I had heard and read about the beauty of La Venaria Reale since arriving in Torino; many compare it to Versailles. On one of our last days in the city, we made the trip out there.
La Venaria Reale was the summer house of the Royal House of Savoy, located about 10 miles outside of Torino. Even today, that 10 miles seemed like we were worlds away from the city, I can’t imagine what it was like when it was built in the late 1600s.
There’s a convenient bus from Piazza Vittorio that goes straight up to La Venaria Reale. Catherine, Camille, Jillian and I caught the first one so we could be at the villa when it opened. You walk up the quaint, cobblestoned main street of the town into the shadows of the palace’s piazza and you can’t help but admire the beautiful, stately building. It’s HUGE and separated into two distinct parts: the original building from the 17th century and the addition built in the 18th century.
The palace had actually fallen into disrepair and only in 1997 did restoration begin on the estate. It is now the largest restoration project in Europe, only being open to the public since 2007. But wow, did they do a great job on it!
We opted to walk through the gardens first, hoping to beat the heat. We didn’t, but it was at least a bit cooler than the middle of the day. And the scenery more than made up for it.
The gardens are spectacular. They go on forever…
…a vegetable garden and fruit trees…
..and views of the Alps.
Basically, picture perfect.
Throughout Italy, visiting some gorgeous villas and castles, we’ve often had the conversation of what women living in these houses in the 18th and 19th centuries would have done. For the Savoy women staying at La Venaria Reale, I can without a doubt say they would have strolled through the gardens for hours each day. Or at least, that’s what I would have done.
After realizing we spent several hours in the gardens, we made our way inside. Unfortunately, we had to catch the 1:00 bus back down to Torino before work started, so we had to kind of power through the palace. I could have easily spent all day strolling around, reading everything and enjoying all of the elaborate rooms.
During the restoration, they didn’t just restore the palace to its previous glory; they made the entire estate very interactive. In the entrance hall, they project visitors from different eras walking into the palace to show what it would have been like to attend a party at La Venaria Reale throughout history.
Down in the kitchen, they play videos of the heated cook and busy kitchen maids, have a room dedicated to a (fake) fire over which you can imagine chicken being roasted and you hear the cook’s screams to “cook faster” and “take the food upstairs”, understanding how hectic and stressful of a place the kitchen would have been in such a royal house.
And on the staircase, there’s a model Savoy family, showing you how they would have dressed.
On the main floor, overlooking the piazza, we noticed a crowd. We stepped outside and were treated to a fountain show, choreographed to classical music.
At the end of a long hallway, we peeked our head around a red curtain and were greeted with the most spectacular hall.
The sun was streaming in, glistening off the white walls and the checkered floor was mesmerizing. I felt a bit like I was in Alice in Wonderland and had walked into the Queen of Heart’s palace. We proceeded to have a photo shoot since it was all but empty.
The magnificent hall took us to the chapel, which was reminiscent of beautiful churches in major cities…except this was a private church for the royal family at their summer house and hunting lodge.
And clearly the restoration is ongoing.
The last area of La Venaria Reale was a temporary exhibit of Steve McCurry’s photographs. I knew who he was because of my Mom, but I was still blown away, both by his photographs as well as the exhibit itself.
The pictures themselves were all close-up portraits of people living in various third-world countries. While some portray happy moments, most are hauntingly beautiful, making you see the constant poverty, hunger and fear in which so many live.
The photos were hung on huge, opaque drapes, which added to the haunting feeling of his work.
We got very lost trying to leave the estate – we kept walking into courtyards we couldn’t get out from or going down hallways that didn’t lead anywhere. It was like they were trying to keep us there…which I don’t think any of us would have minded.