Unable to take a rental car into Albania on a prior roadtrip through Europe we made it a mission to discover what would turn out to be a gem, and not one of those expensive gems! EasyJet supplied the direct flight from Geneva to Tirana, public transport was dirt cheap, as was accommodation, and the people were super friendly.

We had decided to head south to a few cool looking towns, then pretty much keep on going almost to the Greek border, before handing back the rental car at Tirana airport and taking public transport north to the mountains and lakes. Hiking opportunities were endless, the main attractions being the day hike from Valbona to Theth, and its big bother, the 192km Peaks of the Balkans. There will definitely be a return visit for this one!

The decision to leave the trip until early October was a smart one, both for the lack of tourists and the far cooler temperatures.

City Break in Turin

Albania’s ‘signature’ hike from Valbona to Theth

Leaving early on a Sunday meant we should be able to avoid any Mt Blanc tunnel queues and arrive in Turin in time for mid morning coffee and some form of sweet pastry. Little did we know that there are some extremely tasty food and drink options and some really cool, historical cafes to cater to those indulgences.

A little over 2 hours we pulled into the outskirts of the city, and whilst not super impressed we knew that the centre would be the place to be. Checkin wasn’t until 2pm so we parked up in a secure underground parking lot, not badly priced at €15 for 24 hours, then headed straight for the main square, Piazza Castello – the sun was shining, the crowds were minimal, and it looked very photogenic. Time for some camera action as we meandered from piazza to piazza.

First off Andrea had us making our way to Eataly, a global Italian restaurant and grocery chain. Originating in Turin the place was a gold mine for all things edible Italian – it would have been wrong to not indulge! Moving on, it was finally time to sit and do what Italians do best, drink coffee.

We had a couple of choices in Piazza San Carlo, both cafes with an abundance of history. Stratta, originating in 1836, and Caffé Torino since 1903 – these weren’t the only cafes with a reputation, the following all within walking distance of each other…

Piazza Castello

Piazza Castello

Piazza San Carlo

Piazza San Carlo

Whereas Andrea doesn’t touch coffee I was super excited about trying out the local Torino coffee delicacy, bicerin – a mixture of espresso, drinking chocolate, and milk served layered in a small glass. We plonked ourselves down in a prime ‘people watching’ table at Stratta, excited about bicerin and a pistachio cream filled brioche (buttery croissant). Turns out we would have to sit and watch a local wedding whilst drinking black tea, cappuccino, and some pretty good cannoli’s. With demand outweighing supply we never did get to enjoy a pistachio cream filled brioche!

Although I had to wait until the following morning the bicerin was as good as expected, almost worth the hefty €6. The price we pay for indulgences! Guess I could have saved a Euro and took it away or drank at the bar but part of the experience was having waiter service whilst sitting on the patio of Caffe Mulassano.

The rest of our day was spent wandering around the city; looking up in awe at the impressive Mole Antonelliana, trying to decide if the Roman Porta Palatina was really built during the 1st-century BC, and enjoying the 30,000 Egyptian antiquities at the Museo Egizio. Why Mole you may ask, well… A mole in Italian is a building of monumental proportions – makes sense when you see the building. We didn’t bother trying to get tickets for the National Museum of Cinema housed there or head up to the viewing platform, instead preferring to scout out the viewpoint that took in the entire city and Alps backdrop.

The Palatine Gate, one of the best preserved 1st-century BC Roman gateways in the world

The Palatine Gate

Royal Palace of Turin, including the Palazzo Chiablese and the Chapel of the Holy Shroud

Royal Palace of Turin

Caffé Torino, established in 1903

Caffé Torino

Being budget oriented and trying to keep costs reasonable we decided to eat out for lunch instead of dinner, a tough selection call due to the 3000+ food establishments in the city. Pizzium was our chosen restaurant, the pizza sounding perfect, and whether any notice is taken of Tripadvisor a rating of 21 made it sound like a popular choice. The pizza really was tasty, washed down with local beer and an espresso. Dinner would have to be at San Domenico Raffaello Residence, our cheap and very cheerful self catering studio. For €66 a night we were perfectly located an 8 minute walk from Piazza Castello in a bright and airy room.

Prior to dinner it was time for another of Turin’s specialities, the aperitivo. What we didn’t realise was that as well as Nutella and Ferrero Rocher (both products from the Ferrero family) originating just south of Turin in Alba, the city is home to Martini Rosso, Cinzano and Gancia. We’re always up for the ‘When in Rome’ mentality, totally enjoying an Aperol Spritz or glass of wine, or two, with the selection of nibbles that are usually part of this fun cocktail hour. Probably due to the full patio we opted for Pastis at Piazza Emanuele Filiberto.

View from our accommodation on a stormy late afternoon

Accommodation view

Porta Palazzo, home to one of the largest and oldest farmers markets in Italy

Turin’s main market

Po River, the longest in Italy, and the Piazza Vittorio Veneto

Po River

After having spent most of the previous day exploring and covering what we thought were the cities highlights it didn’t really make too much sense to hang around for another night. It was time to head off to Lago d’Orta a 90 minute drive away. First off we had to locate the viewpoint of the city.

Out bright and early for the best lighting and to avoid any posing instagrammers we followed what was an educated guess across the Po River to Mont dei Cappucini – the 2.5km walk took us right to the place we hoped for. The cool vantage point took in the city of Turin, the distant Alps, and the cities centrepiece, Mole Antonelliana. A far better option than dropping €8 each on the Mole viewing platform! The walk back provided the necessary appetite for a bicerin coffee and pastries.

Before heading out we had one final place to go see, the Turin market. Apparently the biggest open air market in Europe, situated in what is known locally as Porta Palazzo this place was impressive. It didn’t take long for us to have a bag full of fresh blueberries, tomatoes and avocados to take back to France. Unlike our local farmers market back in Chamonix the prices here are far lower than the supermarkets.

Fresh fruit and vegetables at amazing prices was our finale. Turin was far better than we anticipated and worthy of a return visit, in fact its so convenient for us that we could go purely for aperitivo’s!

Some not so great pictures from Lago d’Orta

Piazza Mario Motta in the quaint lakeside town of Orta San Giulio

Piazza Mario Motta

San Giulio Island and the Basilica di San Giulio

San Giulio Island

The beautiful lakeside town of Isola San Giulio

Orta San Giulio

September 28th – October 10th 2023

ApHEARTments” in Tirana City Center, Tirana – $52.79 USD per night on airbnb.com
Aphrodite Garden Rooms & Apartment, Himare – €52.50 per night on booking.com
Alsara Guesthouse, Gjirokaster – €45 per night on booking.com
Guesthouse Panorama, Berat – €35 per night on booking.com
Hotel Tradita, Shkoder – €64.80 per night on booking.com
Riverside Komani Lake, Shala River – €64.80 per night on booking.com
Guesthouse Demushi, Valbona – €40.50 per night on booking.com
Guesthouse “Gjin Thana”, Theth – €55 per night on booking.com

Cafes & Dining Out
Stockholms Gästabud (non reservable), countless excellent bageris/ bakeries

Places to See
Vasa Museum, the archipelago, Gamla Stan (free walking tour)

I think that with trial and error both my photography and website design are getting progressively better so hopefully these newer, better quality images will inspire you to get out there and travel. Click HERE to see more and if you like the content then feel free to comment.

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