Let’s explore Monferrato, one of the most popular destinations where you can spend a complete holiday experience with art, history, nature, entertainment, events, food and wine specialities.
This historic region of Piedmont is home to relaxing hills and vineyards that give life to the world-famous Piedmontese wines. Thanks to its geographical position, favourable climate and suitable soils, Monferrato is the land of fine wines such as Barbera, Dolcetto and Grignolino.
But where exactly is Monferrato? Monferrato is located in Piedmont, between the provinces of Asti and Alessandria, extending from Casale Monferrato to the Ligurian Apennines, on the border with Genoa and Savona.
This wonderful territory, which enchants us Italians and foreign tourists alike, is divided into the areas of Basso Monferrato or Monferrato Casalese, Basso and Alto Monferrato Astigiano, and Alto Monferrato of Acqui Ovada and Gavi.
Why is Monferrato so well known? Well, the first thought runs to its world-famous wine vocation, as well as its cuisine. But not only that.
In this beautiful corner of the world, you can also fall in love with its ancient castles, towers and medieval villages, historic centres dotted with churches and abbeys. Civil and religious monuments that bear witness to a rich history with indelible traces. History remains in spite of the passage of time and the turn of mankind, and it is exciting to relive it in order to sanction its immortality. Territories like this one in Monferrato must be visited at least once in a lifetime.
It is no coincidence that they are also often the ones rewarded by the institutions responsible for historical and cultural enhancement. UNESCO included Monferrato, Langhe and Roero in its list of World Heritage Sites in 2014.
What to see in Monferrato, for a stimulating journey?
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Monferrato is one of the most interesting tourist destinations in our country. We recommend visiting it in spring or in autumn, when the climate is more temperate and it is possible to have more experiences and get around pleasantly.
Monferrato is one of those “dimensions” in which you can experience true slow tourism, where, moreover, much attention is paid to eco-sustainable living. You can relax from the frenetic rhythms and enter a mood marked by the simplest yet most intense pleasures.
In this guide you can find a complete itinerary to explore all the most beautiful places in Monferrato and to learn about all the activities you can do here, from wine tastings to excursions and visits to historical centres with their monuments.
Visit the Monferrato
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1. Bio Tree of Casorzo
In the province of Asti, along the Sentiero del Malvasia, halfway between Casorzo and Grana Monferrato, there is a very unusual double tree, if you have never seen anything like it before.
Also known as a “host tree”, it is characterised by being a tree hosting a tree of a different species: in practice, a cherry tree was born on top of a mulberry tree, thus becoming an object of research and admiration by botanists, nature lovers and photography enthusiasts.
2. The infernot
Visiting Monferrato also means immersing yourself in its underground cellars. If you come to these parts, you cannot miss a visit to the infernot, scattered throughout the villages of Monferrato. These are the ancient underground cellars dating back to the 19th century, dug into the stone by cantons.
The word “infernot” comes from the Piedmontese dialect and means “hell”, referring to the depth at which these cellars are located, i.e. several metres underground.
Their peculiarity is the type of sedimentary rock with which they are built, which provides the ideal environment for storing Monferrato wine, thanks to the cool temperature, high humidity and absence of light.
3. Cella Monte
Our itinerary cannot fail to include a visit to Cella Monte, the small village in the hills of Monferrato Casalese, in the province of Alessandria, listed among the “Most Beautiful Villages in Italy”.
Here you can visit the infernot of the wineries and accommodation facilities.
A tour of the village leads to the discovery of ancient churches and majestic palaces. Among the former, don’t miss the Romanesque church of San Quirico and Giulitta from the early 17th century, recognisable by its distinctive brick façade and two columns with two niches.
Nearby you can visit Palazzo Volta, in Piazza Vallino, which houses the Ecomuseo della Pietra da Cantoni (free admission).
But Cella Monte is also famous for two very popular events: the “Sagra del Tartufo Bianco in Valle Ghenza” (in November) and “Le Colline sono in fiore”, the annual celebration of UNESCO recognition.
Excursion lovers can enjoy a number of trails on foot, by bicycle and on horseback: “The Cella Monte Ring”, “Paintings, Roses and Vineyards” and “Vineyards and Infernot”.
4. Sacro Monte di Crea
The Sacred Mount of Crea is one of the nine Sacred Mounts of Piedmont and Lombardy included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is located in the Sacro Monte di Crea Natural Park, on a hill in the province of Alessandria, a few kilometres from Serralunga di Crea.
Founded in 1589 as a religious itinerary for pilgrims devoted to the Madonna, today it is one of the most famous historical and spiritual places in Monferrato.
The complex includes a basilica and 23 chapels, each of which depicts an episode in the life of the Virgin Mary with frescoes and sculptures. The chapels are scattered along a path that marks the route to the top of the hill, where the Paradise Chapel is located.
5. Casale Monferrato
In Monferrato you can visit this town, also known as the “baroque city” for its churches and palaces that are exemplary of this artistic-cultural current. But a tour of Casale Monferrato will make you realise that there are more artistic-cultural cues reflected in the architectural styles.
One of the oldest monuments to visit is undoubtedly its Duomo, an example of Romanesque architecture (12th and 13th centuries). Another historical site to visit is the Synagogue, built in 1595, which houses the Museum of Jewish Art, one of the most important in Italy.
In Piazza Castello there are two other places of interest: the Municipal Theatre (1791) and the Paleologi Castle / Castello del Monferrato (15th century).
And while you’re here, don’t miss the opportunity to taste some of the typical local specialities: Krumiri, stick-shaped biscuits invented in 1878, and Agnolotti, stuffed pasta similar to ravioli, typical of Piedmontese cuisine.
6. Castagnole Monferrato
About ten kilometres from Asti you can reach Castagnole Monferrato, a small medieval village that is worth a visit for its many surprises.
Starting with the Church of San Martino, in Piedmontese Baroque style, with its brick façade. Also famous is the sundial, an ancient instrument for measuring time based on the position of the sun, and which is said to be the largest in the world…
Castagnole Monferrato is also home to Europe’s largest wine press (1769), a historical oenological relic that testifies to the region’s ancient winemaking tradition. Finally, the surrounding area is rich in cellars dug into the tuff known as “crutin”.
Among the local events, the most important is held in May. If you happen to be here at this time, you might be able to attend the Ruché Festival in honour of Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato, a DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) red wine that accompanies the typical Piedmontese fritto misto (fried food) during the festival.
7. Ancient castles
If you are planning a trip to the Monferrato region, we recommend the cultural and historical tour among its ancient medieval castles.
Among the most important,
- Paleologi Castle in Casale Monferrato
- Camino Monferrato Castle (one of the most beautiful)
- Piovera Castle (it offers activities such as historical routes, cooking workshops, trekking)
- Sannazzaro Castle (it includes Church of San Giacomo decorated with 16th entury frescoes)
- Razzano Castle (home to the ArteVino Museum)
- Gabiano Castle (one of the oldest, famous for its labyrinth)
- Uviglie Castle
- Ozzano Castle
- Montemagno Castle
In the province of Alessandria, on the border between Piedmont and Liguria, lies Gavi, a village at the foot of a hill dominated by its imposing fortress dating back to medieval times.
The historical centre of Gavi still retains a medieval soul, which can be seen in the urban layout and in the many old buildings alongside the Renaissance palaces.
Strolling through the historical centre of Gavi, you will come across the thousand-year-old Church of San Giacomo made of local sandstone, which is worth a visit for its history and artistic details: from the Romanesque-style portal, to the tower, to the small cloister overlooking Val Lemme.
The local products are another great treasure, you have to taste the amaretti biscuits, ravioli, truffles and the famous white wine “Gavi”, Gavi DOCG, born from the surrounding vineyards.
9. Giant benches and land art
In the Monferrato region, scattered among the hills and vineyards, are hidden original works of land art and art installations, seen against the surrounding natural backdrop. This is another itinerary you can take if you are curious about contemporary art and love natural landscapes.
Let’s start from Canelli, in the province of Asti, where you can find the giant benches (the Big Benches) placed in panoramic portrait spots. The giant benches are works of public art created by American artist Chris Bangle. They have been installed in various locations throughout Piedmont, particularly in the Monferrato and Langhe regions.
A Big Bench can also be found in Rosignano Monferrato, a small medieval village a few minutes from Casale Monferrato.
In Coazzolo, on the other hand, there are two other testimonies of Monferrato land art, the Church with the coloured external walls and the “Vigna dei Pastelli”. The latter is the result of a project that consists of a series of coloured trellises sprouting among the vines.
In Gabiano, in the hamlet of Cantavenna, there are three giant chairs. This installation is part of the “Big Chair” project, an artistic initiative that promotes the creation of oversize chairs as works of public art.
Finally, the Art Park La Court in Castelnuovo Calcea is a park with a series of contemporary sculptures set in an artistic path in the vineyard.
10. Rosignano Monferrato
A few minutes from Casale Monferrato you can reach the aforementioned Rosignano Monferrato, another beautiful old village with a historic centre worth visiting. One of the characteristics of the village are its 70 infernots, one of the deepest in the entire region.
The village is also known for its three castles: Rosignano Castle, Mellana Castle and Uviglie Castle, ancient manors each with their own history and peculiarities.
And it is here that you will also find the giant bench, Big Bench No. 41, “Rosso Grignolino”, in honour of the typical wine of this area, from which you can enjoy a marvellous panorama that sweeps from the Monferrato vineyards to the Alps and the Apennines.
11. Vignale Monferrato
Vignale Monferrato is a village located on a hilltop between Casale Monferrato, Alessandria and Asti. Famous for its vineyards, but not only.
The historical highlight of Vignale is Palazzo Callori, an imposing Gothic building that bears witness to its past, built in the 18th century by the Callori family, one of the noble families of the Seignory of Asti.
Inside there are the ancient cellars carved into the rock that house the Enoteca Regionale del Monferrato, where you can taste the best local wines, as well as to discover the history of wine production.
Another point of interest in Vignale Monferrato is the Porta Urbica, one of the ancient entrances to the city walls, which still represents an example of medieval architecture.
12. Monferrato rice fields
The rice fields of Monferrato are a characteristic feature of the agricultural landscape of this historical region. They are mostly concentrated in the Basso Monferrato, near the Po and Tanaro rivers. Some of the towns in this area where you might see rice fields are Casale Monferrato and Valenza.
The best times to visit them are during spring or autumn, which are the rice sowing and harvesting periods, when the rice paddies are particularly evocative, with these expanses of water that merge with the sky, creating a marvellous optical effect.
Monferrato has been known for its rice production since the 14th century, which is precisely cultivated in the rice paddies according to the cultivation method known as alluvial rice cultivation, since rice needs a lot of water to grow.
13. Nizza Monferrato
A UNESCO World Heritage Site for its landscapes and Barbera wine, Nizza Monferrato is located in Alto Monferrato, between Alba, Asti and Alessandria, nestled in the Belbo Valley, an area rich in vineyards.
There is much to see here, if you want to visit the Monferrato. Here are the main attractions for those who wish to follow a complete itinerary:
- In Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, the Church of San Giovanni in Lanero (1772).
- In the hamlet of San Michele, the Church of San Michele.
- Palaces: Palazzo Comunale; Palazzo De Benedetti; Palazzo Crova (today home to the civic library, the Regional Enoteca, the Slow Food Condotta delle Colline Nicesi, the Cardo Gobbo di Nizza Presidium and the ‘Produttori del Nizza – Barbera d’Asti’ Association).
- In Piazza Garibaldi, the Foro Boario (1800) known as ‘the top of Nizza’, named after Pio Corsi.
- Via Carlo Alberto, the main street in the historic centre, known as ‘Via Maestra’, connects Piazza Garibaldi with Piazza XX Settembre.
- The “Parco degli alpini”, a green area on the banks of the Belbo stream.
- Bersano Museum: Museum of Bersano wine peasantry and prints founded by the lawyer Arturo Bersano (where you can see reconstructions of old cellars, an authentic steam locomotive, ancient tools).
If you visit Nizza Monferrato, you should know that this is the land of Barbera d’Asti superiore Nizza, a red wine whose production is restricted to 18 municipalities with disciplinary constraints.
Other local products are Cardo Gobbo, a Slow Food Presidium vegetable used to prepare the famous bagna cauda, belecàuda, chickpea porridge cooked in a wood-burning oven in Nicese dialect, and Razza Piemontese beef.
Among the events you might encounter during your stay, the “Festival delle Sagre Astigiane”; the “Corsa delle Botti”, in June; “Monferrato in Tavola”, in June; “Il Mercatino dell’Antiquariato”, every third Sunday of the month; one of the largest markets in northern Italy. “Barbera in Festa”, in May.
Wine and history in Canelli, one of the most beautiful villages in the Monferrato Astigiano known for its wine production.
Canelli is divided into two areas: the Borgo, the largest part of the town, and Villanuova, dominated by the famous Gancia Castle, connected by the pedestrian road La Sternia. Follow this road to reach the Unesco Belvedere. Here you will find Big Bench No. 33.
There is also much to visit in Canelli, among its main attractions we would like to point out:
- Gancia Castle (11th century), but not open to the public because it is private property.
- Canelli wineries, a UNESCO heritage site, famous for the production of Asti Spumante (open for guided tours).
- Churches and historical monuments, including the churches of San Tommaso and San Leonardo.
- Multimedia Museum of Southern Asti (Musa) offers an interactive journey through the oenological history of the region.
- Underground Cathedrals, tunnels and galleries dug into the tuff between the 16th and 19th centuries, stretching for kilometres beneath the town of Canelli, used for centuries to age fine wines and sparkling wines.
- Torre di Canelli overlooking the surrounding vineyards and mountains.
Halfway between Casale Monferrato and Asti lies Moncalvo, what is thought to be the “smallest town in Italy”, awarded the Orange Flag by the Italian Touring Club.
What we are certain of is that since the 10th century, Moncalvo has been the first capital of the Marquisate of Monferrato, declared by the legendary Aleramo, the first Marquis of Monferrato, a historical period of which it still preserves traces.
To visit Moncalvo, you can follow this itinerary that starts from Piazza Carlo Alberto, where you can also park. Nearby there is the Castle of Moncalvo, whose two towers and Belvedere Bonaventura can be visited; some sections of the Castle Walks are open for free visits.
This is also an opportunity, if you wish, to have a tasting of typical wines in the Bottega del Vino, located in one of the walkways inside a keep.
In the historical centre, on the other hand, you can stroll among the village’s ancient palaces, among them in Piazza Carlo Alberto there is the Synagogue. From here you can reach Piazza Carlo Alberto where you can admire the Municipal Theatre.
The most important street in Moncalvo is Via XX Settembre (known as ‘Fracia’), which in the Middle Ages was considered the commercial street par excellence.
16. Camagna Monferrato
What stands out about this town, even in the distance, is the dome of the Church of Sant’Eusebio. But this is just one of the many attractions of Camagna Monferrato in the province of Alessandria.
According to a legend, in Camagna there is a mysterious “magic stone” called “La Culiëta”, capable of predicting the weather. True or not, legends are always a fascinating cultural heritage.
Here, too, you can visit the infernot, the ancient wine cellars dug into the sandstone typical of the hills of the Monferrato Casalese.
And also in Camagna Monferrato, for those who wish, there is a giant bench, the red Big Bench No. 119, in the San Rocco Region.
17. The “Babaci” of Maranzana
Between Alessandria and Asti, about 30-40 km from both, there is Maranzana, a small village with about 300 inhabitants. We mention it because, if you are passing through, you might like to stop here for a short visit.
This locality is known as the Land of the Babaci, which in dialect means “puppets”. The “Babaci” were created precisely as a reaction to the small number of inhabitants of Maranzana, called the ghost town.
The puppets were made of straw and dressed in old clothes and placed in various places in Maranzana. Their tradition goes back to when they were used as scarecrows in the fields. Today, however, they have become an attractive tourist attraction, to the point that there is even a festival in their honour, the ‘Festa dei Babaci’, an opportunity to taste typical local products.
What to do in Monferrato
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There is so much to discover in Monferrato, as you can see from the locations indicated. But there is also a lot to do.
Here are a few ideas:
- Tour of the Monferrato Castles
- Tour of the Infernot
- Tour of the rice fields
- Tour of the Giant Benches
- Excursions on foot or by bicycle along paths through woods, vineyards and rural landscapes
- Truffle hunting, one of the most renowned products in Monferrato and Piedmont in general
- Tasting of wines and local specialities
- Cookery courses
- Relaxation at the spas (Terme di Acqui, an ancient spa in the town of Acqui Terme; Terme di Agliano in Agliano Terme; Terme di Gavi, in Gavi).
What to eat in Monferrato
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Here we come to the turning point of a holiday in Monferrato: its typical products, its special cuisine.
If you want to know Monferrato cuisine, here is what you absolutely must try:
- Black and white truffles, PGI Piedmont hazelnuts, Amaretti (macaroons), cooked salami (la Muletta), the “Cugnà” (grape mustard), and then the rice, cold meats and cheeses, honey…
- of course, the varieties of wines, among the most renowned:
- Monferrato DOC, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG, Grignolino d’Asti DOC, Il cortese dell’Alto Monferrato DOC, Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Dolcetto d’Asti DOC, Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Piemonte DOC, Nizza DOCG, Asti DOCG.
Among the typical dishes of Monferrato and, more generally, Piedmontese cuisine:
- Agnolotti, fresh pasta stuffed with veal or pork, flavoured with parsley or garlic, served with meat sauce or butter and sage
- Mixed fried food
- Bagna cauda, a sauce made with anchovies, garlic and olive oil, served hot with raw vegetables
- Tajarin al Tartufo, fresh egg pasta seasoned with white truffle
- Boiled with the trio of bagnetti
- Eggs a la Bela Rusin
- Panissa, rice and beans
- Friciulin (nettle or vegetable and rice fritters)
- Braised beef in Barolo wine, served with polenta or potatoes
- Desserts: Krumiri; bunet, spoon dessert; Monferrato pumpkin and apple pie; hazelnut cake accompanied with cream ice cream.
How to get to Monferrato
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Monferrato can be reached by plane, train or car.
The airports you can consider to reach Monferrato are Levaldigi Airport in Cuneo (48 KM from Alba), Turin International Airport, Caselle (87 KM from Asti), which is about an hour’s drive away. Alternatively, Milan Malpensa Airport (150 KM from Asti) and Linate Airport (136 KM from Asti).
Monferrato can be reached by train, arriving at the Asti and Alessandria stations from various Italian cities. Some routes provide changes, others do not. From the station, it is then possible to reach the various towns in the Monferrato region.
Monferrato is about an hour’s drive from Turin, Milan and Genoa, and can be reached from the A4 (for those arriving from Milan or Turin) and A26 (for those coming from Genoa) motorways.
Now that you know what to see in Monferrato, all that remains is to wish you a pleasant trip to Piedmont! 😍
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