You can track the best of Turin along its waterways, whether it’s the spritely early-morning rowers or the late-night revellers carousing at the resurgent Murazzi. Explore and experience the aqua vita.
Life on Turin’s rivers begins early – very early – in the morning. While most of this elegant city’s residents are still asleep, and long before breakfast begins being served at its stately cafés, dedicated rowers take to the River Po. In winter they’re faced by bitterly cold waters and a dark sky but in the summer, gliding on the calm surface of Italy’s longest river, they’re rewarded with the best view that Turin can offer. The snow-capped Alps in the background, the city’s lush hill on one side and the long stretch of the Valentino park on the other – with the tower of the city’s Mole Antonelliana presiding from above; it’s a marvellous, peaceful vignette.
But soon there’s even more activity along its banks: joggers and dog-walkers take to the parks and students from the nearby universities and schools keep the lawns occupied well into the afternoon (often with guitars and beer glasses in hand). After dinner, activity moves to the Murazzi, the historic riverbanks where a handful of clubs keep people dancing until the sun rises again over the river.
The Po isn’t the only river in Turin but it is a vital artery: three more waterways crisscross the city and all have been an important part of the urban fabric since Turin’s beginnings. In 1892 the International Federation of Rowing was set up here, and every year since 1992 the Silver Skiff Rowing Brigata has taken place on long stretches of the Po.
Luca Ballarini, an architect and designer, spends his weekends at the Società Canottieri Caprera, on the eastern bank of the river. An avid rower, he says that having four rivers is “a very important feature of Turin – one that we [the Turinese] are trying to promote”. During the 1911 World’s Fair a number of pavilions were built along the west bank and one of the few that remain is the elegant French Pavilion, which is now the Società’s rowing club.
Ballarini founded a non-profit called Torino Stratosferica, which brings together some of Turin’s creative minds to imagine, promote and campaign for Turin at its best – and the relationship with the four rivers is a central part of their mission. River development, Ballarini says “needs several things: political support, a developer with deep pockets and an iron will”.
It’s not just about rowing though. All along the Po and Stura you’ll find plenty of green spaces for walking, running, biking and bird fancying. For a shady spot, try the grass under the giant weeping willow across from the Castello del Valentino. If you’d rather go for a long run or a stroll, miles of walking paths stretch from the southern San Salvario neighbourhood, following the Po all the way to the northern Parco della Confluenza, where the Po and Stura combine.
Many of the rowing clubs have friendly cafés and excellent restaurants and offer more than just river sports, with gyms, pools and tennis courts all available for their members. Bars such as Fluido serve water-side aperitivos and after a long hiatus, one of the city’s venerable institutions, the Imbarchino del Valentino, is reopening its terraces to those who want to spend their days reading under the pergola and stick around for evening gigs. Even with clean water, river swimming is in its infancy, though the annual Polar Bear’s Club dip in the icy waters in the winter months shows that it can be a pleasurable affair.
Once the focal point of the city’s nightlife, the Murazzi in the centre of the city have seen several of its clubs close due to periodic flooding and shortsighted policies. But some of its storied lynchpins – Giancarlo, The Beach and Doctor Sax – have managed to survive. And there has been a resurgence of new openings too, spearheaded by Mario Mongio and friends, who opened the Turin outpost of sushi joint Bomaki in 2018.
“Now locals stop to thank us because we believed in an area that is often undervalued but deserves special attention,” says Mongio. “We hope that it will cause a re-evaluation of the whole area, where commercial activities will grow, so as to start a real new era of the vibrant and beautiful Murazzi.”
Turin’s many squares and porticoes may be where many residents like to idle and wander on a weekend – but it’s along the rivers that daily life really flows.
Stay: B&B Via Stampatori: Expect wooden flooring, a calming courtyard and a superb alfresco breakfast. With only a few rooms, the townhouse-turned-bed-and-breakfast provides respite just steps from all of Turin’s attractions.
Eat: Gaudenti 1971 (Via Po): Not only a hotspot for coffee, cornetti, cakes and a morning pick-me-up but also an excellent weekend brunch.
Eat: Scannabue: This flag-bearer of Piedmontese food is a neighbourhood staple, with friendly dinnertime vibes and archetypal plates such as vitello tonnato, and agnolotti del plin: a small ravioli filled with either herbs or meat.
Picnic: Latteria Bera: With plenty of green space along the river bank for a picnic, stop by the iconic Latteria Bera for some provisions. From cheese and salumi to grissini and wine, the historic local has been dishing out tasty goodies since 1958.
13 Via San Tommaso
Drink: Caffe-Vini Emilio Ranzini: This tiny spot serves some of the best bite-sized snacks in Turin. Located on a quiet, side street near the Porta Palazzo market, it’s open for lunch, aperitivo and dinner.
9G Via Porta Palatina
Do: Società Canottieri Caprera: For visitors looking to row or hit the tennis courts and pool while in town, the Società Canottieri Caprera offers day and guest passes to non-members (€30).
In summer the banks of the Kamogawa Delta – where the Takano and Kamogawa rivers meet – fill with sunbathers and picnickers. Not far from the forested grounds of the Shimogamo Shrine, the delta is a popular place for splashing around, with residents often frolicking among the large stones that span the water. These concrete blocks – some of which are carved in the form of birds and turtles – were placed here in the 1990s to stabilise the riverbed.
Kyoto’s riversides play an important role in the city’s life in general. Summer is humid so a walk along the bank, a splash in the shallows or just a drink overlooking the water are indispensable – and a staple of the ancient capital’s close relationship with its waterways.
stay: Hotel Kanra Kyoto: Located near Higashi Honganji temple, this 68-room hotel has an attractive interior that fuses Japanese and western elements. It’s also got a traditional in-house spa.hotelkanra.jp
eat: Kiln: Set on the banks of the Takase River, this bistro specialises in charcoal grilling: think Wagyu beef, chicken brochette and charred yellowtail.
drink: Bar K-ya: Owner-bartender Junichi Kurono runs this exceptional spot. The extensive menu includes seasonal cocktails and Scottish and Japanese whiskies.
103 Yaoya-cho, Nakagyo-ku
shop: 45R: Launched in 1977, 45R is famous for aizome (indigo) dyed clothes made in Japan. See the brand’s full line-up at the Kyoto branch.
61 Masuya‑cho, Nakagyo‑ku
see: Saiho-ji Temple: The temple is no more but there is an eerily beautiful moss garden: more than 120 varieties create a delicate carpet under a canopy of trees. The upper level is a karesansui-style dry-rock garden.
56 Matsuo-jingatani-cho, Nishikyo-ku