A giant vintage market in the heart of Turin? Um, yes please!
Il Balon is something that I recently discovered, along with pigato wine, stracciatella cheese and how to actually make a decent amatriciana. A big thank you to my new friends.
Located in the heart of Porta Palazzo, the famous Torinese flea market has been a staple in the city since 1856. A hub for all things antique, you can count on finding anything from furniture to fine china, books to toys, and even tools!
There’s apparently even a hot air balloon that rises 100 feet above the market to give you a stellar view. Though this attraction wasn’t something that I noted on my visit (possibly COVID-related), the attraction also pays tribute to the market’s origins where it is thought that locals saw the first hot air balloon depart in the 18th century.
Woven between coffee shops and restaurants, over 50 antique stores and 250 stalls of vendors alike fill the winding streets. Grazing the outdoor stands, I see old dial-up telephones like the one I used to have in my childhood room or like the heavy black telephone that used to sit on top of an vintage wooden barrel in our living room.
There are vendors with neatly decorated stands of old books; Italian, English and even German. A little further there are shops selling hanging lamps of all colours of the rainbow, while the vendor beside sells old traffic lights and antique espresso makers that make the moka look uber modern.
Each step further into the market, I realize that the sky’s the limit and whatever I could possibly ever hope to find, is probably here. An answer to my prayers, I see another vendor, a green umbrella shading him as he slings ruby red sangria from his beverage cart. I stop and order a sidewalk sangria.
As the sun beats down on me, the only thing grounding me is the refreshing burst of the juicy and boozy bevvy. I crunch a piece of ice between my teeth and continue my walk about the market, zigzagging through groups of bohemians and parents pushing strollers and old nonni gripping their canes as they travel the cobblestone path.
The last Sunday of each month (a.k.a. today) is particularly chaotic. Walking through the mess of people, it feels like a regular day, as if COVID didn’t exist, as if we were all just enjoying a day out in the sun.
Sipping my sangria I mosey into a furniture store, with a green velour loveseat and a giant Rubik's Cube coffee table on display. Hanging off of a wooden desk that looks straight from the life of Sara, Plain and Tall, is a vintage quilt. Too hot to be thinking about blankets, I continue my walk until I stumble onto something a bit more familiar.
A table of boxes filled with old Hot Wheels catches my eye. I poke a piece of apple and pop it into my mouth before rummaging through the box. Memories of a simpler time wash over me, back to when my dad would drag me out of bed on a Saturday morning and instead of bringing me to Italian school, he’d load me into the car, drive us both to McDonald’s for a Egg McMuffin, hash brown and orange juice (Diet Coke, no ice for him), and then off to a toy show.
I remember the smells of cardboard boxes and the certain scent of antiquity like the pages of an old book. I remember the sounds of vintage toys beeping and bopping and the tinkering around with rusted Tonka toys that looked like they’d actually cause serious injury to a child at play. Smiling, I snap a picture of a yellow car and send it to my dad before letting my nose guide me to my next destination.
A point of meeting, Porta Palazzo is also home to the gigantic produce (and goods!) market in Piazza della Repubblica. A place of fusion and culture, there are many ethnic shops that sell spices and interesting fare in addition to the great produce, meats, eggs, cheeses and more that you can find in the open market.
Having finished my sangria, I decided it was time to stop by a cheese booth for some fresh pecorino and a container of stracciatella. Picking up some fresh pomodorini and a loaf of bread, I said goodbye to Il Balon, not sure when I’d return with the imminent threat of a returning red zone at my heels. Back to Bra, but hopefully back to Torino soon.