Postcards from Asti, Italy
I get to know the charming Italian town of Asti, in Piedmont – the perfect spot of spend a few days wandering the streets.
The ancient town of Asti, in the Asti province, is a charming spot to while away a couple of days when exploring the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. With a population of 75,000, it has a rich cultural history – it is the birthplace of Vittorio Alfieri, the famous 18th century poet and dramatist and the home of the famous Palio di Asti, a bareback horse race held in the triangular Piazza Alfieri each year.
The competitors are drawn from each of the old town wards, racing in the traditional colours of the boroughs, and the race is preceded by a lavish medieval festival featuring parades, flag throwing and – of course – much local food. It is the oldest recorded bareback horse race known – predating even the Palio di Siena. We missed it when we were there last year, but spent an absorbed hour or two in the Museo del Palio di Asti, housed in the 14th century Palazzo Mazzola. Here they have not only old documents, banners and flags, but some fascinating multimedia displays which help to recreate the excitement of the event.
While in Asti we stayed in one of the most charming B&B’s I’ve ever seen. The Villa Ferrari is housed in an historic old villa a short walk from the centre of the town, and surrounded by a beautiful secluded garden. Our spacious room was ornately decorated with hand-painted murals depicting historic scenes, all around the room in the deep coving on the ceiling.
Asti is a perfect town for just wandering around, exploring the back streets and local sights. One spot not to be missed is the local cathedral, one of the largest churches in Piedmont, the interior of which is covered with lavish frescoes. It is believed that construction on the cathedral began around the fifth or sixth century. It collapsed in the 11th century, was rebuilt in the 13th and is considered to be one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in the region.
When it comes to comestibles, the region is noted for truffle production and it’s cheese, particularly robiola – a soft cheese made with cow, goat and sheep milk – and, of course, the local, high-quality wines. After a day spent wandering the streets, a glass of Piemonte Chardonnay, Moscato d’Asti or Asti Spumante DOCG goes down very nicely in my experience.