
Genoa. Fly at c. 9.15am (British Airways) from London Heathrow to Milan Malpensa. Upon arrival visit the Villa del Principe with Perin del Vaga frescoes. First of three nights in Genoa.
Genoa. In the morning visit the Palazzo Reale which has a magnificent stairway, splendidly furnished rooms and a fine collection of pictures. The Cathedral of S. Lorenzo, built 12th–16th centuries, possesses many works of art and a fine treasury. See the Via Garibaldi, lined with magnificent palazzi, most from the 16th century.
Genoa. Visit the church of S. Luca with its beautifully decorated interior. Palazzo Spinola has good pictures, Van Dycks in particular, and Palazzo Rosso has fine furnishings and excellent pictures. See also the adjacent church of the Annunciation and the Piazza S. Matteo, formed by the imposing palaces of the Doria family, which overshadow the small family church of S. Matteo.
Cherasco, Venaria. Leave Genoa and take a cross-country route through the beautiful countryside and wine-producing area of Le Langhe. Stop in Cherasco which has a 14th-century Visconti castle for a typical Piedmontese lunch. En route to Turin is the magnificent royal palace of Venaria (Amedeo Castellamonte, 1659) reopened in 2007 following extensive renovation work. First of three nights in Turin.
Turin. A morning walk through the beautiful Piazza S. Carlo, with arcades and 18th-century churches, is followed by a visit to the Royal Palace, built 1660, with wonderful interiors from the 17th–19th centuries. The Galleria Sabauda, housed in the Palace, has an excellent picture collection. In the afternoon visit the cathedral, with Guarini’s Chapel of the Holy Shroud.
Turin. Morning visit to the Palazzo Madama in the centre of Piazza Castello, now housing the City Art Museum, and the little church of S. Lorenzo, a Guarini masterpiece. Some free time in Turin.
Superga, Turin Lingotto. Visit the votive church of Superga, a magnificent hilltop structure by Juvarra, and the Pinacoteca Giovanni and Marella Agnelli at Lingotto which has a small but excellent quality collection in a building designed by Renzo Piano. Fly from Milan Malpensa, returning to London Heathrow c. 8.00pm.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,580 or £2,380 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,860 or £2,660 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 319/321); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation; breakfasts; 1 lunch and 4 dinners with wine; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and the tour manager.
Grand Hotel Savoia, Genoa: 5-star hotel close to the Palazzo Reale. Grand Hotel Sitea, Turin: 4-star hotel, comfortable, elegantly furnished and very central. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
The tour involves a lot of walking in town centres where vehicular access is restricted and standing in museums, and should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing. The transfer days between Milan’s airports and the hotels and between Genoa and Turin involve a lot of driving. Average distance by coach per day: 51 miles.
Are you fit enough to join the tour?
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.
'Lecturer is an expert guide. Generous with his knowledge and time. Delightful sense of humour.'
'The itinerary was very good indeed. Genoa & Turin are interesting cities and the contrast was most enjoyable.'
'Overall a stimulating experience and one we would recommend to others.'