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The city of Asti is 40 minutes drive from Torino and one hour from Milano. Asti was founded by the Ligurians who named it ‘Ast’ meaning ‘hill’ or ‘high-ground’ in 49 BC.


After walking around downtown Asti, looking up at the medieval towers (see our earlier post here), we found the city’s cathedral.


The cathedral of Asti  (Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta) was built in the 13th century, one of the biggest in Piedmont, in late Medieval, Romanesque-Gothic style.


The exterior is made of brick and tuff, with areas of polychrome decoration, brick alternating with sandstone.


The interior surface of the church is completely covered with frescoes.


I have never seen a church with this much frescoes – it makes me think of a densely tattooed body !




The church apparently has two organs, a real one and a painted one.



From a distance, I cannot tell if some were painted or they were sculptures.


At the intersection of the nave and the transept is an octagonal skylight. This is spectacular.


Standing directly underneath it and looking up.


The Romanesque bell tower with a square base, which was originally seven stories tall, dates back to 1266. Near the bottom of the tower is a sundial-like device mounted on the exterior wall. We could not figure out how it works. We were there at around 3-4pm – can someone tell me how to read it ?


The last big church I saw was the Doms in Köln in May this year (click here to see pictures.)


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Continuing with our vacation in Northern Italy … in Piedmont where we were staying, the nearest big town is Asti.


Asti has the largest late medieval architectural heritage of the region, in memory of what was once the most powerful town in Piedmont. There are numerous towers, fortified houses, churches, and palaces. The area north-west of the city, between the city center and the Cathedral, is very rich in medieval merchants’ houses and palaces, many with monumental towers. It was once known as the ‘City of One Hundred Towers’ (Città delle cento torri).


Apparently, from early 14th century, Asti enjoyed enormous wealth and power with extensive trading rights granted by the Holy Roman Empire. During the 17th century, there were an incredible 125 of them, though today only a dozen or so still survive.


Of the 12 or so towers that remain, only this one can be climbed. Torre Troyana Dell’ Orologia is a 38m-tall tower that dates from the 12th century. The clock was added in 1420.


These are the towers in Costigliole d’Asti, a commune outside of Asti which we passed when we ventured out from our villa.


One of the most famous events held in Asti is the famous annual Palio di Asti, in which all the old town wards, called “Rioni” and “Borghi” plus nearby towns compete in a bare-back horse race.


There are 14 old town wards in Asti. The coats of arms of several old town wards were prominently displayed, the race being only a couple of weeks from our visit.  Based on the colors, this one is for Borgo Viatosto.


This one is for Rione San Secondo.


This is the coat of arms for Borgo Santa Maria Nuova.


Asti is famous also for the sparkling wine – Asti Spumante – we passed a massive Martini & Rossi factory. The name today is usually shortened to “Asti” in order to avoid associations with the many wines of dubious quality which are labelled as Spumante. Asti is typically sweet and low in alcohol (often below 8%). It is made solely from the moscato bianco (white muscat grape).



A premium version of Asti is known as Moscato d’Asti – Sue absolutely loves it and we brought several bottles of La Gatta from Terredavino (see earlier post here) back home with us.

When we checked in at Villa Pattono, the receptionist gave us a list of local restaurants. There are two Michelin 1-star restaurants in the area.

One day we decided to try Ristornate San Marco, located in Canelli, for lunch. The lady chef Mariuccia received the star more than 10 years ago.

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The restaurant is housed in a humble-looking building in a residential area. Its decoration is traditional and intimate. Our waiter was very professional, showing much enthusiasm in what he does, and being attentive without overbearing.

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The villa as we mentioned earlier (see previous post here) only serves breakfast. So every day, we had to drive out to find lunch and dinner. There are pros and cons to this situation. The pros is that one gets to truly sample the local cuisine. The cons is that after a few days, the searching, driving and parking twice a day became a bit of a chore, especially when we tried to go to a different place every time.

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Canelli is in the heart of the wine region of Monferrato, an area between Alba and Asti. It is approximately 20 minutes drive on windy country roads. Given the aging GPS in the car, the search for restaurants in the country side became an adventure by itself. It was fun until we got lost, hungry, and embarrassingly late on arrival.

We were just on time for Ristorante San Marco.

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Instead of ordering from the Degustation menu, which would have been too much food, we ordered à la carte.

Calamaro saltato con crema di carciofi nostrani e riduzione di Balsamico (Squid sauteed with artichoke cream and balsamic reduction)

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Tajarin funghi porcini (Homemade egg pasta with porcini mushroom ragout) – Tajarin is a local specialty – spaghetti-like but made with eggs – a bit like Chinese egg noodel

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Ravioli di ricciola, pomodoro fresco, vongole veraci (yellowtail fish ravioli, fresh tomatoes, clams)

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Scamone di agnello da latte in lenta cottura, albicocche, fagiolini con speck croccante (slow-cooked rump of milk lamb, apricots, green beans crunchy speck)

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Hazel nut is a major product of the area – Nutella was created in neraby Alba.  Every thing on this plate is made with the nut !

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The husband of the chef is the president of the truffle searchers (trifolau) and Mariuccia asked if we are interested to join a search when the fungus is in season (about a month away). She brought in a big basket of freshly picked porcini.

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Mariuccia makes her own sun-dried tomatoes.

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We had a nice long lunch and would love to come back to try her new truffle menu when they are in season.

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More hazel nuts and petit-fours to conclude a slow, long lunch.


Our late summer vacation was spent mostly at this villa situated in the middle of the Piemonte (Piedmont) countryside of Italy. Rather than moving from one place to another several times during the week (like we did in France in June), we stayed here for a good five days.


The approach from the automatic gate up to the main building, with a small covered shed for parking on the left, and a pool and vines on the right, was very welcoming.


We went in early September and the grapes were still on the vines.


This is the back of the villa. The property was totally surrounded by vines.


The villa is located at one of the higher points in this area which has gentle rolling hills. The only higher point nearby is the church at Annuziata, which is five minutes away.


The manageress’s tiny silver and lipstick red fiat. Very Italian.


From our balcony, we were afforded a nice view – almost 270 degrees – and sunset.


We could see the distant Alps on a clear day.


Comfy common area.


Our room is on the small side but it is adequate.


The main attraction for me is the pool. There was hardly anyone there.


At dusk, they pipe in light jazz to liven it up.


The villa has a spa on the lower level, just a wet and a dry sauna and a small whirlpool. However, the fancy programmable shower did not work.


The property is owned by a famous winery in Barolo – Renato Ratti. The villa’s web site is here. There are 13 rooms in total.


There is a tasting room on the lower level where one can buy their wines.


The villa is perfect for relaxing, super quiet,  hardly anyone around during the day. The only catch is that they only serve breakfast. That means we had to drive out every day in search of lunch and dinner. More about that in later posts.