Some 30km northeast of Alba, in Piedmont, the wine continues to flow in Asti, one of the most important towns in medieval times, whose province is capital of Italy’s sparkling-wine industry and the most famous producer of Asti Spumante. Each September, this small town becomes the focus of attention as it gears up for its Palio, the oldest horse-racing festivals in Italy. On the day of the race, the third Sunday in September, there’s a thousand-strong procession of citizens dressed as their fourteenth-century ancestors, before the frenetic bare-backed horse race around Piazza Alfieri – followed by the awarding of the palio (banner) to the winner and all-night partying.
The rest of the year, the piazza and the former Palio site, the Piazza del Palio, host the region’s largest open-air market (Wed & Sat). On the second weekend of September the piazza houses the Festival delle Sagre during which producers sell traditional dishes and wines in a reconstructed medieval village, and hundreds of people dress in costume to evoke agricultural life in the Middle Ages. If you want to sample Asti Spumante or other wines from the region, come for the Douja d’Or wine festival (held from the second Friday to the third Sunday in September), where there are tastings in the Palazzo del Collegio.
Piazza Statuto, Asti © Dario Egidi / iStock
Things to do in Asti
The beauty of Asti is that it holds history, culture, cuisine and landscapes all in one. The Torre Troyano clock tower is a medieval monument that is well worth a visit. The underground cathedrals are also a treasure worth visiting – once used as underground tunnels for the Cathedral, now used as wine cellars due to the ideal temperature and conditions for storing wine. Being a captial for wine, vineyards have adapted to tourism and offer wine tours and wine tasting. Truffle is famous in Asti, growing locally in nearby forests. Many restaurants offer truffle in their dishes so be sure to try the local cuisine.
Agliano spa is perfect for relaxing and there is a golf course on the perimeter of Asti for the golfers. There are trekking trails along the wine routes that make a pleasant afternoon taking in the hilly landscapes and stopping off at vineyards for tasting. You can walk these trails or hire a bicycle. For wildlife, there is the Rocchetta Tanaro National Park and the unique WWF Oasis of Forteto della Luja – ideal for birdwatching.
Featured Image, Asti Vineyards © Lara Belova / iStock