A Short Itinerary to Discover One of Italy’s Most Beautiful Villages Just a Few Kilometers from Asti
Are you planning a trip to Monferrato and want to know what to visit? Well, discover what to see in Cocconato, one of Italy’s most beautiful villages near Asti!
When visiting the Lower Asti Monferrato, a nearly obligatory stop is Cocconato. This small village is located 30 kilometers from Asti and 50 from Turin, making it easily accessible in no time. Moreover, it’s one of the most characteristic towns in the area, recently recognized as one of Italy’s Most Beautiful Villages and awarded the Orange Flag by the Italian Touring Club.
However, its tourism vocation didn’t start just a few years ago; it dates back to the 1800s when the village became famous for its excellent restaurants and vacation periods. Due to its location and particularly favorable microclimate, Cocconato is often referred to as the Riviera of Monferrato. Despite its altitude (over 400 meters), it’s not hard to find typical coastal plants in its gardens and orchards, a rare sight in Piedmont given the region’s harsh winters.
The History of the Village
Before delving into Cocconato’s history, let’s explore the origin of its unique name. To an English speaker, it might evoke “coconut,” but it’s actually derived from a Latin phrase, “cum conatu,” meaning “with effort.” This is because the ascent to the village’s historic center is particularly steep.
The decision to relocate to this hill (where the city of Marcellina existed) was driven by frequent Germanic invasions toward the end of the Roman Empire. The steep hill offered better defenses and already possessed fortifications, which later became Radicati Castle. Much of Cocconato’s history is tied to the noble Radicati family. Since the 10th century, when the Radicatis officially became feudal lords of the village and surrounding territories, it remained an independent state for over 400 years. One of their notable privileges was the right to mint coins, but due to a high incidence of counterfeit coins, the Savoys, who had taken control in 1586, permanently closed the mint.
In the following centuries, due to its strategic location bordering the Marquisate of Monferrato, Cocconato was frequently subject to attacks and plundering by enemies. This caused a significant decline, which only reversed in the 1800s. First, under Napoleon’s conquest, it became the capital of a district (an administrative division), and later, it regained its status as one of the region’s economic centers. In the late 19th century, as mentioned, its tourism vocation began, and it remains strong to this day.
What to See in Cocconato: The Town Hall
Cocconato’s historic center brings to life the words we’ve written about its history. Walking through its narrow, winding streets on the steep hill, you can still see clear traces of its medieval past. You might even come across signs indicating the former presence of drawbridges, towers, and walls, making it one of the best-fortified villages in the area. Among these vivid signs of its medieval past, Cocconato’s most beautiful sight is the Town Hall.
The Town Hall was built in the 15th century as the southern extension of Radicati Castle and has a distinctive shape, following the steep road’s contours. Its style features elements of Lombard Gothic, somewhat rare in this part of Piedmont. It appears to follow the “broletti” pattern typical of cities and villages closer to the Lombard region, which explains the ground floor’s portico. Here, you’ll find artisan shops and the large municipal hall, dating back to the 19th century. The facade is adorned with large arched windows with decorative terracotta tiles in a Gothic style. Upon passing through the arches, you enter the courtyard, where you can see some commemorative steles dedicated to Cocconato’s fallen heroes in the wars of independence.
What to See in Cocconato: The Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione
Continuing the ascent, you reach the top of Cocconato’s hill, where the Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione is perched. To access its square, you can climb a steep staircase that offers a beautiful view of the church and its bell tower.
The church was built between the mid and late 17th century, during Cocconato’s economic and political decline. Nevertheless, a new church was needed to replace the one in the castle, which had fallen into disrepair. The church you see today is the result of further expansion in the mid-19th century, when two bays were added to the existing structure. During this period, Cocconato had once again become one of the most important centers in Lower Monferrato, with a significantly increased population.
While the exterior is quite simple, featuring exposed bricks and pilasters as the only decoration, the interior is rich in art and decorations. Along the sides of the single nave, you’ll find four chapels on each side, some of which belonged to the most important families of Cocconato. Inside these chapels, you can admire valuable works from famous artistic schools, such as Guglielmo Caccia and the Genoese school, as well as paintings by Giovanni Francesco Sacchetti. Particularly fascinating is the apse altarpiece by Vitaliano Grassi, depicting the Madonna of Consolation with Saints Faust and Felice, the village’s patrons. This altarpiece is the oldest known work depicting the village in past eras; perhaps you’ll recognize some buildings or monuments that still stand today. The church is open during liturgical services, so if you happen to visit during these times or before and after Mass, you’ll have the opportunity to admire these works.
The Radicati Tower
Our journey to discover what to see in Cocconato continues along the road that runs along the crest of the hill. On the left, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the village, with the parish church dominating from above. On the right, somewhat concealed by trees, you’ll spot the cylindrical shape of the Radicati Tower.
This structure, apart from being a symbol of Cocconato’s landscape, is the last remaining relic of the Count Radicati’s Castle. Despite its current appearance, it was built in the 10th century. In 1556, it was the only element spared from the castle’s destruction ordered by the French general De Brissac.
In the 1800s, under Napoleon’s rule, it served as an optical telegraph station on the line connecting Paris with Milan and Venice and later as a windmill. Towards the end of the century, it was transformed into an elegant villa. A terrace was added at the top, and two residential floors were created inside. Since then, its appearance has remained unchanged, serving as one of the best panoramic viewpoints for the fortunate visitors.
What to See in Cocconato: The Church of Madonna della Neve, Locally Known as La Pieve
Just outside Cocconato’s town center, in the direction of Montiglio Monferrato, you’ll find the Church of Madonna della Neve, locally referred to as La Pieve. This small countryside church is completely surrounded by vineyards and sits atop a small hill. At first glance, it may seem like one of the many churches scattered across the Monferrato hills, but it hides a long and fascinating history.
In reality, this church was built in the heart of the Middle Ages and must have been quite significant for the people of that era, as it is mentioned in various historical documents. However, in the 16th century, it began to lose importance in favor of the castle church, to the extent that a few decades later, it was used as a quarry for the construction of the new parish church. Nonetheless, the local population decided to rebuild it a few years later, and it underwent extensive renovations in the 19th century, including the construction of the brick bell tower.
Some excavations conducted a few decades ago shed light on the ancient parish church. Among the finds, you can see Romanesque friezes, including a decorated cubic capital now used as an altar. The rest of the church’s interior reflects a 17th-century style with barrel vaults, while the exterior is neoclassical. If you’re a fan of scenic views, you can also enjoy a beautiful panorama of the valley from here.
What to See in Cocconato: Big Bench #156
Speaking of views, there’s another point in Cocconato where you can enjoy an interesting one: Big Bench #156. This bench is part of the Big Bench Project Community circuit and was inaugurated in 2021, thanks to the Paoletti Agricultural Company and the Omegna Family.
The bench is about 2 kilometers from the village and is easily accessible by car in just a few minutes in the direction of Piovà Massaia.
However, we always recommend walking to these scenic spots (it takes about twenty minutes) to fully savor the journey. The road is mostly downhill and follows the crest of a hill, offering a stunning view of the valley. Upon reaching the Bordeaux and Yellow Bench, you can admire the panoramic view of Cocconato, rising above to the right. Alongside the bench, there’s an information board in the colors of the Big Bench and details on where to get your community passport stamped if you wish
Events and Local Products
If you enjoy events and prefer visiting villages during these times, Cocconato offers numerous events throughout the year. Here’s a brief list:
- Every year on April 25th, there’s the Fair of San Marco, promoting local food and wine excellence with markets and tastings.
- In early September, Cocconato hosts Cocco Wine, an event in the village’s historic center featuring stands from Cocconato and Monferrato wineries.
- On the fourth weekend of September, the Donkey Palio takes place. During this event, the village’s eight districts compete in races with donkeys carrying water barrels. This race commemorates citizens’ efforts to extinguish a fire that spread during the Middle Ages. The event also includes historical parades in costumes and a banquet with a strictly medieval menu.
- In December, Cocconato transforms into the Village of Nativity Scenes, where the historic center comes alive with numerous nativity scenes created by both the population and artists.
During these events, you’ll undoubtedly have the opportunity to taste the local products. We particularly recommend trying Cocconato’s Robiola, a creamy cow’s milk cheese with a milky-white color. Another prized product is Cocconato’s raw ham, which matures thanks to the village’s unique microclimate, containing less salt than other hams. Typically, these products are accompanied by wines from the Monferrato D.O.C. denomination, which are produced in Cocconato.
Now that you know all there is to see and do in Cocconato, all that’s left is to decide when to visit!