La Venaria Reale, about 6 miles from the center of Turin, in northern Italy, is immense. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is said to be one of the five most visited cultural sites in Italy. Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy started the whole thing in 1660 when he ordered a hunting lodge built in princely style; it was redone in the 18th century and completely restored in recent years.
Today the duke’s baroque palace, once a royal residence, is a cultural center and tourist attraction, one piece of a vast complex that includes formal gardens, cafes, bookshops, the former stables and hunting preserve, and the old town center of Venaria. Our tour wasn’t nearly long enough to take it all in, but what my husband John and I saw and learned from our guide Carol Bazzani was impressive.
Venaria Reale was a huge, 8-year restoration project, the largest in Europe, and opened to the public in 2007. The park alone is amazing, with its ponds and fountains, rose pergola, and flower and vegetable gardens. There are 17th-century grottoes, the remains of the Fountain of Hercules and the Temple of Diana, and a Grand Parterre. July is the time to be here for the big Venaria Reale Festival, but other special events and concerts are held almost daily, especially in summer months.
The palace is much more than a museum, though it has a wide array of art exhibitions and historical artifacts. A temporary and wonderfully artful display during our visit showed women’s fashions through history. Some rooms are dedicated to the architecture of the estate, and one permanent exhibition, which follows a long path from the basement level to the main floor, explains the complex history of the royal House of Savoy. Galleries and halls are decorated with frescoes, paintings, and plasterwork. One room, with carved hunting scenes and rococo designs, is dedicated to Diana, goddess of the hunt and icon of the Duke of Savoy; and an on-site chapel honors St. Uberto, patron saint of hunters.
The size of La Venaria Reale makes it difficult to see in one visit. It’s very helpful to have a knowledgeable guide like Carol. The gardens are open Tuesday-Friday, 9:00 am-5:00 pm (longer hours in summer). The palace is open until 6:00 pm. There’s an admission fee for visitors over age 12. Audioguides are available, and there is handicapped access.
Public transportation from Turin includes bus lines 72 and 11 and the GTT Venaria Express Line. There are several good places to stay in or near Venaria Reale, and dozens of hotels in the city of Turin.
Written by and photos by Marilyn McFarlane for EuropeUpClose.com