Asti and the Monferrato

logo_discoveritaliaThe Monferrato region lies to the east of Turin and is one of Italy’s most important wine-producing areas by virtue of its terroir and climate. The principal wines produced here are Barbera d’Asti, Barbera del Monferrato, and Freisa d’Asti. The wine route winds through the hills to the south of the River Tanaro and leads to such notable centres for wine and tourism as Asti, Nizza Monferrato and San Martino Alfieri.

Asti, rich in artistic treasures and home of the truffle

The Barbera d’Asti wine route begins at its namesake city. Asti, an important centre for commerce, industry and wine production in Italy’s Piedmont region. The historic city centre is laid out according to the plan of the mediaeval city and you can still find the remains of many of its old towers and palazzi in the narrow streets. Visit the cathedral first (XIV-century Gothic with numerous works of art inside) before taking a stroll down Corso Alfieri, the main street that cuts through the city from east to west, and the nearby streets. Here there is the palazzo where the poet Vittorio Alfieri was born and where he lived; now it is both city library and also contains the Istituto di Studi Alfieriani devoted to the study of the poet’s work. Here also is the Torre Romana, a relic of the Roman city from the time of Emperor Augustus; the 38 metre-high Torre Troyana; and one of the most beautiful examples of Romanesque architecture in Northern Italy, the Baptistery of San Pietro, also known as the Rotonda. In the truffle season, Via Cavour is where the market is held. Every day, at dawn, the “trifulai” truffle hunters bring their night-time bounty to Asti for sale. The hunt is carried out at night for two reasons; firstly because the truffle-hounds get a clearer scent at night, and secondly because rival truffle hunters can keep their success a secret more easily.


The truffle market itself is a private and arcane affair, the general public is not generally welcome. Buying truffles in Asti is, however, not a problem; just go to one of the nearby shops in the area. Among other fairs and events in Asti the most important are: the Fiera Carolingia on the first Wednesday of May; the “Douja d’Or” national wine competition in the second week of September; and the Festival delle Sagre (second Sunday of September) when more than 40 communes in the Langhe and the Monferrato put their wines and local gastronomic products on display in their own localities. In Asti the Corsa del Palio horserace is run on the third Sunday of September and has its own mediaeval costume pageant and parade.

Along the River Tanaro; from Castello di Annone to Rocchetta Tanaro

On leaving Asti take the main road to Alessandria for a few kilometres. Just after the dual carriageway and the motorway exit the road comes to Castello di Annone, a little agricultural town on the left bank of the Tanaro, and the home of several wineries. Take a right over the bridge and, on the other side of the river, the road comes to Rocchetta Tanaro, a little town full of wineries and vineyards. Just outside the built-up area of Rocchetta Tanaro there’s a sizeable nature reserve with chestnut tree woods, locust trees, beeches and oak trees alternating with glades of hawthorn and honeysuckle bushes. Wildlife is particularly plentiful: there are badgers (the symbol of the park); squirrels; weasels and foxes; and about 40 different types of local birds, especially treecreepers, nuthatches and lesser spotted woodpeckers.

Wine, grappa and asparagus at Mombercelli

After Rocchetta Tanaro the road leads to Mombercelli, one of the great centres for lovers of Barbera wine. The village itself is on the top of a hill and includes the remains of an ancient castle. Mombercelli is also famous for its distilleries, where the pressings from local wines are turned into grappa and grapes are distilled into acquavit. From here go on to nearby Vinchio. It’s a pretty part of Piedmont, surrounded by vine-clad hills, and it’s famous for its cardoons and fine asparagus.

Incisa Scapaccino, in the foothills

From Mombercelli take the road in the direction of Rocchetta Tanaro, but come off it to take the right-hand fork to Incisa Scapaccino, an attractive foothill locality spread over a wide country area. Once it was known just as Incisa, and together with neighbouring Rocchetta was part of the dominions of the marquises Inchisa della Rocchetta. While at Incisa Scapaccino visit the historic centre, the “borgo villa” or “villa district” with its castle, Carmine church (XV century), the remains of the Roman town and a fine XVIII-century monastery.

Mombaruzzo and its amaretti biscuits

From Incisa Scapaccino the road leads on to a group of villages famous for their wine production: Bruno, the old manor of the Faà family with its vast castle; Castelnuovo Belbo; and, climbing ever upwards, Mombaruzzo, a pretty location spread over two neighbouring hills. Visit the church of Sant’Antonio Abate (XIV-century Gothic) and the town centre for some fine examples of Mediaeval architecture. Mombaruzzo is famous for its amaretti biscuits and there are three shops that specialise in hand-made amaretti in the area. Local fairs and festivals include the Festa del Vino at the end of June held at the Co-operative near the station, and the Cinque Giorni Enogastronomici (Five Food and Wine Days) at the end of August in the Bazzana district.

Quaranti: two hundred inhabitants and eighty wineries

From Mombaruzzo a short diversion leads to Quaranti, a tiny village at the foot of the hills and an important wine-producing area. Its two hundred inhabitants lead lives closely connected to the eighty-or-so wineries in the area. There are several wine and food fairs in the region from Spring to Autumn, starting on the third Sunday of March with the Sagra dei Ceci e Barbera (Chick Pea and Barbera wine Festival) and finishing on the third Sunday of October with the Chestnut and Vin Brulé Feast.

Nizza Monferrato

Mombaruzzo is just one of the so-called “area Nizza” districts, a vast hillside swathe of territory with many localities devoted to wine production in the orbit of the main town, Nizza Monferrato, which can be found about ten kilometres away. Nizza is a lively town and a great commercial centre for wine whose name has become synonymous with great Barbera. It is also interesting for its historic monuments. See the remains of Mediaeval palazzi in the historic centre, including the merlon-crenellated tower of the town hall and some aristocratic residences.

Around Nizza Monferrato: Agliano Terme

There are many tiny localities around Nizza Monferrato dedicated to wine production. The most interesting of these is Agliano Terme, with its modern up-to-the-minute spa centre. Hotels and other tourist facilities can be found here in an attractive village complex. The Festa della Barbera and the Festa dell’Ospitalità both welcome visitors in April.

Isola d’Asti and San Martino Alfieri

The Barbera wine route follows the hills down to Isola d’Asti and then climbs again up to San Martino Alfieri, the last two stops on the tour. Visit the fragmentary remains of the castle at Isola d’Asti and the fresh water spring, the sulphur-rich Imperia. From Isola cross the Asti-to-Alba main road and head for the hills opposite for four kilometres before arriving at San Martino Alfieri. Houses cluster round Castello Alfieri, a grand XVIII-century building with its own park and with enormous sumptuously decorated and frescoed rooms. Inside, you can see the study where the Piedmontese poet Vittorio Alfieri worked and where his books and papers are now kept. Today the Castello is also home to a winery, which organises tours of some of the rooms as well as tastings.


Agnolotti del plin Fritto misto
A speciality of the Asti region, agnolotti del plin are tiny ravioli-like egg pasta pockets filled with meat, eggs, parmesan, and spices. The name comes from the pinch (“plin”) that is given to seal the pockets in manufacture. Agnolotti del plin are usually poached for a few minutes in boiling water and served with a dressing of butter, sage and parmesan, or, alternatively, roast meat juices. Different from other Italian fritti misti in that the batter used to coat the deep fried foods is made of flour, beaten eggs and bread crumbs. Traditional foods prepared in this way include lamb chops, slices of veal, brains, liver, and mushrooms. Served as a meal in itself without a first course. The recipe varies from place to place with the use of different foods for frying and different seasonings for the batter.
Cardi (cardoons) are mostly grown in the hilly areas around Nizza Monferrato and Costigliole d’Asti. Cardoons are blanched in boiling water and then served gratinée with cheese after baking in the oven. This is a light, tasty dish, typical of cucina povera in its ingredients, but full of imagination. The cardoon is also an essential ingredient in the famous “bagna caôda”: a pungent sauce made of olive oil, anchovies and garlic, served boiling hot fondu-style in a pot placed in the centre of the table and scooped up with raw vegetables.


The Monferrato is an area characterised by its rolling hills and best known for four grape varieties which flourish in these parts: Barbera, Grignolino, Dolcetto and Moscato. The Piedmontese grape 'par excellence' is the Barbera grape which produces a deep ruby red wine with its characteristic bouquet. The Grignolino grape produces a drier and more delicate red wine. The Dolcetto grape gives a pleasantly sharpish taste and in this area boasts some unique results. Finally, the Moscato grape produces a sweet wine reknown throughout the world. The sparkling wines from Asti (or "spumante") are produced in such quantities that they account for a third of Italy's entire production of sparkling wines.

If you would like to prepare a lunch or dinner reminiscent of the area, click here to purchase wines carefully selected by our experts.


No visit to Asti would be complete without a visit to the "Gener Neuv" restaurant (tel +39 0141 557270) with its reknown cuisine at down-to-earth prices. Run by the Fassi family, one of the pillars of Italian gastronomy. If it's just a snack you're looking for, try the "Caffé Roma" (tel. +39 0141 966544) in Costigliole d'Asti, a popular local bar with a fine wine list. There's a wide selection of places to stay in the area. In Asti, we warmly recommend the "Antica Dogana" (Old Customs House) (tel + 39 0141 293755), a charming hotel in an old building with a delightful garden. The "Locanda del Bosco Grande" in Montegrosso d'Asti (+39 0141 956390) has a small number of beautiful rooms and is situated right in the heart of the countryside.