Monferrato's "door of gossip"
- Written by Laura Avidano
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Hop on your bike and take advantage of a beautiful, sunshiney day: the hills of Monferrato offer amazing views and flourishing, colorful vegetation. From vineyards of Ruche to sunflowers, from hazelnut groves to fruit orchards, the picturesque views are colorful and plentiful in this magnificent territory.
Visualizza Le comari del Monferrato in una mappa di dimensioni maggiori
We advise you to load your bike onto your car to reach Portacomaro, where you can leave it in Piazza Marconi. First be sure, however, that there is no scheduled match of wall tamburello, (tambass in Piedmontese). A variant of the popular “palla pugno,” the tambass is even more popular in the provinces of Asti and Alessandria, where it’s played in the towns’ piazzas, under fortress ramparts, or in the sphaeristerium (ancient Roman handball courts). The particularity of this classic tamburello is that the ball can be hurled against the wall of the opposite side to try and keep your opponents from being able to hit it back.
In Portacomaro, where tambass is a much-practiced and followed sport, the slight curvature of the wall of the medieval Ricetto fortress has made it practically famous in the history of the game. The visiting teams dread this place, because the home team knows exactly how to use the wall’s every irregularity to their advantage.
Now is the time to saddle up on your bike. Head in the direction towards Scurzolengo along a road that is growing with vineyards of Grignolino. Turning towards Castagnole Monferrato, you’ll have to face the Bricco Gioia (“Joyful Peak”) a climb that is beautiful but fatiguing. At the end of the descent, turn towards Asti and ride along for a few kilometers on the plains until you reach the collection of houses called Valenzani, where you take a left on the road towards Refrancore. Here, another uphill awaits you; but make the trip more pleasant by observing the fruit orchards of Farmhouse (Cascina) La Gioia, where we suggest you pause for a break. Depending on the season, you can fill your belly with organic apples, apricots, or pears. The most tired bike rider can also rest in one of the three rooms in their bed & breakfast.
The descent that takes you to the center of Refrancore will be restorative. This small town of Monferrato may take its name from the expression Rivus Francorum, or “a river of the Franks:” the modern day Gaminella Stream where in 663 AD, a tremendous battle between the Lombards and Franks was played out. According to the Late Medieval historian Paolo Diacono, the transalpine invaders got the worst of the battle; the “rivus” ran red with their blood, “ex sanguine Francorum.” On the main road of the town, take an obligatory stop at the bakery Pasticceria Fratelli Grossetti, where you’ll find the popular finocchini, well-browned egg-dough cookies with fennel seeds, honey, and anise. These crunchy cookies are actually quite nutritious and easy to digest, and are used as gifts for convalescents. Anyone can enjoy them with the creamy dessert zabaione or accompanied with the sweet wine Moscato d’Asti.
Exiting the small town, take a right up the steep climb towards Santo Stefano. You’ll be rewarded with the beautiful view that pans out along the road that runs towards Montemagno. Here, you may opt for a quick pause in the Roman church of St. Vittore and Corona behind the cemetery, with some benches, a green area, and a fountain. In front of you arises the splendid Castle of Montemagno of Late Medieval origins. Continuing towards Castagnole Monferrato, cross a stretch of Ruchè vineyards, one of the rarest grapes in Piedmont with a limited quantity of wine produced.
At the junction with the pharmacy, turn to the right towards Calliano and follow the road that turns to Portacomaro. Your ride has had its fatiguing moments – you’ve earned a dinner at the Locanda dell’Antico Ricetto that serves local cuisine and fish.
The restaurant takes the name of the Medieval Ricetto fortress of the town, a grouping of houses joined by walls armed with towers where the inhabitants of the countryside took cover from danger in times past. The access point was an arched door at the point of a steep ramp called, simply, “Ponte,” that lead from the smaller piazza (today’s Piazza Marconi) to the larger one (Piazza Pinin Roggiero). For inside access, it was necessary to pass a large door that, according to history, was the meeting point for women after vespers. From this gathering, the point was nicknamed the Porta delle Comari, or “Door of Gossip,” shortened to “Portacomaro,” a noun that would later become the town’s name.