The Palio di Asti is the oldest bareback horse race in the world. The iconic race has been continuously occurring since the thirteenth century and is going stronger than ever. Since first taking place in the year 1275, the Palio occurs on the third weekend each September and features local riders dressed in the emblems and colors of their specific district within the city. The event culminates in the nail biting finale of 21 riders vying for the glory of the win. Although the race has changed courses throughout the city over the years, since the 1980s it has been held at the Piazza Alfieri. The race course is triangular in shape and, as the horses begin their initial preparation for the race, pass by a priest at the Piazza’s cathedral for a blessing of both the horse and the jockey. The region of Asti is renowned for its close proximity to the incredibly beautiful lake region as well as the northern cities of Turin and Milan. Explore nearby Verona and the beautiful Sirmione lake for a better idea of the region at large with this guided tour.
Before the actual race takes place, the locals go to any length to assure a successful event. The horses are tested to make sure they have the capability to wind their way through the ancient course. This preliminary race is a fun event for local children to enjoy to get them even more excited about the coming festivities. If you’ll be arriving in the region a bit early, use the opportunity to take a quick day trip from Milan to nearby Bergamo. With the proximity of these ancient hill towns to one another, it’s possible to explore the area with ease.
During the weekend of the event you will have the opportunity to really delve into what medieval life was like. Asti will be decorated with the colors and sashes of the various districts around the city. The local restaurant owners will set up outdoor stands to display their cuisines. Explore the equally lengthy history of a local food, Parmigiana Cheese, with a visit to the cheese’s international museum by the same namesake. The food will be predominantly local and seasonal. The early fall is an excellent opportunity to witness the changing seasons as well as experience the changing palette of local fare. A beautiful place to experience the last bits of Italian summer is in Cinque Terre. Opt for this guided tour to the cliffside mediterranean town to witness first-hand the ways that Italy’s coast transitions from summer to fall.
Have you ever witnessed an Italian Palio? Have you ever been to the Palio di Asti? How do you imagine the authenticity of a medieval festival would be enhanced in Asti, given the city’s centuries-old palio tradition?