Asti is Vittorio Alfieri and Paolo Conte; it is palaces and monuments in all different styles, alternating from Baroque to Gothic to Liberty. Asti is buildings both sacred and powerful; it’s wine and gastronomy that manifest in events that are famous the world over. It is a city made for man, with its manageable 75,000 inhabitants, and the best way to know it is to live it and to lose yourself in its streets.
Leave your car in Piazza Vittorio Alfieri, dedicated to the 1700s playwright whose native city has always left him with conflicting emotions; you’ll recognize him from the statue in the piazza, confidentially named Toju by the Asti inhabitants. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, the piazza and the nearby space Campo del Palio fill with market stalls. The Tourist Office is also in Piazza Alfieri, which is ringed with porticoes so that its shops and locales are pleasant to visit even on a rainy day.
After pausing at the historical Cocchi Bar, turn onto Corso Alfieri, lined with boutiques and splendid palazzi and buildings. If it’s lunchtime, stop by the Ristorante Tacabanda; or continue walking until taking Via Gobetti on your left, which will take you to Piazza St. Secondo, named for the city’s patron saint. Here are the Municipal Building and the St. Secondo Basilica, which is worth a visit to admire the interior. On the second Saturday of every month, a market is held in this piazza with organic and artisanal products; and on the fourth Saturday of every month an antiques market is held with over 150 exhibitors. If the sun is shining (or not, depending on your tastes), take a gelato from Grom and relax on the benches. A good caffè can be found at the bar Lo Stregatto nearby.
“In the city of Asti in Piedmont on the 17th of January in the year 1749, I was born to nobles and an honest, well-to-do family.”
Vittorio Alfieri, My Life Writings (Vita scritta da esso), autobiography (dated around 1790).
On the opposite side of the Municipal building, follow the small streets that lead to the ancient Jewish ghetto, a zone of rare beauty. Via dei Cappellai, Via Aliberti, and Via Garetti conduct you through this atmospheric place that gives the sensation of living in a city within a city as you wind through the small shops and locales. At the Macelleria da Ciccio, only select meats of the highest quality are sold, as well as being a popular place for passionate followers of the Palio, the traditional horse race held every autumn in Asti. Pass wine bars and the Ristorante Cavolo a Merenda where chef Mario Morra prepares an amazing Spaghetti del Cavalier Cocco and glazed veal cheek, both of which are flavored with Barbera d’Asti wine. After dinner, stop by the (deconsecrated) church of St. Michele, today the seat of the Diavolo Rosso and inexhaustible mecca of cultural activity.
Walk along Via Ottolenghi and the Synagogue, at which point turn onto Corso Alfieri until Piazza Roma. In the palazzi that surround the piazza is housed the Community of Asti’s Youth Information seat where you may find information on pastimes, activities, and the Consortium of Asti DOCG. Connecting again with Corso Alfieri, relax on the benches of Alganon gardens or inside the Caffetteria Mazzetti, built following the renovation and reopening of the adjacent Palazzo Mazzetti, one of the most majestic buildings of Asti. As the seat of prestigious expositions, most recently the palazzo housed “The Etruscans and sparkling wine,” attracting visitors from around the world.
Not far ahead is the Palazzo Ottolenghi, another piece of Asti pride. Inside, find the Risorgimento Museum and its restructured, underground bomb shelter. Once you’ve arrived at the Asti Library, turn onto Via Goltieri and find yourself in Piazza Cattedrale with its a majestic cathedral. This impressive religious building is one of Piedmont’s most important examples of Gothic architecture. The piazza is often used as a theatre for shows such as Asti Musica or Gustadom, a wine and gastronomy exposition that also engages the surrounding streets, courtyards, and buildings in the district. Return to Via Boltieri and turn to the left onto Via Carducci. Here is Piazza Castigliano, beautiful with its glimpses of magnificent palazzi; and Piazza Catena, where farmers sell their fruit and vegetables of consistently high quality every morning. Asti is also a city known for its towers, at one time having perhaps over one hundred. The most famous are the Red Tower (Torre Rossa), the Comentina, the Tower De Regibus, and Guttuari. Don’t miss aperitivo, the Italian-style happy hour, at the top of Troiana Tower for the chance to taste a good Barbera d’Asti DOCG at 44 m (144 ft) of height. And, if you decide to visit the Red Tower, stop by Tastè vin inside, a small restaurant that will impress you with its atmosphere and exquisite dishes. If the day is sunny, it’s worth a climb up to Viatosto, a small community just about 4 km (2.5 mi) from the city center, also reachable by car. Here you can admire the small, Romanesque church and the breathtaking view of the entire city from the overlooking piazza. Don’t forget to stop by the St. Pietro Complex, which is an excellent example of Romanesque art and seat of the Museum of Archaeology and Paleontology.
The best time of the year to visit Asti is definitely in September when the Douja d’Or, Festival delle Sagre, and the Palio race attract thousands of tourists to the city. The last major event of the year is the Regional Truffle Fair, held on the third Sunday of November. To complete the picture, there are also many stands with local wine and gastronomy products, among which some choice wines are sold: Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Moscato d’Asti DOCG, and Asti Spumante DOCG, symbolic wines of Piedmont and of a local economy still fundamentally based on its own agricultural products.