Over the gentle Asti hills among woods, nature reserves and grand vineyards
Leave Asti along the old Corso Savona street and cross the bridge over the Tanaro which will take you into the South Astigiano area, where Barbera and Moscato wines are produced and which were once the only routes inland for all the produce of the Ligurian sea board - olive oil, salt, spices and silks - bringing with them riches and trails of brigands. For two centuries (from 12th to 14th), Asti was one of the richest European cities with its ‘Lombard Banks’ as the Asti credit associations were known in the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages.
From here, you head in the direction of the hamlet of San Marzanotto and its minuscule railway station , then cross the Val Donata valley and continue to the top of the scenic hamlet where you can enjoy a wonderful view, that embraces the Monferrato hills and plains to the circle of the Alps and the Turin plateau beyond– on a clear day, you feel as if you could just reach out and touch the city! From San Marzanotto you proceed over the hills towards Mongardino, through the gentle and charming landscape of vineyards and fruit orchards of the Tiglione Valley.
Once past Mongardino, the undulating road takes you to Vigliano, and then descends to the floor of the Rio Valvico valley with its stream that runs through the woods and beneath the impervious cliffs of Rocca d’Arazzo. This is great mushrooming and truffle-gathering country, dominated by the local castle/manor. The road now takes you to the next valley, and then along the Rio Valmelia stream, passing beneath the hamlet of Santa Caterina and brushing past the village of Montaldo Scarampi. From here, you continue in a north-easterly direction towards the nature reserve of Rocchetta Tanaro, across the Riofreddo Valley. Once inside the park, it is possible to explore this fascinating and uncontaminated reserve along a series of sign-posted paths.
Leave the park in a southerly direction proceeding towards Belveglio, a little village with a big reputation for summer concerts, then cross the Tiglione river to arrive at the Bric dei Saraceni hill, at the top of which the village of Vinchio is situated. This was home to writer and journalist Davide Lajolo, author of ‘I Mé’, an unforgettable collection of stories from the Monferrato. From Vinchio you will soon find yourself approaching the next nature reserve, the Parco della Val Sarmassa, full of literary ‘quotes’ from Lajolo’s tales (the ‘50-year cottage’, the Bishop’s hill and ‘la Rù’ to mention but a few) plus a series of nature trails to explore. On leaving the reserve, you will come across the famous winery ‘Cantina di Vinchio e Vaglio’, exactly half-way between the two villages of the same name!
The road becomes steeper, as it climbs up to Vaglio Serra from where you turn eastwards towards the Noche hamlet and then through the lovely Nizza vineyards and along the crest of the hills to the little church of Madonna della Neve. From here you can enjoy a romantic view of the town of Nizza Monferrato or even a pic-nic – just as local folks traditionally do on Easter Monday. The hill now slopes gently down towards the town - don’t miss the Regional Enoteca Barbera Wine Shop situated in the 18th-century Palazzo Crova when you get there. There is a local train that will take you back to Asti.