Ovada and Acqui Terme are two beautiful towns in Piedmont, off the main tourist trails, yet any connoisseur of all things Italian, and wine especially, will recommend them to you among the top tourists attractions in Italy. However, be warned: there is no Renaissance art to be found there! Only beautiful landscapes, good old-fashioned food and excellent wine!!
The first mention of Ovada was found in a document dating back to the year 967. Many powerful aristocratic families ruled the town, building fortified walls, impregnable castles, lavish palaces and splendid churches. The old centre of Ovada still retains its character and centuries-old buildings are still standing strong.
Just like in the old era, the local artisans are working away in their small shops in the Old Town. Some excellent antique dealers’ can be found here as well. Walking around town you can see some stunning examples of the Genoa Republic architecture: the church of Nostra Signora Assunta, Palazzo Spinola, built in the 18th century, as well as older landmarks, such as one of the oldest churches in Ovada, Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Local cuisine is one of the attractions in Ovada with simple honest dishes that have been perfected for generations. Make sure you try andarini, a type of pasta, that is served with meat broth. The local biscuits called “biscotti della salute” (loosely translated as “biscuits of health”) are somewhat of a legend here: the original recipe that is still used by most local bakeries goes back to the 16th century. Setting off for long journeys, sailors of the Genoa Republic stock up on biscotti della as they were nutritious as tasted food for months.
What makes Ovada famous is, of course, its excellent wine, which has been produced in the Monferrato region for many centuries. Local red wine Dolcetto di Ovada, white Cortese del Monferrato and Gavi have earned high accolades among winemakers and a visit to a vineyard is absolutely essential if you are in the area.
A short drive away from Ovada is the Acqui Terme, which hot sulphur springs attracted visitors since Roman times. La Bollente, the fountain where hot water flows at 167 °F, is a great spot to relax and people-watch while sipping the healing thermal drink. This pretty town is perfect for relaxing strolls, as well as some sightseeing: the central Gothic cathedral, the 15th century Palaeologi Castle, ancient Roman baths offer a glance into the rich history of Acqui Terme.
Ask any local, and they will tell you that some of the best restaurants of Piedmont can be found in Acqui Terme. Here you can taste bagna cauda, the dish that Pope Francis can never refuse when he is visiting this region. And, of course, more wine! The best of sweet bubbly Brachetto d’Acqui is produced here and some seriously good Moscato. Who said that Italy is only about Renaissance art?
Photos by: Davide Papalini, Renata Testa, Ian Spackman