Some 30km northeast of Alba, 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 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, together 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.