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In Upper Monferrato

From Asti head in the direction of Costigliole d’Asti. The castle is one of the most immense and impressive of the area with the its four strong angular towers, statues and drawbridge. In the medieval age it belonged to the powerful Asinari family that from the 17th century shared it with the Verasis family. The beautiful Virginia Oldoini, who became countess of Castiglione following her marriage to the count Verasis in 1854, lived in the castle. Well-known for her great charm she used it also to influence politics, playing an important role in the unification of Italy (Cavour sent her to Paris as ambassador for Piedmont to the court of the emperor Napoleon III).
Leaving Costigliole in the direction of Calosso the imposing tower of the castle of Burio appears, almost disturbing when it emerges from the autumnal fog even if in reality it was designed with more agricultural than defensive functions. After long neglect it was acquired by Swiss architects who transformed it into an art centre.
Continue towards Calosso. The castle, which belonged to the Roero family and was transformed at the end of the 17th century into a country residence, preserves a massive cylindrical crenellated tower and part of the 16th century bastions that held off numerous attacks by the various passing armies. In the Autumn of 1592 the bishop of Pavia, Alessandro Sauli, on a pastoral visit and guest of count Roero, became sick and actually died in the castle. The room that accommodated the Barnabite, beatified in the 18th century and canonised in 1904, was transformed into a chapel. Sant' Alessandro became the patron of Calosso and the so-called "bagna cauda del Beato" in November is dedicated to him.
The panoramic road of Piana del Salto leads to Moasca. Arriving in the main square of the village one is struck by the walls with two high cylindrical towers to the sides: they are the remains of the building constructed in the middle of the 14th century (1351) after the previous fortification had been razed to the ground by the Guelph army of the Solaro. Over the following centuries the castle was subjected to alterations and enlargements, but unfortunately was totally abandoned after the Second World War leading to the ruin of a great part of it. The remains of the eastern wall and the towers have fortunately been the object of recovery and restoration in recent years.
On the adjacent hill we can admire the castle of San Marzano Oliveto, stronghold of the Asinari family, with four square towers and the fine terraced garden; you can enter from the square of the parish church.
Coming down in Valle San Giovanni a deviation in the hamlet of Calamandrana Alta allows us to see the peculiar octagonal tower of the castle.
Canelli is reached in a few kilometres: the upper hamlet, the so-called Villanuova, is dominated by the imposing 17th century villa belonging to the Gancia family who have undertaken the restoration work during the 1930s.
Coming down in the Valle Bormida from Cassinasco, one reaches the Langa of Asti. At Bubbio the 19th century castle houses a hotel. From Bubbio continue towards Monastero Bormida. This time we do not climb to the summit of a hill, but we come down towards a river, since the castle was never intended as a defensive structure, but as an abbey of the Benedictine monastery of Santa Giulia, founded in the 11th century, to till the grounds devastated by the Saracen invasions. Of the Romanesque religious complex, the bell-tower and the splendid bridge over the Bormida, which create with the castle an ensemble of great beauty and harmony, remain visible. With the abandonment of the monastery in 1393 and the investiture of the Del Carretto Marquises the transformation into a fortified structure occurred, changed further by interventions during the following centuries. From the cobblestone square across a spacious arcade with groin vaults one enters in the courtyard, used as an evocative space for summer concerts and theatrical presentations. The interior, used for offices of the municipality, preserves spacious rooms with mosaic floors, sail vault and groin vault ceilings, of which some are frescoed with floral and geometric motifs or with feminine figures, sometimes mythological.
Returning towards Asti, after the junction for Nizza Monferrato in the region of Opessina climb towards Castelnuovo Calcea, built, as the name of the municipality suggests, around the castle during the times of Barbarossa. The castle was then largely destroyed by a captain of the army of the Savoy (whose name we know to be Stefano Re) that in 1635, following a rebellion of the inhabitants, plundered and set fire to the village. After varied collapses suffered over the centuries, the municipality acquired the site about twenty years ago and finally recovered the walls and the lookout tower. From the attractive cobblestone square with the baroque parish church and the Town Hall one enters the green area rearranged with great care. From the so-called "Terrazza degli Ulivi" one can already enjoy the panorama that opens up on the enchanting hills of southern Asti, but it is by climbing up towards the tower that the view really does range "Dagli Appennini alle Alpi (from the Appennines to the Alps) as the green area was named.
Continuing towards Asti we note the castle of Montegrosso with two circular towers and the loggia opening towards the South. In a short distance, in the Val Tiglione, we still recall the castle of Belveglio that is said to have concealed a treasure deep underground. Nowadays it is the property of the Italian-American flautist Marlaena Kessick.