The lesser-known Italian vacation spot that invented some of the world’s best-loved food and drinks — and an iconic car chase

“BRAVA, Chicca!” our guide shouts as his dog digs up a piece of mushroom from under the ground.

Truffle hunting isn’t the usual start to an Italian mini-break, but after five minutes I’m fully invested in our hunt, accompanied by Tino and his expert dog.


The Mole Antonelliana tower in Piedmont offers spectacular views of the Italian cityCredit: Getty
Tricca, our guide's expert dog, quickly found a sought-after white truffle.


Tricca, our guide’s expert dog, quickly found a sought-after white truffle.Credit: Sarah Grealish

I watch intently as Chicca picks up a scent then begins to dig furiously with her paws.

She found a large white truffle, which in this part of Italy is considered more valuable than gold.

I was on vacation in the Piedmont region at the foot of the Alps, near the borders of France and Switzerland, where truffles can be found on almost every restaurant menu, if you don’t smell them first .

Our white was around £100 and would make the perfect garnish for our dinner.

And when it comes to dining, there are plenty of places to choose from in this area.

It’s definitely worth trying the pasta if you’re in Turin, the capital of Piedmont.

One of the oldest restaurants here, Port di Savona has been serving pasta since 1863, and the walls above its staircase are covered with photos of celebrities who have dined here.

Despite what celebrity clichés may make you think, the traditional food is very affordable and draws a local crowd.

Expect homemade gnocchi with gorgonzola for around ten dollars or tagliatelle with wild boar ragu for a little more.

When the waiter asks me if I would like truffle to accompany my beef-stuffed agnolotti, I am delighted to tell him that I have mine, found fresh that morning.

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He doesn’t seem surprised at all, probably because these mushrooms are one of the highlights of Piedmont.

But that’s not the only thing that makes this beautiful region famous.

Turin, where I was staying, is also a coffee lover’s paradise since it’s where businessman Angelo Moriondo patented the first known espresso machine in 1884.

It is also home to much of Italy’s automotive industry, housing the headquarters of Fiat and Alfa Romeo.

If that’s not enough, panna cotta and Barolo wine are also Piedmont exports.

But more importantly — in my noticeat least — this city was the backdrop for the 1969 British film The Italian Job, the comedy about a gang of English crooks who plot to steal four million dollars’ worth of gold bars.

The iconic film The Italian Job was filmed in Piedmont in the 1960s.


The iconic film The Italian Job was filmed in Piedmont in the 1960s.Credit: Alamy

Famous car chase

As we walk the streets, it all seems familiar – so much so that I expect Michael Caine, the film’s main star, to come around the corner in a Mini Cooper.

One of the city’s grandest palaces, Palazzo Madama, is where my inner movie buff really gets excited: its colossal grand staircase played a starring role in the film.

It’s hard to imagine how the film’s makers convinced the Italians to let them race down the marble stairs, creating perhaps the most famous car chase in British cinema. history.

However, this is not the city’s only nod to cinema. The National Cinema Museum inside the Mole Antonelliana Tower (£12, is full of incredible exhibitions focusing on the works of Italian filmmakers and directors.

However, we are mainly here to admire the view from its roof, which is unbeatable on a sunny day.

Boarding a glass elevator, we take a stunning, and slightly terrifying, short ride through the center of the building until we reach the clouds, where we can admire panoramic views.

It’s breathtaking when the sun shines on the city, flanked by tall, rugged mountains. But everything here looks just as spectacular during the winter months, especially during Luci d’Artista, Turin’s annual light festival.

As night falls, on almost every street you will encounter installations created by contemporary artists that illuminate the city’s squares, churches and monuments with flashes of color.

Like Rome or Venice, Turin’s monuments have cultural significance – but unlike those cities, thousands of tourists don’t crowd everywhere you go.

And as the locals will tell you, everything good about Italian was invented by the Piemontesi – so why would you go anywhere else?

Signs light up Turin city center with a wide range of restaurants to choose from


Signs light up Turin city center with a wide range of restaurants to choose fromCredit: Getty
Tino and his truffle dog Chicca gave us an unusual start to our vacation


Tino and his truffle dog Chicca gave us an unusual start to our vacationCredit: Sarah Grealish

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