From Asti to Castelnuovo Don Bosco, along the Via Francigena Way
From Asti take the main road for Chivasso and head towards Casabianca at the next cross-roads, entrance to the Valleandona Nature Reserve. This splendid area of fruit orchards, horse riding centres, allotments and vineyards in the Val Botto and Val Grande valleys, is an oasis of peace and tranquillity just a stone’s throw from Asti. Here, too, interesting marine fossils can be found, illustrating the origins of the Langa and Monferrato at the bottom of the Mediterranean sea! Once you have passed through peaceful little Montegrosso Cinaglio, the path winds its way through the woods towards Cortazzone, one of the most scenic villages of the area, with its castle as the crowning glory of a delightful medieval centre. The village’s treasure is, however, the Romanesque church of San Secondo, facing the village on the Mongiglietto hill – probably the loveliest country church in the entire Asti area. The inside of the church includes columns decorated with fish, birds and rabbits as if echoing St Francis’ hymn to nature, the Canticle of Canticles. The external walls are a tribute to ancient pagan cults, covered in dozens of different fertility symbols.
From Cortazzone you now descend into the Val Camerano valley which contains the village of Soglio with its castle which is also a Bed and Breakfast, and the village of Camerano which also possesses an interesting castle. The medieval village of Casasco is, however, the loveliest of the three. From Camerano you continue towards Chiusano, with the little country church of San Sebastiano among the vineyards.
When you arrive in Settime, take time to visit its lovely medieval centre dominated by the Roero Counts’ castle and the Romanesque cemetery church of San Nicolao. The road now takes you down to Asti’s golf club, ‘Il Feudo’, situated in the historical Valdeperno estate, and then across the main road and up to Mombarone – where a visit to the strange and fascinating ‘grotto houses’ near the Madonna dell’Olmetto is a must. The road continues through fields and vineyards towards Asti, past Certosa di Valmanera with its wonderful Tapestry Museum (‘Museo degli Arazzi’), and the lovely little Romanesque church of Madonna in Viatosto. From here, it is a short step to Asti. The longer version of this route requires that the visitor leave Casasco in the direction of Montechiaro, an attractive walled medieval hill town with a drawbridge and many shops selling delicious local specialities. Don’t miss the ancient church in Piesenzana and the Romanesque treasure of a church, San Nazario, with its splendid bell tower.
From Montechiaro you take the road to Cortanze which contains a castle converted into a restaurant, and then leave the Val Rilate valley for Piea – where, in the castle, prestigious antiques auctions are held. The next village is Piovà Massaia, with an interesting baroque church, from where you arrive at the tiny village of Cerreto, with its church of Sant’Andrea del Casaglio, another fine example of Romanesque architecture. Facing it, separated by a wood, is the castle of Passerano surrounded by a virtually intact medieval village.
From here, you climb to the top of the Primeglio hill, then on to the villages of Schierano and Pino d’Asti situated in the heart of the Muscandia woods. From here, the route takes you to Albugnano where you can visit the very fine Romanesque Abbey of Vezzolano, (founded by Charlemaine himself and now at the heart of the European conservation project, ‘Transromanica’) and preserved almost in its entirety. From Vezzolano, you take the road for Berzano San Pietro and then on to Castelnuovo Don Bosco. Castelnuovo contains the delightful cemetery church of Sant’Eusebio and the splendid country church of Santa Maria di Cornareto. Don’t miss the chance to stroll through the narrow lanes of Cornareto that lead up to the scenic Torre Civica, or civic tower. From this village you can catch the bus back to Asti.