A round route from Canelli and back again to explore the medieval towers and frescoes, stone terraces, salt roads and fresh goat cheeses of the Asti Langa area
This route begins in Canelli, Italian ‘capital of sparkling wine’, with its marvellous and mysterious ‘underground cathedrals’ (historical subterranean wine cellars), the Villanova cliff and the ‘strenìa’, a steep cobbled lane that winds up towards the Gancia Castle. From here the route proceeds up to the highest point in the province of Asti, Bric Puschera, and the nearby timeless village of Roccaverano. The word ‘Roccaverano’ always brings to mind the delicious DOP cheese of the same name, made with pure goat’s milk from several different ‘crus’.
Once past Canelli station, turn right in Via Bosca street to begin the climb up to the Regione Rocchea in the direction of Loazzolo, a picturesque village where a tasty Moscato Passito wine is produced bearing the same name. This village has the honour of being Italy’s smallest DOC wine production zone. From here, having described a wide loop, you descend to Cessole, a village built of stone which gently slopes towards the river, and which was once the home of a famous faith healer, or ‘setmìn’ in local dialect, who invented ‘Toccasana’, a low-grade alcoholic beverage said to cure all ills and sold ever since in every bar in the Langa and Monferrato.
Half-way down the road, past terraces and woods, you arrive at the ancient manor house of Vesime, rather run-down and sinister but these days widely used for concerts and plays. From here, you soon arrive in the town itself, with its attractive town hall and a stone parish church – interesting despite the neo-Gothic facade. Here, you can join the Bormida Valley Itinerary (see p. 12) towards Perletto (in which case, the route is more complete if performed in the opposite direction) or complete the route indicated at the beginning of this article. In Vesime you cross the bridge over the river Bormida and start the climb up the natural battlements of San Giorgio and Olmo Gentile hills towards their isolated hill-top fortresses dominated by watch towers and castles. In the village of San Giorgio you can climb up the Scarampi tower: the keys are kept in the town hall (‘comune’). Olmo Gentile is the smallest of the surrounding villages and looks just like a detail of a Turner painting with its castle, inn, ‘comune’, church... and many friendly cats!
Once you have left Olmo, the most taxing part of the walk begins. Here, the road runs along woods and steep-sided streams around the Bric Puschera hill until you get to Serole, the remotest village in Asti province, with its large and historical inn and a plaque in front of the parish church commemorating, for some strange reason, the naval victory of Lepanto fought against the Ottoman Sultan in 1571! From Serole the road rises to the top of the Bric Puschera (851 m above sea level) and then gently descends towards Roccaverano – one of the most picturesque villages of the Langa. The castle possesses a brooding stone facade decorated with three medieval windows and there is also another tower to climb here (30 m high): the keys can be collected at the bar in the village square. Facing the castle is the church, a rare example of Piedmontese Renaissance architecture in sandstone, echoing the shape and dimensions of the castle facade and providing an uniquely harmonious backdrop to the square. Nearby, in the hamlet of San Giovanni, another architectural treasure can be admired: a Romanesque church decorated on the inside with wonderful frescoes by the Mondovì School dating from the Late Gothic period (around 1480).
From the hamlet, you now proceed to the Tower of Vengore, (you can visit this one too!), similar to that of Olmo, both built as watch towers for the nearby town of Acqui Terme. The path now descends through woods, fields and hazel groves towards Monastero Bormida. Cross over the beautiful medieval ‘ass’s-back bridge’ to the castle of Monastero, a well-preserved Renaissance building with four towers at each corner and a bell tower, a romantic inner courtyard and some lovely frescoes in the dining room. Around the castle, winds a network of narrow cobbled lanes flanked by aristocratic houses belonging to the gentry of the age. If you come back during the month of March, you can enjoy the historical ‘Polentone’ fair when these ancient streets are brought back to life to the sounds of crafts and story-telling from times past. From Monastero the path climbs steeply upwards to Cassinasco, another village with a stone tower (that you can climb...) from where you descend again towards the Belbo Valley and the town of Canelli. Here, the countryside is once again dominated by vines, with the hills of the Monferrato as a gently undulating backdrop of vineyards as far as the eye can see.