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One of the most famous towns of Piedmont, Italy has to be Asti. This charming town is world-renown for its wine, however, Asti offers far more things to do than just enjoy wine. This smaller city offers the charm of bigger cities without the crowds, some notable museums, and some beautiful churches. Follow this guide to Asti to discover the best things to do in Asti, Italy!
Discover the city of towers
Asti was first settled by the Ligurians, however, it was developed as a Roman city (Hasta Pompeia). Asti was one of the first free communes of Italy with the right to print coins, a valuable asset for trade! In the early medieval period, Asti flourished as a center of trade in Italy due to feudal wars (with other cities) and clever political moves.
The wealth of Asti in this period is the reason why it was once known as “the city of Towers” (like a few other cities today). Over time, many of these towers have disappeared as it was a tradition to destroy towers if a family fell as towers were often emblematic of a family’s status and wealth.
This power was largely centered within one wealthy banking family, who ended Asti’s reign as a republic and gave it to the king of Naples as part of an alliance. Various wars meant that Asti often fell into different hands, including the hands of different empires. It eventually fell into Savoy hands in the 1600s although the various wars surrounding the region meant that French or Spanish troops often invaded Asti.
Tired of the troops, the local elite rose against the Savoys only to be executed for insurrection although Napoleon soon conquered the region. Asti followed much of the course of Italian history eventually uniting with Piedmont and the rest of Italy in the 1800s.
Today, there are only a few towers that have stood the test of time. The most famous tower in Asti has to be Torre Troyana, which is a clock tower mostly dating back to the 13th century. (Part of the tower was part of the city gates in an earlier period.)
You’ll find numerous other towers although my personal favorite was Torre Comentina, which is the tallest tower in Piedmont. It takes back to the 13th century and frames one of the main squares of Asti (Piazza Roma). It was once the bell tower of a church that has since disappeared. This tower was also used as one of the command posts for the famous Asti horse race, Palio, which takes place in the city center. It’s just fun discovering these towers as you wander around the beautiful historic center!
Do a wine tasting of Asti DOCG
One of the best reasons to visit Asti is to try the wine. You probably have heard of Asti Spumante, which is one of Italy’s best known white wines. (The vineyards in this region produce a significant portion of Piedmont wine.) Although there was sweet white wine produced historically in this region, many wine experts trace back Asti Spumante to Carlo Gancia.
Carlo Gancia was a Piedmont native who traveled to Champagne to study the wine production techniques. He hoped to create a sparkling wine with the local grapes and ended up using Moscato. (Asti Spumante is was first called Moscato Champagne.) Although I often associate Moscato with pure sweetness, I recommend trying Asti Spumante DOCG, even if you’re not a white wine drinker. (My husband who is not a fan of white wines liked the bite to it, which wasn’t as sickeningly sweet as cheaper versions found abroad.)
In Italy, the system for grading wines is often referred to Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) with DOCG referring to the highest quality wines produced in a traditional manner in the typical region of production. As a result of this, you’ll find Asti DOCG in the Asti region. Asti DOCG must be made with 100% Moscato Bianco grown within the Asti region. We also tried the Moscato d’ Asti DOCG, which is made with the same grapes, but it is fermented only once. It’s technically not a spumante, but it is a local wine worth trying in Asti.
Any restaurant or cafe in Asti worth its salt will carry Asti wine although I warn that it’s not as common to find it by the glass as you want to drink a sparkling wine fresh out of the bottle. I recommend sitting down for a while, ordering a bottle of Asti Spumante, and nibbling on some snacks. If you wish to visit a winery to taste Asti at its source, you can read how to do wine tasting in Piedmont on your own.
Experience Asti’s rich food culture
One of the best (and most expensive!) times of the year to visit Asti is in fall. Piedmont is world-famous for its truffles and there are a few food fairs in the region during this time. One notable one is the Douja D’Or, which is a wine festival focused on Piedmont wine.
If you’re willing to brave the crowds, you’ll have stunning turning leaves in the countryside as well as the Festivale delle Sagre. This food festival in Asti focuses on regional products. It’s quite famous, so if you intend to head to this festival, we heard that you really need to plan ahead as there’s not so much accommodation in Asti during the rest of the year.
Even if you cannot make the festivals, you’ll still need to sample the food of Asti. It’s Italy, so you cannot go wrong with pizza. The special of Asti is a candy called torrone, which is sold at Giordanino.
Explore Asti’s beautiful churches (and synagogue)
One of the main attractions of Asti is the Asti Cathedral, which is one of the most important cathedrals in Piedmont. This 14th-century Cathedral is exquisitely decorated with frescoes and paintings (including one by Gandolfino d’Asti). It’s free to visit and I recommend stepping inside just to admire this beautiful Gothic church.
There are several other churches in Asti worth seeing including the crypt of Saint Anastasio, which looks like a basilica inside Cripta e museo di Sant’Anastasio – Fondazione Asti Musei. This underground museum shows off Roman items found, early tombs, and parts of the medieval church that once stood there. The crypt itself dates back to the 11th century and it is filled with Romanesque art.
The synagogue of Asti is definitely worth visiting for those interested in Judaism. This building from the 1830s was built in the same place as an earlier synagogue. It’s a beautiful example of an Italian synagogue due to its unique layout. It’s possible to visit for a few euros by contacting the Jewish synagogue of Turin who owns the building now.
The Jewish population in Asti has an interesting history as many arrived via France. As a result, Jews had their own language, however, they were subject to repressive laws, including the wearing of Jewish badges for a period. For a period, Jews were kicked out of Asti, but the need for Jewish businesses resulted in the reestablishment of Jews in Asti only to be held in the Jewish Ghetto for more than 50 years (Via Alberti) in the 1700s. Later on, things improved, but few Jews live in Asti today.
See Italian art at Palazzo Mazzetti
Palazzo Mazzetti is the main museum in Asti. This museum within a beautifully restored palace is home to quite a few paintings by famous 18th and 19th century Italian painters, including Michelangelo Pittatore. We ended up skipping the museum, but heard good things about it from the locals.
Discover its stunning piazzas and picturesque side streets
Most of our time of our day in Asti was spent wandering the beautiful streets of Asti! It reminds me of Bologna in the best possible way: charming cobblestone streets with minimal cars, cute little shops, minimal tourists, and cozy cafes with local food. Simply, you can’t go wrong as you discover the beautiful alleyways of Asti. If you love gelato, I recommend getting a cone to-go to enjoy in one of Asti’s beautiful piazzas.
Sip coffee at one of Asti’s many charming cafes
We stopped off a lot in Asti at little cafes for coffee as there was quite a bit of rain. I was really impressed with the modern decor (for sloth lovers!) and delicious coffee at Sereno Chill Coffee & Co. There’s a cafe on basically every corner, so don’t worry about not getting your caffeine fix.
Getting to Asti without a tour
Asti is actually quite easy to visit without a car and makes for a great base in the Piedmont region! You can take a train from Turin to Asti, which should take less than an hour. Tickets can be purchased directly via TRENITALIA.
If you choose to drive, which is better for seeing the larger Piedmont region, the signs to the city center are very clear. We didn’t have too much difficulty parking within the city although you should check the applicable signs to avoid fines.