Golden Day Fifty-Eight: Oooh…Aaahhh…Asti…
A 45-minute train ride from Turin takes you to the enchanting town of Asti. Yes, that’s Asti, as in Asti Spumante, that sparkling white wine that was poured at many celebrations during my Jersey shore youth. Vineyards on the outskirts of Asti, in the Monteferrato province, produce this lively wine, as well as Moscato d’Asti and lovely red Barbera d’Asti.
The town of Asti is a gem to stroll through—cobblestoned streets, Gothic and Romanesque churches, and lofty towers from the 13th century that were once used to defend this place now offer beautiful views.
Robin Sims, a British transplant, who with her husband John owns Cascina Papaveri, a Pilates/Cooking School that’s based in a luxuriously renovated farmhouse on the outskirts of town, says she always takes groups to Asti on Wednesday. “On arriving we make a bee line for Caffe Ornella (Via San Quirco 1), where we make short work of cappuccinos and brioches before wandering off to explore.” There are gorgeous displays of fruits and vegetables, and as far as clothes, “Many shoe stalls sell ‘end of lines’ so one can find leather wedges and shoes made in Italy for under 40 Euro. Our guests get so excited! Many come with a few clothes knowing on Wednesday, for very little outlay, they can go home with a new wardrobe.”
The market overflows from three main squares: the Campo del Palio, the Piazza della Liberta, and the Piazza Alfieri. Delicious stops along the way include the Pasticceria Giordanino (Via Alfieri 254, Closed Mon), that’s been around since 1912 and makes delicious amaretti cookies called Astigiani, that are soaked in various liquers. For lunch or apertivo time, Pompa Magna (Via Gian Carlo Aliberti 65, 0141 3244 02, Closed Mon), is a happening enoteca/trattoria for a great variety of wines by the glass, as well as bagna cauda, agnolotti and other Piemontese specialties, all served in friendly, delicious style.
If you are driving, the Marchesi Alfieri Winery is gorgeous to visit in the afternoon, and you can even spend the night in one of the fabulously renovated Baroque rooms on this grand estate.
For dinner, you may choose to splurge at what’s been hailed as one of the best restaurants in Italy: Ristorante Gener Neuv. It’s a seamless blend of cozy, rural and formal, set on the Tanaro River, with a great wine list, offering fixed price menus of elegant preparations of the local specialties, so you may be tasting stuffed squab, Piemontese eel, or a dish featuring the famous white truffles of the region. It’ll definitely be one of those dining experiences for the memory books.
If you’re up for spending a whole dreamy week in the area, that would include Pilates and Cooking lessons, check out Cascina Papaveri. It’s surrounded by vineyards and organic gardens, with a swimming pool and state-of-the-art Pilates studio. Hosts Robin and John Sims, former ergonomic designers from the UK, welcome visitors to experience the best of the area’s culinary scene and get fantastic Pilates classes while they’re at it. I was turned on to this place by my Hollywood YMCA Pilates instructor, Tannis Kobrinsky, one of the fab teachers who instructs here, and I’ve heard raves about it.
September is a great time of year to visit Asti. The second Sunday of the month is a huge Sagra, celebrating the foods of the region, then there’s the Wine Festival (Douja D’Or), and the third Sunday is the Palio d’Asti, a horse race similar to Siena’s, surrounded by much fanfare and pageantry.
For more info: www.astiturismo.it