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To Upper Monferrato

From Roccaverano there are three "obligatory deviations", each very different to the others: the first (also by foot) is the nearby village of Olmo Gentile, the smallest commune in the province with fewer than 100 residents, whose name could be derived from the medieval tradition of planting an elm tree near to castles and places of worship (a symbol of support and protection).
The village only comprises a few metres of road: the parish church and the church of the Disciplinati, the municipality, the castle and a trattoria. The high tower is very similar to that in Vengore and dates from the 12th century, while the castle appears in 17th century form and was the summer residence of the Bishops of Acqui. Olmo has further surprises: one of the best panoramic views of the Langa of Asti, a little outside of the centre near to the church of the Addolorata, or, coming down the tortuous road to the Lavagnini, large ancient farm houses with roof covering in dark stone tiles (ciape) and having dates of the 15th and 16th century carved on the door frames.
Another possibility is to go to Serole, the southern most point of the province, at the intersection of four provinces (Asti, Cuneo, Alessandria and Savona) and on the boundary with Liguria. Along the road a deviation to the right, (leave the car here) and, by means of a comfortable path, in the woods among Scots pines, within 1 km you arrive at the Bric Puschera which, with its altitude of 851 metres, is the highest point in the province of Asti and is provided with rest areas.
The small centre is around the square of the parish church of San Lorenzo and the former church of the confraternita (today restored for cultural purposes) in stone with a 16th century fresco inside. Oddly, in this isolated village there is a tombstone in laboured Italian on a house of the square that commemorates the battle of Lepanto of 1571 in which the Christian army defeated for good the dangerous Turks; perhaps with this victory, an unconscious memory of when, centuries earlier, the Saracens had devastated the lands of the Langa with their raids.
The third road among the sandy bad-lands in which shrubs of heather, thyme and broom are the sole vegetation, brings us to Mombaldone, one of the hundred most attractive villages in Italy, a small intact jewel from the medieval age, still enclosed by the original defensive wall structure of which even the access door remains: going through it is the only way to arrive in the small square with parish church of San Nicolao and flanked by the oratory of the Saints Fabiano and Sebastiano, among fine stone buildings, coats of arms and glimpses of courtyards.
Continuing we see the remains of the tower of the castle whose stones were given to the marchese of the Carretto for the construction of the railway at the end of the 19th century (Mombaldone is the only area of the Langa to have a railway station around which the modern one is developed). A particularity of the village is the presence of tunnels, rooms and secret passages whose origin is lost in legend.
We continue our itinerary in the direction of the green Valley of the Rio Tatorba to arrive in Monastero Bormida facing the splendid Romanesque bridge over the river. It is best to leave cars parked at the rest area on the bank of the Bormida and to cross the bridge on foot, the tower of the castle being directly ahead. Monastero was founded by the Benedictine monks of the abbey of Fruttuaria around 1050. The castle is the fruit of the transformations of the monastery complex of which the splendid Romanesque tower bell remains, connected to the castle by a bold arch and the ‘donkey back’ bridge over the river that resisted, even though damaged, the last disastrous flood of 1994; the legend goes that the monks had used egg-white in the mortar to keep the structure strong " and with yolk they made Zabaglione” as Augusto Monti, the writer and educator actually born here in 1881, just a few steps from the castle, wrote in his novel, “I Sanssôssi”.
Continuing towards Sessame (the name recalls the six Roman miles that separate it from Acqui Terme or perhaps the sixty from Turin) along the river Bormida: here is signed the Garzaia della Valle Bormida, a small WWF oasis that accommodates a large colony of grey herons that may be observed only at a distance. Going now into the village, the production centre of Brachetto d’Acqui D.O.C.G., which is well-known also for the festival of its secret risotto recipe. Leaving the car at the central square with the two churches one can reach the area of the ruins of the Del Carretto castle, transformed by the Municipality into a pleasant green area, or choose the easy route of the Brachetto paths, either on foot or by bicycle.
From Sessame it is an attractive route leading to Rocchetta Palafea, especially with a break at the picnic area of the church of San Sebastiano. The fortress was, in the medieval period, an important strategic point with imposing fortifications of which the high stone tower on the highest point still remains, with a structure similar to others of its type in the Langa, but decorated with small arches in terracotta rather than in stone. A short distance away is the beautiful baroque parish church of Sant' Evasio and the inevitable oratory of the Disciplinati.
Continuing towards Montabone whose historic city centre is one of the best preserved in the high Monferrato area. Over recent years many of its ancient stone houses and some of the most interesting places in the area along the steep central road that, from the 14th century urban door leads to the parish church and to the clearing where the castle arises. Passing through it we find the parish church of Sant' Antonio whose interior houses some canvases by the mannerist painter Guglielmo Caccia, known as ‘the Moncalvo’, (after the town where he lived), who was born in Montabone in 1568 in a farmstead a short distance from this area. From Montabone, return towards Asti following directions for Nizza Monferrato or Canelli. In the direction of Nizza Monferrato we advise further stops in the last two centres of the Langa of Asti on the border with Upper Monferrato.
Castel Boglione is a small village characterised by a grandiose parish church in eclectic style and by the enormous Cantina Sociale conceived about fifty years ago actually by the village parish priest. Arriving at the road junction with the SS456 and continuing towards Acqui Terme, the last stop is at Castel Rocchero that offers a panorama as far as the eye can see, of the splendid vineyards with the Alps and the Ligurian Apennines in the background. The profile of the village is characterised by the high bell-tower with spire below which is the entrance archway to the village, at one time dominated by the castle on which site now stands the elegant Town Hall.