Romanesque in and around Castelnuovo Don Bosco
Castelnuovo Don Bosco is somewhat of a reference point for the whole Alto Astigiano, that is to say that upper area of the higher peaks rising above the Pianalto (it. Roero of Canale). It is surrounded by several valleys (Versa, Rilate, Traversa). The rich religious evidence of the Romanesque period is hidden in this landscape.
The old town lies at the foot of the hill of the Rivalba lineage (long-time local gentry), but today, what is left of their mighty Castle is just the tall Tower, right beside the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Castello. On the way down, beyond the parish Church of Sant'Andrea, among palaces which are now baroque and art nouveau styles, we find the charming San Bartolomeo. These are the "Lands of the Social Saints", the birthplace of many nineteenth-century members of the Turin Church. Therefore, a detour to the Sanctuary of Colle Don Bosco is a must for keen enthusiasts.
Castelnuovo Don Bosco already shows us the first examples of Romanesque architecture along this path: from the big Church of Sant'Eusebio, just outside the village, to the tiny Church of Santa Maria di Cornareto, in a splendid panoramic scenery, perhaps one of the most romantic places in Monferrato. These are also lands of wine: actually it is here and in the neighbouring villages that the sweet Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco, both still and sparkling, is being produced.
We leave the village and head towards the valley of the Rio Traversa to reach Moncucco Torinese. And if Castelnuovo Don Bosco is about Malvasia, Moncucco Torinese is about Freisa (with its lovely homonymous Bottega del Vino - Local Wine Shop). The village is literally overlooked by the huge Castle, which also houses the beautiful Museo dei Gessi (Plaster Museum). Noteworthy is also the neoclassical parish Church of San Giovanni, with its high altar which was designed by the genial mind of Filippo Juvarra.
Berzano di San Pietro already awaits us on the next hill, where the hitherto prevailing vineyards fade into the upper wooded valley of the Traversa river: it is another small hilltop rural hamlet. It is worth taking a short walk to see the monumental Roverella (one of Piedmont's historic trees) and the beautiful small country Church of San Giovanni.
Now it is time to climb up to Albugnano, which with an altitude of 550 metres is also the peak of the itinerary. The village has a pleasant atmosphere, a stunning panoramic viewpoint and important architecture such as the parish Church of San Giacomo and the Romanesque cemeterial Church of San Pietro. The village also gives its name to the only Nebbiolo produced in the province of Asti, a full-bodied and elegant wine. The view from Albugnano's belvedere is by far one of the best of the whole Monferrato area.
The nearby Abbey of Santa Maria in Vezzolano is the most important monument in the province and one of the gems of Piedmont. Vezzolano should be worthy of a book, starting with its façade which is Romanesque but has nonthing in common with the simplicity of the other churches: based on the three classical orders, built of sandstone and terracotta, and decorated with small columns. Its interior is astonishing: primarily because of the presence of the sculpted "pier" at the end of the central nave. Next, in the beautiful two-tone apse, is the altar and, on either side of the central window, two extraordinary painted bas-reliefs dating from the 12th century. Furthermore, the frescos, which are all concentrated in the surprising cloister, are also a must-see. From here you can access the chapter house, exhibition rooms and guest quarters; and just behind the complex there is a real orchard which reveals all the harmony of this ancient place.
Here comes Aramengo, another village surrounded by woods and cultivated land and surrounded by a multitude of hamlets (Gonengo with its Sanctuary, Marmorito with the ruins of its fortress, Masio with the Romanesque Church of San Giorgio). The place is home to the genius and talent of the Nicola Family, owners of Italy's most famous restoration laboratory.
Next we climb up to Tonengo (with a small Romanesque country Church of San Michele in a secluded position), Moransengo (a beautiful Castle with an art park, exhibitions and summer concerts) and Robella (with another Castle and century-old park, the lovely hamlet of Cortiglione and the small Church of the Macagnone bric), and finally we reach Cocconato.
The village, known locally as the “Riviera del Monferrato”, is very pretty, with its lower square used for trade and the old uphill road leading to the medieval quarters with the late-Gothic Palazzo Comunale, the old Martelletti House, the 17th-century parish Church of Santa Maria, the Church of the Holy Trinity, the historical pharmacy and the Watchtower. Along with its wines, it is famous for its robiola cheese, salame cotto monferrino (cooked salami) and the peculiar Donkey Palio.
In the extensive countryside, it is worth visiting the hamlet of Tuffo with its Palazzo Bottino, the Sanctuary of the Madonnina and the ancient Pieve, (the old parish Church now known as Madonna della Neve) which is high up on a hill between two cypress trees.
From the little village a steep descent leads to the provincial road to Casalborgone and then, from here, we climb up to the hermitage of Cerreto d'Asti, the "village of roses", a long, narrow village that was once fortified. There is also an interesting late 16th-century parish Church whose façade has been "turned around"; the presence of a small astronomical observatory is quite curious; another must-see is the small, splendid Sant'Andrea in the hamlet of Casaglio (11th century). Casaglio sits on a hill between Cerreto d'Asti and Passerano Marmorito, our next destination, where you can already see the huge size of the Radicati Castle, which is definitely the best preserved structure in Monferrato. The village lies at the foot of the castle, and a walk here is almost compulsory: beyond the city gate, along the cobblestones, there is the old Mint (today it is a library), the Chapel of the Madonna, the towers and the gardens.
Here, every hill has its own different story to tell, whether it is towards Marmorito or up to the fortified villages of Primeglio (with another Castle), and Schierano (with its Tower). On top of it you can enjoy the view over the Muscandia woods, which surround the small, romantic castle villages of Pino d'Asti (with its Museo del Legno - Wood Museum) and Mondonio, our last stop before returning to Castelnuovo Don Bosco. From Mondonio there is one final diversion to reach the tiny, ancient Church of Santa Maria di Raseto, which still evokes emotions, and it is another evidence of the history and religious faith tied to the Monferrato of wonders.
Texts by Pietro Giovannini
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Via Guglielmo Marconi