Lay of the Land
Geographically speaking, this section of Italy is quite diverse. To the far northwest is the Aosta Valley, which is, as its name implies, a valley that sits in the shadows of the towering Alps. (You might recognize the names Mont Blanc and Matterhorn, two of the best-known peaks in the mountain range that crosses the Italian border into Switzerland.) Northwestern Italy also includes a good bit of Mediterranean coastline, including the onetime powerhouse shipping mecca of Genoa as well as the colorful and far more subdued coastal towns from Portofino to the Cinque Terre. In between the Alps and these seaside civilizations are great stretches of agricultural land in the Piedmont region, which is known as a top Italian wine producer and is home to the industrial city Turin.
Historically speaking, this part of Italy was briefly ruled by France in the early 1800s, when the French annexed the entire Piedmont region as well as Liguria, which had previously been under the control of the Republic of Genoa. Both regions reverted to Italian control in 1815 thanks to the Congress of Vienna, which redrew European borders after Napoleon was defeated. There has long been a strong merchant history in the area, with goods being brought from Piedmont down to Genoa's waterfront docks, where merchant families set sail to distribute them and earn their fortunes.
Today, Genoa is the top tourist city in the area and is a good place to stay if your goal is to tour along the coast with a city as your base. Turin is about 100 miles northwest of Genoa and makes a better metropolitan hotel choice if your ideal vacation in this part of Italy includes the Alps. You can fly, drive, or take a train between the two cities with ease; second-class train tickets typically cost less than 20 each way. If you want to escape the crowds, there also are countless smaller hotels and villages beyond and between these two main cities.
Turin hosted the XX Olympic Winter Games in February 2006. The official logo displayed the name Torino, which is how Italian people know the city, but all English-speaking countries referred to it then, and now, as Turin.