You can find the gentle hills of Monferrato and Langhe in the north-western corner of Italy, between the Alps and the Riviera, in the area of Piedmont that lies south of the river Po. It is largely a rural area, yet the furthest of the three cities of Genoa, Milan and Turin is little more than an hour's drive away.
Centre of the Monferrato region is Asti, a town brimming with history as far back as Roman times. The medieval setting of the old town centre is complemented by fine buildings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This elegant city of gardens, museums and shady arcaded streets is important as the centre of a world-famous wine region. The high quality of its wines, among which are included Grignolino, Freisa, Malvasia, Brachetto, and varieties of Barbera and Moscato has led to the awarding of d.o.c. status to as many as 11 different types of wine, and to the opening of prestigious enotecas (wine galleries) and wine stores which have become a point of reference for connoisseurs and gourmets. The nearby little-known towns of Nizza Monferrato, Canelli and Santo Stefano Belbo are the home of Gancia, Riccadonna, Martini and Cinzano.
The Monferrato, and Langhe to the south of it, occupy foothills branching off the Ligurian Appennines across the Casale area to the Po valley in a variety of geographical contours and landscapes. The Piedmontese Alps, with the beautiful Val d'Aosta and the Gran Paradiso National Park, are close at hand to the north, and many famous Italian, French and Swiss ski-resorts are within easy reach. The charm of the region is carried by its gently rolling hills, tiny hilltop villages and broad fertile landscape of vineyards and fruit orchards. A network of mostly small roads connects these old villages and towns with each other. Traffic congestion is unknown in this part of the world.
The climate is continental with a strong Mediterranean influence - the Italian Riviera is only 30 miles away. The winters are short, and night temperatures in January and February only occasionally fall below zero. Spring and autumn are long and warm. The summers are hot and dry, although the hilltops are ventilated by a pleasant sea breeze.
The original Celtic population of the region were already growing wine in the region 3500 years ago. They are traditionally hard-working, proud, and in tune with the finer pleasures of life. They are friendly, open and helpful - without being intrusive. The vineyards have usually been profitable for their owners, so that the social dislocation caused by emigration to the cities has not been a problem here as it has been in other regions of Italy - the crime rate is correspondingly well below the national average. The locally spoken dialect is an old French Patois - the "Langue d'Oc". The history of southern Piedmont has been closely linked with France - you find here many similarities in architecture, language and culture.
The region has a wonderful cuisine to accompany its famous wines. The white truffles, "tartuffi", are world-renowned. In October you can sample them in almost any restaurant or trattoria, especially in the Langhe region, centered around the medieval town of Alba (right), which lies 26 Km to the south-west of Asti.
Fortunately, the packaged tourism industry has failed to discover this well-kept secret. Native Italians, on the other hand, have always loved this region and many have vacation properties here.