Experience Royalty at La Venaria Reale: Day Trip from Torino

Horse and Carriage Ride on La Venaria Reale grounds

After spending time in Torino, I decided to take a day trip from Torino to explore La Venaria Reale. La Venaria Reale is about an hour away (~10km) from the city of Turin in Piedmont and is one of the largest royal residences in the world. The Venaria Palace (Reggia di Venaria) complex is a masterpiece of architecture and gardens, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. Originally built as a lavish hunting lodge for the House of Savoy in the 17th century, the estate includes the Royal apartments, 80 hectares of gardens, and the 17th-century historical village of Venaria. Here is your complete travel guide for exploring La Venaria Reale.

Horse and Carriage Ride on La Venaria Reale grounds

Did you know that the Venaria Palace inspired the Palace of Versailles?

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How to Get to La Venaria Reale

Entrance Gate to La Venaria Reale

It is surprisingly easy to get to Venaria Palace from Torino. You can get there by car, express shuttle, city bus, train, and the City Sightseeing hop-on-hop-off bus. I chose to hop on the “Venaria Express” shuttle bus in Turin to reach La Venaria Reale. The Venaria Express shuttle bus operates from Tuesday to Sunday and on public holidays (the palace is closed on Mondays). The ride costs 1.70€ and has several stops in the center of Turin before taking you to the palace. You can pick up the Venaria Express schedule from the tourist information office at Piazza Castello. If you decide to take the City Sightseeing hop-on-hop-off bus, choose Line C, and Venaria Reale is one of their stops.

Where to Get La Venaria Reale Tickets

La Venaria Tourism and Ticket Office

Once you arrive, head to the ticket office across from the palace entrance. You can also book your ticket in advance online. Venaria palace is included in the Torino+Piedmonte Card, which offers great value for your money, and you can get yours in the tourist information office in Piazza Castello. Using the card will give you access to all the exhibitions, which is what I did. I got The Reggia and the Castle of La Mandria ticket, which includes admission to the Reggia, the Gardens, and the Castle of La Mandria.

History of Venaria Palace

View of the Palace from Carriage Court at La Venaria Reale

The Venaria Palace has had a tumultuous history, starting as a glamourous hunting lodge, going into a disastrous decline, and then back to luxurious restoration. Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoy wanted to build a legacy for him and his wife, Duchess Maria Giovanna Battista of Savoy-Nemours. Beginning in 1658, they commissioned architects Amedeo di Castellamonte and Michelangelo Garove to create an exquisite complex of a palace, Italian gardens, hunting woods, and a new village surrounding the palace. The gardens were spectacularly designed with fountains, majestic staircases, and terraces on multiple levels. The design plan was magnificently unique because the single perspective view ran straight from the village to the heart of the Venaria, along a central canal that linked the Fountain of Hercules to the Temple of Diana.

Hercules Canal at La Venaria Reale

The beauty of the Palace and the grounds didn’t last long. During the Siege of Turin in 1706, parts of La Venaria Reale’s palace were badly damaged, as also during the battles between Napoleon’s French army against Italy and other countries. The palace was converted into a barracks, and the gardens were decimated and used as training grounds by his troops in the early 19th Century. Horses, cannons, and muskets replaced the beautifully manicured flowerbeds, fountains, and art sculptures. Uniformed troops during the Wars of Independence occupied the grounds, and then later, Italian soldiers during World War I and II trained here as well. When the military left the complex in 1978, Venaria Palace fell into neglect and, unfortunately, was vandalized and stripped bare.

It wasn’t until 1999 that the Restoration Project began to restore the Palace and its gardens. During the restoration period that lasted eight years, Frescoes, decorations, and archaeological findings were brought back to the palace and restored. It was the largest project to restore a cultural asset ever undertaken in Europe. The Restoration Project included restoring a surface of 100,000 square meters, recovering 9,500 square meters of stuccowork and 1,000 square meters of frescoes. The Gardens have also been restored with over 100,000 new plants and trees and 3 million gallons of water to fill the fishpond.

House of Savoy

The Portrait Gallery

Portrait Gallery at La Venaria Reale

The House of Savoy was one of the longest-ruling dynasties in history. Nearly a millennium spans from Humbert I “The White-Handed,” Count of Savoy in the year 1000 to Umberto II, the last King of Italy, in 1946. The Savoy considered themselves German and represented themselves starting in the 15th century tracing their origins to the House of Wettin, the Saxon family from which several Holy Roman Emperors issued and which, even today, sits on the thrones of Belgium and Great Britain. The Savoy rulers were the Holy Roman Empire’s only vicars in Italy, with the right to confer titles of nobility and, as of 1451, to appoint bishops and abbots in their territories. Two years later, the House of Savoy obtained the Holy Shroud. Ownership of the relic and the beatification of five family members were interpreted as the signs of a dynasty destined to rule by “divine right.”

Charles Felice, King of Sardinia and his wife Marie Christina
Charles Felice, King of Sardinia, and his wife, Marie Christina

The Portrait Gallery is the first area you must walk through when you get to La Venaria Reale. It displays the portraits of the most important Savoy rulers, from Humbert I, Count of Savoy, to Charles Felix, King of Sardinia. The Portrait Gallery hallway was where they once housed the court’s kitchen, storage, and service rooms. Today, it showcases significant historical facts and events concerning the House of Savoy. This is one of the most impressive galleries I’ve been in that displays the line of succession of one family in chronological order. You can spend quite a bit of time looking at each portrait, and it was fascinating seeing how what they wore changed over the years.

Exploring Venaria Palace

Once you pass through the Portrait Gallery, you head into the Royal Apartments. There are signs in each room in Italian and English explaining what the room was. An audio tour is available if you want more information as you walk through the palace. Make sure to look in every direction (including up toward the ceilings); there are more than 500 artworks, including paintings, sculptures, tapestry, furniture, chandeliers, carpets, banners, silverware, snuffboxes, clocks, and musical instruments displayed throughout the palace. These pieces are placed strategically to give you an idea of what the original furnishings would look like when the King and Queen held court in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Map of Venaria Palace

Court of Honor

Patio View of La Venaria Reale

Once you enter La Venaria Reale through the Clock Tower, you enter a large courtyard. The courtyard was known as the Grand Court in the 17th century, and it was here that the Fountain of the Stag once stood, decorated by marble statues of twelve hounds and four hunters chasing the bronze stag. In the 18th century, the courtyard was redesigned into the Court of Honor with the Great Gallery and the two towers surrounding it added. Today, the fountain has been revived into a Water Theater, with 100 water jets shooting up to 12 meters high, color light projectors, and steam pipes into one of the most entertaining and chorographical fountains in the world.

Hall of Diana

The Hall of Diana at La Venaria Reale

The Hall of Diana lies at the heart of Venaria Palace and is the first thing visitors see when they enter the palace. This amazing hall was where receptions and balls were held in the 17th century. This room will have your head swiveling continually around. There are seven of the original twelve large equestrian portraits of the Dukes of Savoy and their courtiers toward the top. Toward the bottom, there are ten paintings by Jan Miel on the theme of the hunt (hunting the stag, the hare, the bear, the fox, the wild boar; the death of the stag; the woods; the gathering before the hunt; the chase; and the curing after the kill. Architect Amedeo di Castellamonte designed this hall to be the perfect combination of scenic and decorative beauty. Don’t forget to raise your head to see the numerous frescoes and gorgeous stuccoes.

Royal Apartments

The Queen's Audience Room at La Venaria Reale
The Queen’s Audience Room

Walking through the apartments of the King and the Queen, you get a glimpse of how luxurious royalty in Italy lived. The royal apartments, prepared for Vittorio Amedeo II and then for Carlo Emanuele III, included noble staterooms, the King’s and Queen’s private chamber, a bed-chamber, and a private dressing room. These rooms had a south-facing exposure with a view over the Garden, a sign of luxury and prosperity.

View of the Carriage Court at La Venaria Reale

The tour of the apartments starts in the Queen’s Audience Room, also called the ‘corner chamber.’ With the crimson damask upholstery and the chairs around the room, you could imagine the opulence was designed to intimidate you before meeting the queen. And with the magnificent view of the Gardens, how could you not be impressed.

The Queen's Bedroom at La Venaria Reale
The Queen’s Bedroom

The Queen’s Bedroom has one of the most beautiful stuccoed ceilings in Venaria Palace. The bed is covered with a golden brocade with flower patterns. Queen Elisabeth of Lorraine, wife of Carlo Emanuele III, died in this room in 1741 while giving birth to Benedetto Maurizio, Duke of Chiablese. What I am continued to be amazed at is how small in length these beds of the 17th century were. Royalty must have been short or had their feet hang over the end of the bed. The Queen and King’s Dressing Rooms are smaller than the original rooms, with decorations added to show lightness and a love theme.

The Queen's Dressing Room at La Venaria Reale
The Queen’s Dressing Room
The King's Bedroom at La Venaria Reale
The King’s Bedroom

This room is called the King’s Bedroom but was used for small private audiences. A garden theme was used on the stucco ceiling showing trellises for climbing plants, flowers, and birds. The highlight of this room is the wall table with an inlaid polychrome marble top with a central landscape scene in lapis lazuli. It was another example of the magnificence of the Savoy Court to impress visitors.

The Great Gallery

Great Gallery in La Venaria Reale

The room that inspires countless Instagram selfies and, in my opinion, is the most spectacular area of the entire Venaria Palace is the Great Gallery. Designed by Michelangelo Garove and Filippo Juvarra, this gallery is the ultimate symbol of power, a celebration of the glory and the virtues of the Kingdom from the 18th century. The gallery is 15 meters high, 11 meters wide, and 73 meters long, with a black and white checkered pattern floor, 44 tall windows, and 22 “eyelets,” which are openings that are oval on the inside but rectangular on the outside, on the ceiling. This creates a stunning light and shadow display connecting the King’s apartments with the Crown Prince’s apartments. I would take some time to wait for the crowds to disperse to get the photo without anyone in the Great Gallery.

Small Gallery and Rotunda

Hall at La Venaria Reale

In the small dome after the Great Gallery, you come across a gallery of four women statues. Simone Martinez created these sculptures based on the four seasons: Primavera (Spring), Estate (Summer), Autunno (Fall), and Inverno (Winter). These statues were only a small example of the incredible artwork you can find in the palace.

Other Areas of Note

Masonry Details at La Venaria Reale

The masonry details throughout the palace are amazing. The skill it took for 17th & 18th-century masons to create these masterpieces on the ceilings and walls is mind-boggling. Don’t miss the monumental staircase leading up to the tribune of the Church of St. Hubert. The staircase has mannequins in period dress representing members of the House of Savoy.

The Staircase to the Tribune in La Venaria Reale

Another area to visit is the Anteroom of the Footmen, which marks the passage from the 17th century Hunting Lodge to the Palace of the 18th century. Telamons (figure statues) in the corners, military trophies, and entwined initials above the crown underscore the function of this room as an antechamber to the royal apartment of Vittorio Amedeo II. The room, assigned to the footmen, was used during Court balls and feasts. Today this room is used for concerts and musical activities at Venaria Palace.

Anteroom of the Footmen at La Venaria Reale

Exploring the Gardens

Garden entrance of La Venaria Reale

Glimpsing the magnificent gardens with the Alps in the distance through the windows, I couldn’t wait to get out outside and explore. With so many separate garden areas to explore you could spend hours walking and getting lost among the flowers and trees. Never fear though, La Venaria Reale provides you with signs and arrows posted sporadically around the gardens to point you in the right direction for whatever you are searching for.

The Rose Garden

Rose Garden at La Venaria Reale

This is one of the first garden areas I went walking through. I was visiting during the summer, so I missed the blooming of the rose bushes climbing up the pergolas around May. However, there were a few hardy roses still blooming around the garden. The Rose Garden has a geometric rectangular area with a fountain at the center and diagonal alleys aligned to the nearby groves.

Peeking through the Roses to La Venaria Reale

The Flower Garden

Flower Garden at La Venaria Reale

In the 17th century, the Palace of Diana opened onto this flower garden, organized along a central line. In the early 18th century, as the gardens expanded towards the Great Gallery, this area was converted to more private uses and became a leisure site for the Crown Prince. Today, the flower beds and lawns follow a square pattern with a circular motif at the center. While I was there in June, the purple flowers were dominant in the flower beds with a few orange and white ones next to them. The flower gardens are designed with three flowering cycles a year in mind, where the perennial and annual plants are selected to represent varieties traditionally cultivated in Piedmont, and the same flowers that are portrayed in the paintings and stuccoes inside Venaria Palace. You can’t beat walking through a gorgeous garden in Italy and smelling amazing flowers on a sunny summer day.

The Fountain of Hercules

Fountain of Hercules Ruins at La Venaria Reale

This monumental fountain was built between 1669 and 1672 with walls decorated by niches and grottoes, marble sculptures, mosaic surfaces made up of shells, corals, crystals, and tufa supported a walkway and two gooseneck staircases that sided a large pond. The Fountain of Hercules had several water spurts that dropped into the pond creating delightful visual and sound effects. At the center water spouted from the heads of a hydra restrained by Hercules in a massive statue by Bernardo Falconi.

Fountain of Hercules

The drawing above is what the Fountain of Hercules used to look like. All that is left are these ruins of the bearing walls of the fountain and the Hercules statue that is in another area of the garden.

Central Alley

Hercules Canal at La Venaria Reale

From the Fountain of Hercules, along the 17th-century main line, a wide, 800m long alley lined by oak trees extended to the Temple of Diana. Today small waterfalls connect ponds at different levels. Standing at the end of the Central Alley, you get a great view of the Alps. And the peacefulness of the garden and water is made even special with two swans swimming in the canal.

Temple of Diana

Temple of Diana

I wish there was something left of this magnificent masterpiece because that is what it was. The Temple of Diana marked the spectacular end of the 17th-century promenade along the Central Alley from the Fountain of Hercules. you can see in the drawing above, in the center of a pool, on top of a “sunken rock” crossed by two intersecting canals that allowed boats to pass through, stood the circular temple covered by a cupola. Marble columns, sculptures, shells and mother-of-pearl masonry works adorned it. Inside was a fountain with the statues of Diana and eight nymphs, from which water spurted out into a rivulet that ran down through the throat of several “monsters”, breaking against the edges of the rock and running down the steps, creating “wondrous” optical and musical effects. Unfortunately, it was razed to the ground in 1700. However, the foundations were unearthed during an archaeological excavation, which you can see in the circular pond at the end of the Central Alley.

The Great Pond

Gondolas on the Pond at La Venaria Reale

The Great Pond is where you can take a gondola ride and enjoy the scenery of the lower gardens. Hedges of varying heights line one the length of the pond creating a peaceful scenery while you glide on the water. There are hundreds of fish in the pond and there are floating wood crates in the water that contain water lilies, that bloom from April to September. You can get to the Great Pond by walking the paths or taking the mini train through the gardens.

Fantacasino della Venaria Reale

Ludus Anima Mundi building at La Venaria Reale

Ludus Anima Munde is written on the building that was designed with the cues from the Temple of Diana. It was closed when I was visiting. But, when it was open, you could find games for families, adults, and children on each level.

Diana’s Arrow – Mini Train of the Gardens

Mini Train of the Gardens at La Venaria Reale

Diana’s Arrow is a train that takes visitors across the Lower Park and all the way to the remains of the Temple of Diana. The entire ride lasts 25-minutes. The Mini Train starts from the Lower Park, near the Restaurant Patio dei Giardini (Garden House), where you can purchase tickets.

Where to Eat at La Venaria Reale

Café Patio Dei Giardini

There are a few places to get food while at La Venaria Reale. A couple of the restaurants are within the Palace; Dolce Stil Novo is on the palace’s top floor, and Caffè degli Argenti is in the ancient Chinese rooms. Dolce Stil Novo is a one-star Michelin restaurant offering extraordinary cuisine with a glorious view from the terrace. Caffè degli Argenti offers an outstanding view of the Gran Parterre and the Alps, making it an ideal setting to indulge in local delicacies: paninis, sandwiches, ice-creams, fruit jams, and appetizers. I chose to get food from the cafes outside in the Gardens.

Café Patio Dei Giardini

Table Setting at Garden House at La Venaria Reale

The Patio dei Giardini Café (Garden House) is located in the gardens near the Great Pond, and the Fountain of Hercules ruins. This is a great place to stop and grab lunch while you sit in the shade and people-watch. The Garden House also has a great view of the Gondolas on the Great Pond. They offer tasty sandwiches, pasta dishes, cold dishes, ice cream, and appetizers. I munched on some excellent breadsticks while I had a short wait for my pesto pasta dish for lunch.

Pasta Lunch at Garden House

Gelateria delle Rose

Gelateria delle rose at La Venaria Reale

Tucked away in a 19th-century summerhouse under the Rose Garden trellises, you can find Gelateria delle Rose. This quick snack place is the perfect stop to cool off on hot summer days and pick up some wonderful gelato. I chose a couple of artisanal flavors to try while watching the costumed riders on the horse and carriage rides through the pergolas covered with rose bushes.

Getting ready for a horse and carriage ride at La Venaria Reale

Summary

Heather in the Great Gallery at La Venaria Reale

La Venaria Reale surprised me. I was not expecting the grandeur that permeates from inside the palace and outside in the gardens. It is easy to see why the Venaria Palace is called the “The Versailles of Piemonte”. If you are planning on visiting Torino, make sure to plan a day trip out to this spectacular palace and be amazed as much as I was. If you have visited this palace, what did you think of it?

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Further Reading

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