I'M always surprised when first-time or infrequent visitors to Italy tell me that they plan to spend a few days in Milan. Their idea, I think, is that Milan will offer the epitome of style, which along with art and food is one of the three pillars of Italian culture. This reminds me of the 1946 George Price cartoon of an aging flapper racing toward a news vendor and crying, "Vogue! And hurry!" True, Milan is the center of the country's fashion and media industries. But that doesn't mean the visitor can plug into them simply by walking down the streets or going into the right bars. Trendsetters generally keep behind closed doors, and the customers in the famed boutiques of Via Monte Napoleone are seldom Italian. Gray, vast, and monolithic, Milan is a city very hard to like -- and nearly impossible to love.
Those hankering for northern elegance should know that Turin is no more than an hour and a half from both Milan's city center and its airport, Malpensa, which was recently designated one of Italy's principal international gateways (despite the fact that connections to and from Milan remain inconvenient). Every street in Turin offers at least one stylish shop and an unexpected Baroque or Art Nouveau vista; the museums are excellent and varied; shops, thanks to industrial money, have been able to maintain their ornate turn-of-the-century façades and interiors; the cafés are the most spectacular in a country blessed with a café on every block; the wine and cheese, from the surrounding hills and mountains of Piedmont, are among Italy's best (and often unavailable beyond the region's borders); and the pastry and chocolates are easily the country's most refined. Price's panicky flapper might not find the very latest frock. But in the luxurious, tasteful shops of Turin she would find clothes that designers actually wear.
I go to Turin as often as possible, and can't imagine tiring of it. Like Naples, my other favorite Italian city, Turin has lately been making itself dramatically more accessible, inviting, and navigable for tourists. The periodic viewings of the Shroud both jam the city (the two-month-long showing last spring, the first in twenty years, drew more than a million people) and set deadlines for renovation. The Royal Palace was repainted and cars were banned from much of the main piazza in time for last spring's onslaught, and the showing next year, in honor of the millennial, is likely to bring more renovation.