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From Asti to the Langa Astigiana

From Asti, follow the directions for Canelli to arrive in the Langa: arriving here, the capital of Asti Spumante - the famous sparkling wine, continue on to Cassinasco. Travelling along the hair-pin bends that climb towards the small municipality you will see the first of the hazel tree plantations that alternate with the vineyards of the Moscato wines.
There is not much remaining of the original village of Cassinasco: at the edge of the parish are the sole remains of the castle, destroyed by the French army in 1615. The medieval stone tower today still carries the evidence of the attacks by the soldiers - the gashes that run through it.
The internal baroque characters are preserved in the nearby church of Sant' Ilario. In Regione Caffi (from the Arabic "kafir" meaning unbeliever, coming from the time of the Saracen raids) the Sanctuary of Nostra Signora dei Caffi was erected at the beginning of the 20th century to a design by the architect Gualandi.
From Cassinasco descending into the Bormida Valley arrive at Bubbio: probably of Roman origin, the land rises on a rocky spur over the river Bormida and retains the medieval urban structure with the attractive houses aligned along the 14th century Via Maestra delimited by the parish church and by the castle.
The parish church of the Assunta (1750-1779) was designed by the architect Giacomo Carretto, a student of Juvarra, with an animated facade in visible brick and a majestic interior laid out to a central plan. Opposite is the oratory of the Disciplinati. Also not to be missed is the equipped walk under the wall and along the river giving glimpses along the narrow streets and, a break at the pastry shops for a sample of hazelnut macaroons.
The Swiss sculptor, Quirin Mayer, like many other foreigners enchanted by the landscapes of the Langa, has established himself here and in region Sant' Ippolito, his sculpture park has recently been opened. It is advisable to climb the hill of San Grato: from the churchyard of the small church of the same name, originally an octagonal building in eclectic style, the view is breathtaking.
From the region Quartino the road for Loazzolo climbs among almost Mediterranean vegetation between clusters of rosemary and small vineyards contained by dry-stone walls. The small municipality of Loazzolo, whose name is derived from Lupatiolum, land of wolves, is today linked to the Passito of muscatel, the Loazzolo, the smallest D.O.C in Italy that is born from the late vintage of old exposed south facing vineyards of the muscatel grape, whose bunches become sun dried. After a break on the panoramic terrace the visit can include the square with the parish church of the Sant' Antonio Abate, and the church of the Disciplinati or a walk to discover the remains of the castle on the hill of Sant' Andrea.
Going down once more into the Valley Bormida: the road follows the meandering course of the river arriving in Cessole: the “new” part of the municipality has been developed along the provincial road, while turning to the right however leads to the old village, leaning into the hill, dominated by a daring and original baroque realisation with two superimposed churches: the parish church and the church of the Confraternita dei Battuti. The architect Giacomo Carretto devised this brilliant solution to put an end to 180 years of discussions on the positioning of the two buildings. The first stone of the large new construction was blessed on 19th April 1779.
It is advisable to make the climb on foot to reach the small square which overlooks the parish church and the market lodge, the first built in the Bormida Valley in the 17th century. Descend on the right hand side to reach the entrance of the church of the Disciplinati.
Of the castle enclosure, which must once have been quite extensive, only traces of the walling remain in the highest part of the village in the vicinity of the church of Sant’Antonio da Padova. Also there is a large fortified genteel residence in stone. Facing the village, on the opposite side of the river, is the church of Sant' Alessandro and the small Sanctuary of the Madonna della Neve.
Continue along the valley for a few kilometres to arrive at Vesime (ad vigesimum milium da Acqui Terme). Also here it is necessary to leave the main road along which modern Vesime has been established: simply turn right leaving Piazza Vittorio Emanuele to discover the Palazzo Comunale with the gothic portico with the pointed arches supported by columns in sandstone surmounted by capitals of the 14th century, depicting geometrical images and entwined vegetation.
The neo-gothic style parish church of San Martino dates from 1898 (the bell-tower of the ancient parish church, damaged by an earthquake is still visible now integrated into the Town Hall). In the adjacent Piazza Dante, the recently restored church of the Disciplinati has traces of 16th century frescoes preserved inside.
A pleasant walk in the hills serves to discover what remains of the castle, largely destroyed by the Spanish cannons during the 17th century. Near the cemetery is the striking rococo facade of the pieve (church with baptistery) of Santa Maria, of very ancient origins where even a 14th century statue of the Madonna with the child is preserved. There are many other chapels around the area: cue for a walk in the neighbourhood.
From Vesime, across the bridge over the Bormida, the long and fascinating ascent leading to San Giorgio Scarampi, at 655 m above sea level begins, a small untouched historic city centre, with little more than one hundred residents: the medieval tower, two churches and some houses built using locally sourced langa stone. The recently restored tower is a good example of a medieval defensive building; built on a sloping escarpment, it has six floors with an open roof terrace - originally, crenellated. All around there are the remains of the fort boundary walls originally built for the Asinari in the 14th century. The parish church is dedicated to San Giorgio who, from 1634 is depicted killing the dragon in a splendid bas-relief of sandstone above the entrance door, testimony perhaps of the gratitude for the end of the plague (the dragon representing the devil, but also ill health). A little further on is the oratory of the Disciplinati, originally built with a floor plan in the form of a 17th century Greek cross, while the facade in local stone mixed with brick is the result of a 19th century renovation.
Leave San Giorgio by the uphill route to arrive at the capital of Asti Langa, Roccaverano ("Rocha Uverani", from the name of the Ovrano stream that runs in the valley below). The fascination of Roccaverano, the highest municipality in the province, is summarized in the central square: the splendid renaissance parish church, the castle, the tower and the endless landscape. The parish, has recently celebrated 500 years of history, originally requested in 1509 by Monsignor Enrico Bruno, native of Roccaverano (the Bruno family actually sired 5 bishops!) perhaps based on drawings of Bramante with whom he had probably been in contact in Rome. Of the castle there remains only a robust wall lightened by three mullioned two-light gothic windows: a staircase with a wooden balcony allows access to these giving views over the square (it is almost impossible not to take a photograph of the church from this excellent view point). Also the circular tower, almost 30 metres high, is accessible. Following the excitement of the breathtaking panorama, a walk in the historic centre is worthwhile among attractive stone houses, the Bruno family coat of arms and sculpted doorways.
Leave the centre in the direction of the cemetery to arrive at the church of San Giovanni, the ancient parish church: the facade is 19th century and retains little of the original Romanesque style; the interior conceals one of the most important late gothic series of frescoes in Piedmont. Continuing, (also on foot) is the splendid 13th century tower of Vengore, isolated between cornfields and the woods.
If time permits, the local hamlets are worth while seeing (San Gerolamo, Garbaoli) stopping among the producers of the Roccaverano, the only D.O.P. (protected name of origin) goats cheese in Italy; the robiola or "formaggetta", as it is called here, is to be found on the tables of all the best restaurants.