Neither a train nor a road will take you to the doorstep of Gavi. To visit this little town, it’s necessary to seek it out. There are many reasons that draw a tourist here: art, history, wine, and food all cross paths to make this a small treasure chest of attractions positioned between the Gavi Fortress and the Lemme River.
You won’t need a car in small Gavi. After parking in Piazza Dante, climb up to the Gavi Fortress, taking the ancient mule track to the right of the elementary school. Follow the “Forte Road,” marked with signs along the way that tell the history and legends of the Castle. At the top of the hill, a guide can show you the ancient church, the gunpowder magazine, the prisons, and tell you threads of history about life on the ramparts. An impressive fortification that passed from hand to hand over the course of centuries, the Gavi Fortress and its ramparts as they are today were constructed through the work of Fra’ Fiorenzuola and architect Bartolomeo Bianco in the 17th Century. The fortress, built into and out of a mountain, cuts a powerful and imposing figure and offers an exceptional view.
Today a theater for public performances and historical reenactments, as well as housing a conference room that seats over 100 people, the fortress's history is rich with numerous legends. One recounts the story of Princess Gavia, the daughter of King Chlodomer of France, who escaped the unwanted marriage to her husband by running to the refuge of the Forte where, today, her precious treasures are still hidden.
The center of the town is situated along two main roads, Via Garibaldi and Via Mameli, that pass through lines of houses built practically one on top of another. The roads are crossed with deviations, clefts, and arches, and will bring you first to a magnificent villa, next to a small, colorful house, and then to a wine shop, bakery, or another locale. Don’t miss Palazzo Serra on Via Garibaldi where Napoleon was a guest during his travels to Italy; or the Romanesque church of St. Giacomo Maggiore built of locally-sourced sandstone in Piazza Martiri della Benedicta: on the right you’ll spot a porticoed courtyard with a great panoramic view. Part of the space is taken up by the Barbarossa restaurant’s seating.
Continuing along Via Garibaldi, step up to the Portino from the 8th century on the small street of Vico Fortino, the only surviving architecture from the city’s four ancient gates.
Gavi, however, is made of more than its ancient history. From the heart of its center, arteries of roads and streets take you to numerous refined villas from the Renaissance, such as Centuriona and Toledana, today luxurious private residences. It’s worth the climb to the Sanctuary Nostra Signora della Guardia, up another dominating hillside, where you can admire the wooden statue of the Madonna that was the votive offering for Giacomo Bertelli: during the Austro-Piedmontese seige, the Gaviese made offerings to the Madonna that, if she would save the house, they would dedicate a statue to the Virgin of the Guards, painted on the wall of the refuge building nearby. So it was, and the statue is yet located inside the Sanctuary.
A long-standing dispute divides the Gaviese: which amaretti are better, those from the Traverso bakery or those of the Caffè del Moro? The only way to judge is to try both. The amaretti of Gavi are excellent and made without eggs, butter, or water, but with DOCG Gavi olive oil; as soon as they’re scalded in boiling water, they’re immediately baked in a hot wooden oven.
You can’t leave Gavi before tasting the famous Ravioli con il tocco with its thick meat sauce. We suggest the restaurant La Masseria, an ancient place dating back to the end of the 1600s, once upon a time used as a horse change station. Included in the appetizers is Testa in cassetta di Gavi, a delectable salame to try (not prepared in the summer). It is made at the Bertelli Ottavio butchery, the only traditional producer of Testa in cassetta.
If you’re interested in purchasing some local products, stop by during the second Sunday of the month in the morning in Piazza Corezerbo: here, the Gaviese producers and artisans gather to sell the fruits of their work. As an alternative, you can stop by the Girasole restaurant, which serves a large selection of local products in its shop on Via XX Settembre.
LEGGI IL NOSTRO APPROFONDIMENTO SUL GAVI DOCG e sulla ZONA DEL TORTONESE