The legend of the Polentoni
- Written by Laura Avidano
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This is a tasty itinerary that departs from the Regional Enoteca of Acqui Terme and heads in the direction of Roccaverano to discover the splendid and little-known Bormida Valley, a treasure of gastronomic specialties and Piedmont trails.
Visualizza La leggenda dei polentoni in una mappa di dimensioni maggiori
Departing from Acqui Terme, the first stop of the itinerary is the medieval village Monastero Bormida, hometown of Augusto Monti, writer, journalist, political figure of the 1900s, and author of the novel I Sansôssí (Gli Spensierati), a saga that encompasses three generations of a family divided between the Langhe and Torino. The novel explores their private lives and civic duties, and the setting is in large part at Monastero. It is “The single place between Monferrato and the Langhe that has its castle constructed low and its village high, vice versa of every other nearby town.”
The town – with its access bridge, monastery-castle, and historical center – was founded by a group of Benedictine monks around the year 1000. The monks gathered in San Benigno Canavese (from the abbey of Fruttuaria), called upon by the Marquise Aleramo of Monferrato to till and cultivate the land that had been devastated by the Saracen invasion. The small village conserves traces of an ancient monastery complex, inside which the life of the hamlet developed. The access was guaranteed by the bridge that, notwithstanding the long passage of time and floods, continues to remain a solid symbol of the village. The Castle, which corresponds to the site of the ancient Monastery, has large rooms graced with mosaics under foot and on the ceiling, which is in an arched cross formation; and is equipped with a 27 m (89 ft) high tower. From on top, you have a fantastic view of the entire Bormida Valley.
The historical center is constructed of stone houses and a few gateways of the late medieval period. Walking through the streets gives the sensation of stepping back in time. On the second Sunday of March, the castle’s piazza becomes a theatre for the famous Sagra del Polentone, which has been held at least since 1537. Legend has it that the Marquise Del Carretto, on a generous impulse, fed a group of starving boilermakers polenta, onion frittata, and sausage. These appreciative men gave the town an enormous copper cauldron in which once a year, a massive pot of polenta is cooked. In this occasion, the historical street centers come alive with artisans in costume who, with attention to historical detail and objects from centuries past, re-enact ancient trades and crafts. The Monday after Polentone is the celebrated Polentino, a large feast based on polenta and wild boar.
Leaving the magical atmosphere of Monastero Bormida behind, direct yourself towards Roccaverano, home of the creamy Robiola DOP cheese and capital of the Asti Langa area, the highest town in the entire province. Roccaverano is 750 m (1476 ft) high; its refreshing air is like a cool mountain breath in its pastures and woods.
We suggest a walk to see one of the most enchanting piazzas of Piedmont in its center, Piazza Barbero. The imposing tower and the rest of its castle are from the 13th century. Recent restorations have made the tower open to visitors; simply ask for the keys from the manager at the Osteria del Bramante in the opposite side of the piazza. The osteria’s name comes from the style of the stone church, likely inspired by the famous Renaissance architect Donato Bramante, and inaugurated in 1516. It is constructed in the same piazza according to an unusual Greek cross layout plan.
After an eyeful of cultural monuments, head towards the cheese producer in the region of Tassito for a visit to a place where the name of the famous cheese Roccaverano was born. Here, satiate your appetite with a tasting of ròbiòla, a type of toma goat cheese that is aromatic and soft, with a sweet, unforgettable flavor that pairs well with honey, the Piedmontese “chutney” mostarde, and a nice glass of red wine.