Travel: Up to Speed
When the winter olympics begin this month in Turin, the world will discover what Italians long have known about this industrial hub: Turin is built for speed. This is the city, after all, that became the capital of the European automotive industry in 1922, when Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, or Fiat, unveiled Lingotto, a futuristic, five-story car factory—the world’s largest at the time—that featured a rooftop test track with precipitously banked curves.
Fiat shuttered the Lingotto facility in 1982 and moved its corporate headquarters across the street. Around the same time, the firm splintered several of its operations into independent companies and established manufacturing plants throughout Europe. Still, the automotive giant continues to define its home city (which is sometimes referred to as Italy’s Detroit), and Turin’s approximately 900,000 residents seem to embrace the efficiencies of mass production. The blink-of-an-eye speed with which locals down their espressos underscores the sense that time is of the essence on the streets and in the arcades of Piedmont’s picturesque capital city.
Turin’s fast pace slows considerably on weekends, when business travelers return home and locals stroll the banks of the Po River and linger in the cafés that line the Piazza San Carlo. But with the Olympics as its launching pad, this city of commerce is attempting to reinvent itself as a weekend getaway for Italians and an essential stop for foreign tourists. Central to Turin’s plan is a hotel set in the same building from which the city’s industry rose.
Le Meridien Lingotto, which opened in the old Fiat factory in 1995, and its newer sibling and neighbor, Le Meridien Turin Art + Tech, offer two distinct takes on Turin traditions. The Lingotto hotel honors its building’s former occupant with the use of automobiles as a motif throughout the 240-room property. A 1920s-era Fiat 501 Torpedo sits parked inside the hotel’s Torpedo restaurant, and historic black-and-white photographs of the Lingotto factory, along with vintage Fiat posters, adorn the walls of the public spaces and halls.
Apart from a whimsical lamp made from a car headlight in each of its 150 guest rooms, the Le Meridien Art + Tech (which is connected to the Lingotto building but occupies a new structure) shies away from auto-themed decor. Instead, the hotel reflects Turin’s progressive roots with its contemporary cherry wood interiors, all-glass elevators, and such in-room amenities as Hansgrohe Pharo shower panels and Philips flat-screen TVs. Each guest room at the property, which opened in October 2003, resembles an enclave inside a larger art gallery, and the hotel’s restaurant—set beneath a 92-foot glass-paneled ceiling—offers a glamorous venue in which to enjoy Chianti and Piedmontese beef.
Guests at both Le Meridien hotels can request a key to Lingotto’s rooftop test facility, which now serves as a jogging track and a site for savoring 360-degree views of Turin and the Italian Alps. The pace seems less hurried from this vantage, but the city below—and, this month, the action on the nearby slopes of Sestriere—shows no signs of slowing down.
Le Meridien Lingotto and Le Meridien Turin Art + Tech, 800.543.4300, www.lemeridien.com