Asti is a comune in the province of Piedmont, in Italy; for those who aren’t familiar with Italian geography, the Piedmont is in the North of the country, and it borders both France and Switzerland; being surrounded by the Alps is what gave the province its name: Piedmont means “foot of the mountain”.
Whilst there are many incredible places to see, Asti is where I’d recommend you begin: it’s been an important hub in the region since Roman times, and you can easily reach other destinations by car or trains from there; bonus point, it may not be as big as Turin (which happens to be the administrative capital of the Piedmont, thus being more modern), but it has all the charm of a medieval city while maintaining all contemporary comforts – really, what more can you ask for?
If you have never heard of Asti before, let me tell you some of the things you can do there whilst on holiday.
Okay, this might sound foolish, as sightseeing is something you do when on holiday abroad, but let me tell you why it’s different here: Asti was a particularly powerful city in the Middle Ages,
meaning that some of its most impressive buildings are at least 600 years old. If you’re into medieval history and architecture, this place will give you the chills: from the Tower Rossa di San Secondo (Saint Secondo’s Red Tower), built during
Roman Emperor Augustus reign and the last prison for the town patron saint in the 1st century, to the many Romanesque churches and Archaeological museums, there’s plenty to fill your heart with joy.
Europe thrives during Festival season, and in Asti things get a little more exciting, since the most important Astigian festivals happen in the course of one month – September. Things kick-off with the Douja D’Or, a wine show that allows visitors to sample – and buy – the best wines produce all around Italy, always accompanied by great food, of course (this is Italy, after all). On the second Sunday – or rather, the second Saturday night – the Festivale delle Sagre, or Festival or Festivals, takes place and, apart from all the great local foodstuffs to try, there’s a procession of about 3,000 people dressed in traditional garments accompanied by animals and tractors to celebrate the city’s rural traditions. Finally, on the third Sunday, the Palio takes place: a fast horse race that’s been run since immemorial times: Asti’s Palio is the oldest on records.
Unless you have a good reason not to, going to Italy and not having a wine tasting is pretty much impossible. Asti is home to three DOCG wines (DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin, meaning only the wine produced here can be called by such name) – Asti Spumanti, a low alcohol sparkling white wine, make exclusively with white muscat grapes; Barbero, a strong, robust red made with Barbera grapes; and Alta Langa, a sophisticate dry sparkling wine. Try one of the many Enotecas in the city: they usually have a great selection and are more than willing to show you the best local products.
Dolce far niente
Ah, the Italian art of just… being. The art of simply sitting back and enjoy oneself is being slowly lost in our hectic modern lives. Although we all dream of having a time to simply sitting back in a pleasant spot enjoying a glass of wine and watching the town go by, we’re so accustomed to the stressful everyday demands that winding down may not come easily. Well, in Asti they offer you a great opportunity to try relaxing the Italian way – and hopefully bring back home some of that expertise.