From Asti head towards Portacomaro, crossing the higher village under the great tower in the wall of the ricetto (fortified structure) and towards Castagnole Monferrato, continuing in the direction of Montemagno. Already from the valley, the brick-built castle with its Ghibelline merlons and its towers, is a magnificent sight: entering the village on foot one appreciates the intact medieval urban structure, unique in our zone: from the imposing building that was owned by the Marquis of Monferrato, twelve spoke-like alleys run, along which (and pausing in the square of the parish church) one can enjoy some splendid views. The road behind the castle provides an excellent vantage point to admire the vast panorama of the Lower Monferrato between the areas of Asti and Casale and to observe the size and the irregular plan of the manor house that is characterised by its elliptical courtyard surrounded by loggias, in which the drawbridge, and in the cellars, a gigantic 18th century wine press, are still preserved. The castle is private and cannot be visited but the village, entirely renovated, undoubtedly merits a visit.
From Montemagno you can reach Moncalvo, the smallest town in Italy, that was for a long period the capital of the Marchesato of Monferrato. Its castle, seat of the court, was one of the largest fortified complexes in the area: to understand this, simply go up to the large Piazza Carlo Alberto rising on the site of the manor house of which the large towers remain and the mighty wall.
Heading towards Calliano one arrives at Castell’Alfero, interesting centre at the entrance of the Valle Versa and stronghold of the free Municipality of Asti since 1290, positioned on the boundary of the territories of the Marchesato. Ascending on foot from the square below the defensive walls, bordering the old granary of the castle, one arrives at the public garden, at one time the park of the Conti Amico, who were responsible for the 18th century transformation of the fortress of medieval origins into the noble residence designed by the architect Benedetto Alfieri. The entrance to the castle, seat of the municipality, is from the southern facade, facing the Italian garden. Recent restorations have been made to the inside of the castle, in particular the Red Hall, the reception place of the Conti Amico, the Princess’s Boudoir, the Green Room and the Theatre below. The Green Room was the music and reception room and is characterised by a splendid floor in painted ceramic Majolica. A small room is dedicated to Giovan Battista De Rolandis, the inventor of the ‘tricolore’ national flag, born just a few metres from the castle, another room to Giandouja, the mask of Piedmont, born in Callianetto of Castell’ Alfero in the 19th century. In the evocative cellars is the site of the Ethnographic Museum, L’Ciar (in Piedmont dialect, the light) a glimpse of the past country life, with the faithful reconstruction of the domestic spaces, among which a classroom, and workshops dating back to the beginning of the 20th century.
The road of Valle Versa was a route used by armies and pilgrims in medieval times and controlled by many castles. The first one that we see on the left is the manor house of Frinco, continuing, we notice on the right hand side that of Colcavagno and then we rise towards Montiglio Monferrato. The castle is imposing and was one of the largest in Monferrato. It has a charming and rich history of legends and a very complex architectural structure: the four still quite identifiable tower houses belonged to the families of the “cooperative” of feudal lords that owned it in medieval times. Internally, medieval parts, among which is the 14th century room called ‘of the bifore’ (relating to the windows), alternate with rooms dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The castle was the seat to the itinerant court of the Marquis of Monferrato and accommodated eminent characters and troubadours among whom, Rambaldo of Vaiquerais (at the end of the 12th century) who would have composed some songs here inspired by the daughter of Bonifacio I. The chapel of Sant’ Andrea in the large garden conceals a small treasure, the most important cycle of 14th century frescoes in all of Piedmont, work of the so-called Maestro (teacher) of Montiglio. The frescoes represent the life of Christ with a theme “a continuous ribbon” almost like a sequence of photo frames, an absolutely unique wonder not to be missed.