The door of the Langa of Asti “wounded” by the fury of the French: Cassinasco, where Pavese dreamed of seeing the sea.
It is the gateway to the Langa of Asti, the best welcome that this land of vines and woods, towers and parishes can offer to those arriving from Asti, Alba, Canelli, and Turin.
Cassinasco is the border, the limit, the Langa boundary. We understand this by climbing the hairpin bends from Canelli, when the first hazel groves appear, alternating with the vines in a geometry of shapes and colors that takes on a particular fascination in spring and autumn.
The air changes, the cultivations change and the chipped tower on the hill seems to be a prelude to other countries, to other stories. Here Cesare Pavese, considered one of the leading Italian intellectuals of the twentieth century, imagined the point from which we would see the sea, the horizon that we want to cross, the term we try to overcome.
There is no sea beyond Cassinasco, but the warm wind that melts the snow of March anticipates the warmth of Liguria. And among the clumps of rosemary and some rare olive trees that resists on the most exposed sides, driest and aromatic mature grapes, with hints of wood and fern, thyme and sun.
Here the pilgrims walk from the Belbo and the Bormida to visit the Sanctuary of Caffi, a singular church with a vague eastern aspect overlooking the panoramic ridge towards Loazzolo, but here also the half-Italian gourmets, attracted by the quality of local dishes exception and fine wines.
It is the beauty of the Langa of Asti, the secret of its charm: the unique, unique blend of environmental, artistic, enogastronomic elements that are appreciated precisely because they interpenetrate and complement each other.
The town covers an area of 11.84 km² and has a population of about 580 inhabitants.
It is about 34 Km from the provincial capital, Asti.
It seems that the town owes its first origin to a tribe of Ligurians, as attested by the ending in -asco, which indicates a humid place particularly rich in water or streams. In fact, the presence of a water source with physical characteristics similar to those of cold sulphurous, on the left of the Ambrusan river (d'in la feia), is still mentioned in the mid-nineteenth century.
But also the Romans have left their mark, documented by some remains of farms and villas of the Imperial age (first century after Christ) precisely in Valerian area or Pian Valerio, Soriano, Valdiponzi, Carignano, and especially from that mention to the cassinae, the stables where the animals were kept and made the caseus, the cheese, which remained in the name of the village.
The Roman domination ended with the invasions of the Longobards and the Franks, whose memory remains in the Germanic toponym of the Staffera region.
Even the Saracens, during their raids in the villages of Liguria, came to Cassinasco sacking and destroying everything and leaving some vague assonance in the local dialect (rabadan, rafì, farfluc and other terms like that seem to have a remote Arabic origin).
But the historical moment in which the town developed and acquired its current profile, growing around the original village of Sant'Ilario, was the Early Middle Ages, when the fief was owned by the Marquis Aleramo del Monferrato, who obtained it from Ottone I in 967; it was subsequently conquered by the Alessandrini and then passed into the hands of the Astigiani allies with the Genovesi, who in 1227, according to the Treaty of Milan, were forced to return it to Alessandria allied with Alba and Tortona.
The Bishops of Acqui, then, having had the tithes (were the taxes of the time, the tenth part of the harvest that was given to the ecclesiastical institution), had given them as a fief to the Lords of Bubbio, one of whom, a certain Ligerzio (or Eigerxius), in 1305, swore obedience and submission to the bishop Oddone.
Later Cassinasco fell under the dominion of the house of Monferrato and took possession of the Guttuari, Ghibellines of Asti who also gave an abbot to the nearby Monastery of Saint Giulia, then passed, in 1454, to the Sforza lords of Milan.
Life passed quite quiet for a couple of centuries, until it reached 1615: at that time the army of the Duke of Savoy passed from Cassinasco and was attacked by the inhabitants of the place who killed some soldiers of the avant-garde: the village was looted and burned by the French, allies of the Savoy, who were in the ranks of their army.
The military fury led to the demolition of the castle, which apparently remained - in addition to the tower - only some long underground tunnels, mostly collapsed or closed voluntarily, which connected the fortified place with several escape routes.
After the destruction of the village and the castle, the village became the possession of the Savoy - they subdued it to the Galvagno di Bubbio (1767) and the Falletti di Barolo - and in 1796 participated in the war against the French won by Napoleon, who had the opportunity to transit in the town.
Then, like all the Lower Piedmont, shared the historical events of the Risorgimento that led to the Unification of Italy, with the curious detail - entrusted more to "it's said that" than to the historical chronicles - of a courageous Cassinaschese who would take part in the Expedition of the Thousand in 1860.
Food and wine and typical products.
In Cassinasco, where the Tonda Gentile delle Langhe hazelnut abounds and where honey preserves all the flavors of spring flowers, lives and works, the last, authentic turunè of the whole Langa: it is in the Antica Casa Faccio company, which the famous Torrone Faccio has been produced for five generations.
You will meet him, with the inevitable sky-blue coat and the cap on his head, behind his bench in all the country fairs and festivals, always ready to offer you the sweet delights he has produced in his laboratory for over 150 years: amaretti, nisulin (toasted hazelnuts covered with a sweetened glaze) and above all the nougat, hard and consistent as it used to be.
Until a few decades ago, nougat together with zabaione was the only sweet of the Langa farms; the synonym of the party, the event waited for months that was realized, on the return from Mass, in seeing the colorful package jealously guarded in the hands of the head of the family.
It was the usual and habitual rendezvous of fairs, the symbol of leisure and, for children, the object of desire to the point that they designed the most refined tricks to take away a piece from the family pantry.
Wine production is also important, in particular the cultivation of the Moscato vine.
To be seen.
All that remains of the ancient castle of Cassinasco, destroyed in 1615, is a tower with a square plan 20 meters high - visitable - which offers a splendid panoramic view over the entire circle of the Alps.
Nearby is the parish church of Saint'Ilario di Poitiers, in Baroque style, which preserves inside valuable frescoes of different ages.
Isolated from the town we find the Church of Saint Ilario, built in the fifteenth century.
At 3 km from the center of Cassinasco we meet the Church of Saint Massimo, the ancient chapel of Soriano, a village that disappeared in the fourteenth century.
Do not miss the impressive Sanctuary of Caffi (Santuario dei Caffi), located in the homonymous region, built in 1902 in the place where it is said that a miraculous event took place.
Since 1967 the Alpini of the ANA of Asti have chosen the Sanctuary as a meeting point for their annual gathering, which takes place every last Sunday in May.
The Chapel of Saint Antonio, in the Gibelli Region, built in the seventeenth century, is also pleasing to the eye.
The medieval tower, in stone, belonged to the ancient castle of Cassinasco still bears the “scars” - a deep gash that pierces it - of the violent fights of 1615 that lead to the destruction of the fortress: as anticipated, at that time the army of the Duke of Savoy passed from Cassinasco and was attacked by the inhabitants of the place who killed some soldiers of the avant-garde.
The village was sacked and burned by the French, allies of the Savoy, who were in the ranks of their army.