A trip to Asti
The city of Asti, 55km east of Turin, is one of the must-see places in the Piedmont region. Built on the plain of the Tanaro River, the area has a rich medieval heritage whilst the city’s stunning cathedral is its centrepiece. Those staying in hotels in Florence may believe they've seen the cream of the crop when it comes to cathedrals in Italy but the one here is something special.
The Asti commune is also where the wine of the same name derives, which should be sampled in any number of the quaint restaurants
which dot the region.
Asti was known as the City of 100 Towers, even though there were originally 120 in total. These were primarily fortification complexes which were built to defend the settlement.
Some of these towers survive today and can be found within the old city walls, particularly in the Piazza Medici, where the beautiful Fontane della Acquadotto sculpture resides, and along Via Alfieri. Some of these structures are over 300 metres in height and the sharp-coloured red brick provides a stunning contrast against the blue Piedmont sky.
The north-west of the town is the historic centre, existing as it does between the current city centre and the cathedral. The Romanesque-Gothic Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta is a stunning centre-point to the city that acts in the same way that the Sydney opera house
and harbour bridge acts as a focal point for those staying in Sydney Australia.
Built in the thirteenth century on top of an existing cathedral, the facade is dominated by three portals surmounted by three separate rose-windows.
Its interior is dominated by eighteenth century frescoes and glistening altarpieces by Gandolfino d'Asti. The silver artworks which are on show are equally stunning, as is the intricately-designed mosaic floor in the presbytery, which is from the original church.
Asti is also a town dominated by churches. Many of these are only open during times of religious ceremony but you can imbibe in their architecture as you imbibe a glass of wine in one of the many piazza cafes. Ecclesiastical highlights include the Chiesa di San Secondo, the Torre Rosso and the Chiesa di Santa Caterina.
The cultural highlight in Asti is the Palio di Asti festival. This bareback horse race dates from medieval times and takes place on every third Sunday in September. It takes place in the triangular-shaped Piazza Alfieri in the city centre and draws massive crowds who come not only to watch the race but also to participate in the parades and festivities.
The Festival Delle Sagre, which is held a week earlier, is a food and wine connoisseur’s delight whilst from October through December the local “tartufo bianco” white truffle
can be sampled at the weekly local truffle festivals.