In 1562, the capital of the Duchy of Savoy moved from Chambéry to Turin at the behest of Emmanuel Philibert, and since then Turin has epitomised the concepts of royalty and elegance. To make it live up to its role, the royals adorned and embellished the city and its surroundings with castles, residences, gardens and palazzos, forming a Crown of Delights (as it came to be known) that reached the height of its splendour in the 17th century. Their goal was to turn Turin into one of the greatest royal capitals of Europe, but also to build sumptuous buildings that could accommodate the royal family, either in the city centre throughout the year or just outside the city walls in the summer months. The Residences of the Royal House of Savoy thus became the symbol of power and court life. To this very day, they are very much loved by the people of Turin and a must-see destination for tourists. While you await to discover your favourite - and I assure you, you’ll be spoiled for choice - here is a rundown of just some of the Savoy Royal Residences of Turin.
The Savoy Royal Residences, a world heritage for UNESCO and for us all
A World Heritage Site since 1997, there are twenty-two Residences of the Royal House of Savoy of Turin, split between the city centre and the surroundings. The ones furthest away can be reached in about an hour by car and are undoubtedly beautiful, but even if you were to concentrate on the ones closest to the city centre, there would still be plenty to visit. Any tour of the city, even if just for a weekend in Turin, should include at least one, so as to allow you to truly understand Turin’s royal nature and take a dip into court life, amongst tapestries, draperies, sumptuous dresses, banquets and furniture from every corner of the globe.
Discover the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy by bike
The Crown of Delights forms part of the Corona Verde project, which involves the greater metropolitan and hilly area of Turin, and involves 93 towns and villages surrounding the city. The aim of this project is to create an itinerary of residences, city parks, rivers and pristine rural areas.
The area is marked by a 90 km plus ring of cycle paths, cycle routes and rural roads, known as the Crown of Delights by bike, connecting the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy. This ring, which can be completed on foot, by mountain bike or by city bike, crosses the most beautiful riverside, agricultural and historical landscapes around Turin.
The itinerary can be completed independently by anyone who downloads the free Crown by bike app onto their tablet or mobile phone. For now, the application, financed by the Piedmont Regional Authorities, only concerns the area west of Turin, ranging from Castello di Rivoli to Reggia di Venaria Reale, passing through the towns of Rivoli, Alpignano, Pianezza, Druento, Collegno, Grugliasco and Venaria.
The Savoy Royal Residences in Turin, discover the residences by bike
Villa della Regina, the Royal Residence of the Women of the House of Savoy
Our journey among the Savoy Royal Residences of Turin cannot but begin with the elegant and sumptuous Villa della Regina, perhaps one of the best loved by the locals because of its stunning aerial views of the city and of the Mole Antonelliana and because of its hillside position, close to the city centre, nestled in a bucolic landscape of greenery and vineyards.
Built by Cardinal Maurice of Savoy, a great intellectual who at the age of 50 married his young niece Princess Luisa Cristina of Savoy to heal a family rift, as often happened in those days, at his death the Villa was inherited by his wife. It then continued its destiny of belonging to great female personalities: royalties, sovereigns, queens and princesses.
After Luisa Cristina, the Villa passed into the hands first of Polyxena of Hesse, second wife of Charles Emmanuel III, and then of Anne Marie d'Orléans, wife of Victor Amadeus II. After a short occupation by the French, it then returned into the hands of the House of Savoy.
In 1869, it became the National Institute for the Daughters of Officers, a school for orphaned girls. And so, the rooms that had hosted noblewomen and court banquets became a place for young women to play, learn to sew and play musical instruments.
During the two world wars, Villa della Regina suffered a slow and inexorable decline: it was bombed several times, burgled, and left to be overrun by vegetation. In 1994, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage decided to embark on a slow and expensive refurbishment of the building, and after more than ten years of incessant works, in 2006 Villa della Regina was restored to its former glory. Vigna della Regina, a vineyard near the villa’s gardens, has also been restored by the Balbiano Winery and today produces excellent Freisa.
The interiors of Villa della Regina are sumptuously elegant and detailed with mirrors, frescoes and trompe l'oeil paintings. The gardens are a feast of geometries and fountains not to be missed, especially in the autumn.
Address: Strada Comunale Santa Margherita, 79
The Savoy Royal Residences in Turin, Villa della Regina the residences of women
Castello del Valentino, now the seat of the Faculty of Architecture
In the heart of Turin’s green lung, the Parco del Valentino, stands a Castle of the same name, situated right next to the city’s beautiful Botanical Gardens. Built as a 16th century riverside residence, the Castello del Valentino reached its greatest splendour during the reign of Christine of France, who would host important guests here. The Castello del Valentino has two very different façades: one white and elegant, admired from Corso Massimo, and the other in brick, dark and imposing, especially seen from the opposite side of the River Po.
Three Saturdays a month it is possible to take a guided tour of the interiors. Unlike other Savoy Royal Residences, which have mostly been converted to museums, Castello del Valentino is now the seat of the Politecnico di Torino’s Faculty of Architecture.
Address: Viale Mattioli, 39
The Savoy Royal Residences, Castello del Valentino now the seat of the Faculty of Architecture
Palazzo Carignano, where the first King of Italy was born
Let's move now to the pedestrian Piazza Carignano, a delightful enclosure in which time seems to have come to a standstill and where you might not be surprised to see a horse and carriage trot by, as if caught in a time warp. Palazzo Carignano was the birthplace of Charles Albert and of the first King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II. With its soft and sinuous façade, it is one of Italy’s most fascinating 17th century palazzos.
Today, Palazzo Carignano houses the Museo del Risorgimento (Museum of the Unification of Italy) on the first floor and the Apartments of the Princes of Carignano on the ground floor, the latter having reopened to the public in 2011 after a series of renovation works.
As an aside, just round the corner - in the direction of Piazza Castello, the last stop on our itinerary - you will come across the Luxembourg International Library, considered one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. A visit here is an absolute must.
Address: Via Accademia delle Scienze, 5
The Savoy Royal Residences, Palazzo Carignano where the first King of Italy was born
There are several Savoy Royal Residences in Turin overlooking Piazza Castello, probably because this is - and has always been - the city’s nerve centre.
Palazzo Reale, an imposing expression of the House of Savoy
Sumptuously grand with its blinding white façade, especially on sunny days, Turin’s Royal Palace is every bit as magnificent as other imperial palaces scattered throughout Europe. Behind a beautiful gate, only installed in the 1800s, stands one of the most majestic Royal Residences of the House of Savoy. The Savoy wished to ensure their “Palazzo Reale” lived up to the royal palaces gradually being built in other countries across Europe. To this end, they engaged numerous architects and over the centuries the building underwent a series of renovations, extensions and modifications.
The interiors are marked by sheer opulence, amidst baroque-style bedrooms, gold detailing and precious stones. Today, the palace houses the Royal Museums of Turin, and no trip would be complete without a visit to the Royal Library, considered one of the most important cultural institutions of Turin, the Royal Armoury, with its unique collection of weapons and historical armour, the Archaeological Museum and the Sabauda Gallery with their numerous works and artefacts, Palazzo Chiablese which houses the temporary exhibitions of the Royal Museums, and the magnificent Royal Gardens. The Royal Armoury and Palazzo Chiablese are two more Savoy Royal Residences inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Address: Piazzetta Reale, 1
The Savoy Royal Residences in Turin, Palazzo Reale an imposing expression of the House of Savoy
Palazzo Madama, and the reason behind the name of Piazza Castello
Piazza Castello owes its name to Palazzo Madama, once known as “the Castle” and home to the royal family. This Savoy Royal Residence in Turin has two completely different façades: an elegant and baroque one by Filippo Juvarra, overlooking Piazza Castello, and another, facing towards Piazza Vittorio Veneto, looking more like that of a medieval manor.
But why the name Madama? Because the palazzo was much loved by two important female figures, Christine of France and Marie Jeanne Baptiste of Savoy. It was under the latter that Palazzo Madama took on the delicately feminine and elegant lines that we can still admire today, as well as its striking double-ramp staircase.
From the top floor you will enjoy another stunning aerial view of Turin, ranging from the blinding white Palazzo Reale on one side to one of the liveliest, most bustling corners of the city on the other.
Address: Piazza Castello
The Savoy Royal Residences in Turin, Palazzo Madama and the reason behind the name of Piazza Castello
WRITTEN BY: Elisa Midelio, Viaggiare con Serendipità