Asti, Italy is a medium-sized city situated between two hills, Monferrato and Langhe, in the heart of Italy's northwestern province of Piedmont (Piedmonte), a 40-minute drive from Turin and an hour from Milan.
Inhabited since the Neolithic period, Asti became a Roman encampment sometime around 124 BC, then an economic and political powerhouse in the Middle Ages, and it continued flourishing, falling, and rising again several times over its long and remarkable history. Today the city is best known for its exceptional food, the standout sparkling wines Asti Spumante and Moscato d'Asti and for the Palio di Asti – a bareback horse race through town.
If you're traveling to the Piedmont region, Asti certainly merits a day or two of your time. Here is our list of the top things to do in Asti, Italy, a city rich in history, culture, and gastronomy. Note that most of the attractions listed here are administered by the city, and links are to the city's website.
Spend an Afternoon Sipping Asti's Famous Wines
Asti is the main commercial center of Piedmont's wine area, with vineyards surrounding the city producing some 40 percent of the region's wines, including its most famous Asti Spumante. Take a wine tasting tour through the hills (declared a UNESCO World Heritage site), stopping at vineyards along the way to sip sparkling whites and robust reds.
A must see, especially for first-time visitors to Asti, the beautiful and impressive Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, also known as the Duomo, has been built and rebuilt several times. The current structure was completed in the 13th century, with additions dating through the 1800s. One of the largest churches in the region of Piedmont, the Lombard Gothic-style structure features a soaring belfry (bell tower) dating back to 1266, a brick facade marked by three rose windows, and an interior of delicate carvings, frescoes, and works by Renaissance painter Gandolfino d'Asti. Don't forget to check out the presbytery with its intricate mosaic floor, part of the remains of a primitive ancient church buried below.
Tour the Collegiate Church of San Secondo
Among the oldest Gothic churches in Asti, Collegiata di San Secondo sits adjacent to the Palazzo Civico (town hall) and overlooks Piazza San Secondo, a lovely town square. The church facade has three notable Gothic portals, and the interior holds works by Gandolfino d'Asti, including an important polyptych (a painting on a hinged wood panel). Built on the spot where San Secondo was beheaded, the 6th-century crypt now preserves the bones of the martyred saint.
Cheer Horses and Riders at the Palio
Although not as famous as the Palio di Siena, the Palio di Asti was first staged in 1273, making it one of the oldest races of its kind in Italy. Taking place on the first Sunday in September, festivities begin with a parade that ends on Piazza Alfieri, where representatives of the town's ancient boroughs compete in three thrilling heats on horseback. A traditional flag-throwing demonstration takes place at intermission, followed by the final race in which the winner is awarded the coveted banner: "Palio di Asti." Check the Palio's official website for specific dates and start times.
People-Watch on Piazza Alfieri
Take a stroll through this lively, triangle-shaped piazza named for one of Italy's most renowned 18th-century poets, Vittorio Alfieri. Located on the edge of the old town, it is an excellent example of 19th-century urban-architectural planning—it's lined by porticoed buildings and contains the marble and granite Vittorio Alfieri Monument by Giuseppe Dini. Besides hosting the famed Palio di Asti each year, it's home to a weekly food market.
Once the residence of a noble family, stately Palazzo Mazzetti is now the city's civic art museum. Galleries exhibit a fascinating collection of Italian paintings from the 17th through 19th centuries, along with an impressive array of contemporary works of art. Spend a few hours at this user-friendly museum, with interactive touchscreen tables, an educational room, a library, and a coffee bar.
Gat a Birdseye View Atop Troyana Tower
The area of Asti between the medieval center and the cathedral is teeming with palaces and wealthy merchants' houses. Many of these once featured lofty towers—in fact, Asti is nicknamed the "the city of 100 towers," though only 15 towers survive. The tallest among them is Troyana Tower (Torre Troyana). Located on Piazza Medici and extending 144 feet into the air, a climb to the top promises breathtaking views of the city and its surrounding countryside.
The Romanesque Cripta e Museo di Sant'Anastasio serves as both a museum and an archaeological site. Located steps from the Asti Cathedral, the site houses the remains of four ancient churches—all once belonging to the Benedictine monastery of Sant'Anastasio. Inside the museum, you'll see the sandstone capitals from the second church (12th century), plus remains of the Gothic church of Maddalena (13th-15th centuries). Take a tour of the beautiful crypt beneath the museum.
If you can't make it to Asti in September, check out the Palio di Asti Museum (Museo del Palio di Asti) housed in the 15th-century Palazzo Mazzola. The museum documents the history of the Palio, displaying vintage posters, ancient drapes of the "Palio," parade costumes, and interactive multimedia workstations.
Walk Along Remnants of Roman Walls
Asti dates back to pre-Roman times and has a number of ancient ruins still remaining. On the north side of the city, construction work on a late 20th-century building uncovered a section of a Roman wall.
Built in 1860 in the classic opera house style, Teatro Vittorio Alfieri is located in the city's historic section near the town hall. The most important theater in Asti, it presents theatrical, musical, and lyrical performances of the highest caliber. Since 1979, the theater has undergone extensive renovations, rendering it modern and functional but retaining its historical authenticity.
Set in a former 16th-century monastery, the Paleontological Museum of Asti (Museo Paleontologico Territoriale dell'Astigiano) is a family-friendly destination. Split into two sections: the first lays out geo-paleontological events of the last 25 million years, and the other displays pre-historic fossil skeletal remains of Asti cetaceans (aquatic mammals) from a time when the Po Valley was under the sea.
Visit the Church of San Martino
Overlooking a square in the San Martino-San Rocco district, Chiesa di San Martino dates to at least the 9th century. The Gothic facade was eventually demolished and rebuilt in the Baroque style around 1738. Considered the third most important church after the Cathedral and San Secondo, it contains remarkable works by Gian Carlo Aliberti and Michelangelo Pittatore. The sacristy's rich walnut furnishings were added in the 18th century.
Food lovers rejoice. The Festival delle Sagre is a yearly event that takes place in September to celebrate the culinary customs and traditions of Asti. The popular fair begins on Saturday and runs through the weekend, and these days it attracts nearly 200,000 visitors to Piazza Campo del Palio. Dine on typical dishes washed down with local wines while enjoying a historical costumed parade (corteo).
Splash Around at ASTILIDO Water Park
ASTILIDO Water Park is an 8-minute drive from Asti city center. The 4,000-square-meter playground has a series of exciting water slides, a lagoon with a beach, and swimming, diving, and kids' pools. There are also picnic areas, bar service, a restaurant, and free parking. It's a great way to spend a day of family fun in the sun. Open late spring to early fall.