Discovering Canelli - Coppo

Embraced by the Asti Hills, Canelli welcomes you in the Belbo Valley, where history can be touched and savored with all five senses.

Canelli, a Piedmontese town known as the capital of sparkling wines (hence also called the “city of wine”) and home to the Underground Cathedrals, historic cellars carved underground and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located in Piedmont, in the south of the province of Asti. It’s precisely where the Langhe end and the Monferrato begins.

Today, however, we don’t want to talk about its wines, its Moscato, Barbera d’Asti, or its sparkling wines. Instead, we want to tell you how to experience the city by visiting its symbolic places of a distant past, where different peoples and cultures have alternated since prehistoric times.

While the central body of the city is located on a modest portion of flatland, what was once the medieval fortress climbs the hill above. The Gancia Castle is currently privately owned by the Gancia family, who transformed it into an elegant villa in the mid-19th century. Originally built in the 11th century as a defense of the commercial route connecting Asti to the port of Savona, the castle was later expanded and enriched with sculptural elements.

In the 17th century, the fortress was almost completely destroyed by Spanish troops, only to undergo major renovations in 1676 by Marquis Ambrogio Antonio Scampi Crivelli, giving it the appearance of a noble palace as it is now.

Until 1929, the ownership of the castle changed hands among various families until it was finally acquired by the Gancia family. They entrusted the transformation project to the architect Arturo Midana, adding two wings to the original square structure and restoring an Italian garden. Its halls are embellished with decorations by the painter Giovanni Olindo, and the numerous polychrome stuccoes on the ceilings aim to give the castle its original 17th-century appearance.

Church of San Tommaso

As we’ve mentioned, various populations and cultures have passed through Canelli since the origins of civilization. The Parish of San Tommaso is a perfect example of how the Baroque age has left its mark on the city. Documented in public records since the 12th century, the church is located on a small hill in the lower area of Canelli, near Piazza Gioberti. The current building is the result of a major reconstruction in the mid-17th century and expanded at the end of the 19th century with the addition of the lantern, the presbytery, and the apse.

Inside, you’ll find interesting furnishings and Baroque-era painted canvases: among the most important pieces are the Nativity canvas by Sebastiano Taricco, the monumental altarpiece of the Assumption from 1785 attributed to Carlo Gorzio from Moncalvo, positioned in the right nave, and the canvas of the Immaculate Conception by the Canelli painter Giancarlo Aliberti (1670-1727). 17th-century Baroque stuccoes and beautiful Renaissance marble sculptures in the baptistery chapel enrich the church.

The Parish was a “civic temple” erected at the expense of the Municipality, and for this reason, the emblem of the Dog, the city’s coat of arms for over half a millennium, still stands atop the bell tower today.

La Stërnia

La Stërnia is perhaps the most famous “monument” of Canelli. It is a steep cobblestone street that, flanked by small rural houses and crotin (cellars) carved directly into the rock, leads to the upper part of the city up to the Castle, offering panoramic viewpoints. At the third bend, you’ll encounter the sinuous stone and brick volumes of the Oratory of San Rocco (first half of the 18th century) and, in front, the Parish Church of San Lorenzo, rebuilt towards the end of the 17th century. It’s on this evocative climb that every third Sunday in June, the liveliest part of the Siege of Canelli takes place, a historical reenactment of the battle that, in 1613, saw the city of sparkling wine triumph over the troops of the Gonzaga family ready to seize the Monferrato from the Savoys.

During the reenactment, Canelli and La Stërnia transform into a city of the 1600s, where, thanks to the work of over a thousand performers, the phases of the siege are relived, involving tourists in the battle. Special attention is paid to Canelli’s food and wine, which offers traditional dishes in the taverns and restaurants set up throughout the historic center, with a feast of agnolotti (pasta), Piedmontese boiled meat, spit-roasted meat, legume soups, and sheep’s milk robiola cheese, all accompanied by selected wines for the occasion.

The Underground Cathedrals

These are the ancient cellars of Canelli’s historic wineries. The soil beneath the city provides the perfect habitat for winemaking and aging: the limestone tuff is an excellent thermal insulator, capable of maintaining a constant temperature between 12 and 14 degrees Celsius. Like real underground aisles, Canelli’s cathedrals are covered with exposed bricks, articulated into long tunnels or rooms with vaults and pillars, at a depth that can reach 30 meters for a total extension exceeding 18 kilometers. Construction began in the 16th century, and expansion continued until the 19th century, with the process carried out by pickaxe and chisel as the company grew larger.

In Canelli, hundreds of companies and houses have their own crutin (small cellar), so much so that many of these galleries now house offices, galleries, and the Regional Winery of Canelli has decided to transform its cellar into a charming restaurant.