A stroll through the “ventine” – from Asti to Montemarzo
A visit to Asti can go beyond the city itself. As a matter of fact, and this is a very rare if not unique case in Italy, Asti has an incredibly vast district of about 10-15 km radius, including several villages or hamlets that were once elevated to the status of autonomous municipality and which, with the establishment of the province of Asti ( in 1935), were eventually absorbed by the "new" capital. The people of Asti conventionally call these hamlets "ventine" not because there were twenty of them: the term actually derives from the word "vicinia" which in the Middle Ages used to describe the smallest settlement.
Therefore Asti enjoys a genuine loop in the open countryside. We will not trace a single route, also because the "ventine" are not an organic system, and in many cases coincide with ancient and often isolated settlements. We can suggest an initial route along the right bank of the Tanaro, leaving Corso Savona to immediately reach San Marzanotto, an extraordinary balcony over the surrounding hills, all arranged around the parish Church, which preserves its typical circular medieval structure. It is amazing how, just a few kilometres from the city, you can find a place so far from the hustle and bustle: green, quiet, a classic country place, full of narrow lanes and scenic roads that plunge into the thousand hills of the south of the Asti region. And if on the side overlooking the Tanaro river, the woods and rocks well represent the wildest nature, on the southern ridges you can see the order and cleanliness of the vines: rows of vines as far as the eye can see, dotted with manor farms. An additional feature of San Marzanotto are the Murals that adorn many of the town centre's façades, and were painted by some of the most important contemporary artists (including Casorati, Fresu, Soffiantino and Guglielminetti).
Not far from the village, on the way to Alba, stands the Castle of Belangero (but you can reach it by going up the road to Mongardino), a very old building (it was a fief of the Asinari family). The hillock is enchanting, adorned by a centuries-old park, a beautiful farmstead and a small chapel. Because of its position, San Marzanotto has long been chosen as a " buen retiro" (retreat) for many Asti residents, and there are many beautiful villas dating back to the beginning of the 20th that bear witness to this tradition; among these, Villa Badoglio stands out just outside the old town, where Pietro Badoglio, the first Marshal of Italy, a native of Grazzano, loved to stay.
We leave the villa to descend again onto the Tanaro and, once past the village of Torrazzo (with its early 20th century proto-industrial architecture and its large brick factories), we pass by the river towards Azzano and finally reach the valley of Montemarzo (turn right at the level crossing). The village, which is perched on the hill but arranged in triangle shape along the ridge, preserves evident signs of past fortifications in the first houses and overlooks a particularly airy valley. Another must-see is also the beautiful Baroque parish Church.
In Montemarzo, a hike through the countryside towards Santa Caterina di Rocca d'Arazzo is a must, possibly on foot, on horseback or by mountain bike... but please be aware of the frequent, sudden and deadly climbs. Right here you will find the so-called "ascent of the Gerbido", an epic challenge won by Giovanni Gerbi, known as the Red Devil, riding his trusty bike.
Text by Pietro Giovannini
Along the way:
Point of interest along the way
Strada del Borbore