From Asti to Vezzolano: among myths, legends, parish churches and castles
Leave the daily grind behind and lose yourself in visions, legends and silences to embrace, at every step, all the greenery that nature gives us in this corner of Monferrato. This itinerary will make you feel like a traveller through space and time: in fact, what you will find along the way, in some stretches, has remained unchanged over the centuries and is exactly what the pilgrims who walked this ancient medieval route of the Via Francigena saw.
The route starts in Asti, from the place that the people of Asti consider their imaginary “promenade”. Every town has its own place to meet and meditate, and the people of Asti come here to the Romanesque/Gothic church of Viatosto. Pretty original name, isn't it? Well, legend has it that it comes from the miraculous cessation of the plague in the year 1340 in Asti, which soon disappeared (ayatost) from this very hill and later disappeared from the whole city.
You will be tempted to stop there, gazing at the mountains on the horizon, but the route is still very long, so keep the map at hand to continue your walk: there are still 39 km to go to reach the final destination, according to the official CAI route.
Follow the signs and, after crossing the tracks of the old Asti - Chivasso railway line and travelling along a short stretch of the busy provincial road ex s.s. 458, you will reach the hamlet of Sessant. Continue along the ridge: the road is asphalted, not very busy and it passes through woods which are alternating, here and there, with small villas and farmhouses. Among the plants you will spot many acacias buzzing and teeming with life: one of the best honeys in the area is produced here.
Now you get to the hamlet of San Grato. In the main square you are presented with the former small red-brick primary school. As you look up, you will see the chapel of San Grato and Santa Lucia, built at the end of the 17th century.
Continue straight along the ridge and follow the signs towards Settime: once you reach the last house, the road becomes a dirt track. The itinerary passes by the area of the Valleandona-Valle Botto geo-site, famous for its fossiliferous outcrops. You go downhill and, if you wish, you can stop for a picnic break near the small Peschiera lake. As you turn right you leave the municipality of Settime with its characteristic horseshoe-shaped castle.
Just a tip: proceed slowly and take your time. You will go from one valley to another, along ridges and plains, passing Romanesque churches, castles and small villages, all of which are worth looking at. You will be amazed to learn how much history these places have to tell. For example, once you reach Cortazzone, you should definitely stop at the small Romanesque church of San Secondo, a real gem standing on a hill, whereas you will find the church of San Giorgio near the cemetery, in the hamlet of Bagnasco di Montafia.
These hills are imbued with stories of men, wars, pilgrimages and saints. The latter because the hill that stands out on the horizon is Colle Don Bosco, in the hamlet of Morialdo, and it is where Saint Giovanni Bosco, founder of the Salesians, was born, lived and where, at the age of just nine, he was visited in a dream to be called to his future mission: to care for young people. A mission that is now being carried out in his name all over the world.
The magic of these hills, we repeat it once again, should be experienced without haste: from the Colle to the final destination there are still three and a half hours to walk. Next, you will reach the parsonage of Santa Maria di Vezzolano, a Romanesque-Gothic gem, nestled in the green of a small, secluded and silent valley, where history and myths come together as one.
Legend has it that landslides moved the church, that had been built further upstream, to that place, and this was considered a divine sign. A second legend has it that the church was built at the behest of Charlemagne who, while hunting in the woods of Albugnano, experienced hallucinations and saw spirits; a third legend claims that the church is due to Charles VIII, King of France, who fell ill and was cured by the local priests with a marvellous garlic and anchovy-based recipe: the 'bagnacauda dell'Abate', a traditional local dish that is still served today in the area's best trattorias, and paired with local wines, especially Freisa d'Asti.
Along the way:
Point of interest along the way
Via Ugo Foscolo
Strada per Abbazia di Vezzolano