Asti: 60km (37 miles) SE of Turin, 127km (79 miles) SW of Milan
The Asti of sparkling-wine fame is a bustling working city, but it has many treasures to uncover in its history-drenched centro storico—medieval towers (120 are still standing), Renaissance palaces, and piazzas provide the perfect setting in which to sample the town’s most famous product, which flows readily in the local enoteche and cantinas.
The Palio (www.palio.asti.it; (tel) 0141-399-482), Asti’s annual horse race, runs the third Sunday of September. Like the similar race in the Tuscan city of Siena, Asti’s Palio begins with a colorful medieval pageant through the town and ends with a wild bareback ride around the triangular Piazza Alfieri. First staged in 1273, the race coincides with Asti’s other great festival, the Douja d’Or (www.doujador.it), a weeklong bacchanal celebrating the successful grape harvest.
Getting There -- Up to four trains an hour link Asti with Turin Porta Nuova (30–60 min; 5.25€) via Trenitalia (www.trenitalia.com; (tel) 89-20-21).
Arfea (www.arfea.it; (tel) 0144-322-023) runs two buses per day (1 morning, 1 mid-afternoon) from Turin Autostazione to Asti; the trip takes 1 hour.
Asti is 57km (35.5 miles) east of Turin and can be reached in less than an hour via Autostrada 21.
Visitor Information -- The APT tourist office is near the train station at Corso Vittorio Alfieri 34 ((tel) 0141-530-357). It’s open Monday to Saturday 9am to 1pm and 2:30 to 6:30pm; and Sun 9am to 1pm.
The grand, arcaded Piazza Alfieri is site of September’s Palio and along with the Piazza Libertá and Campo del Palio (former home of the race) forms the social heart of Asti. Behind Piazza Alfieri stands the Romanesque-Gothic redbrick Collegiata di San Secondo (www.comune.asti.it; (tel) 0141-530-066; daily 10:45am–noon, 3:30–5:30pm, Sun morning for Mass only), which has dual importance to the burghers of this town. Firstly, it houses the Palio Astigiano, the prestigious banner awarded to the winning jockey at the Palio, and secondly the church contains the tomb of St. Secondo, patron saint of both the horse race and the town. He was a Roman officer who ill advisedly converted to Christianity in a.d. 119 and was beheaded in roughly the spot that his tomb now stands.
From Piazza Alfieri, the charming and largely pedestrianized Corso Alfieri dissects the old town and is lined with Renaissance palazzi. At the eastern end is the church of San Pietro in Consavia ((tel) 0141-399-489; daily 10am–1pm, 3–6pm) and a 10th-century Romanesque baptistery, once place of worship for the Knights of the Order of St. John. At the opposite, western extreme of Corso Alfieri you’ll find the rotund church of Santa Caterina, abutting the medieval, red-and-white brick-topped Torre Rossa.
Asti’s 15th-century Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta ((tel) 0141-592-924; daily 9am–noon, 3–6pm) is also at the western end of town in Piazza Cattedrale. The austere exterior hides the gaudy excesses of the interior; every inch of the church is festooned with frescoes by late-15th-century artists, including Gandolfino d’Asti.
Being the agricultural and gourmet hotspot that it is, Asti is blessed with two food markets. The larger is held Wednesdays and Saturdays (7:30am–1pm) in the Campo del Palio and spills over into piazzas Della Libertà and Alfieri, with stalls selling cheeses, herbs, flowers, oils, and wines. The undercover Mercato Coperto is on Piazza della Libertà and is open daily except Sunday (Mon–Wed and Fri 8am–1pm, 3:30–7:30pm; Thur 8:30am–1pm; Sat 8am–7:30pm). Look for white truffles, bagna cauda (a delicious anchovy fondue),robiola cheeses, almond-flavored amaretti biscuits, and nocciolata (hazelnut and chocolate spread). The region’s famous Asti Spumante DOCG sparkling wines can be bought from cantinas and enoteche in the town center and direct from some vineyards—a list is available from the tourist office at Corso Vittorio Alfieri 34.
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