Near the Langhe this interesting town is situated on a high rock at the point where the rivers Stura and Tanaro flow together. Cherasco hides much culture and history behinds its walls, it is one of those rather well preserved, authentic places in Piemonte. The centre with its narrow and rectangular streets was built according to the same principles as Turin because it was thought that Cherasco would become as important as Turin. Indeed the strategic position of Cherasco on a rock is what it gave it its historical importance.
Cherasco is most famous for some important peace treaties. Well-known is the treaty between Napoleon and the king of Savoie, signed in 1796 after Napoleon´s first campaign into Piemonte. Maybe more important even was the treaty of 1631.
PHOTO: Detail of the room of the peace treaty in Palazzo Salmatoris where Napoleon dictated the conditions of Savoie´s surrender to France. The same room saw in 1631 the end of the war on Mantova and Monferrato in the presence of king Vittorio Amadeo I and authorities from Austria, France, Spain and Italian states.
Barolo! Cherasco is one of the 11 comunes which may produce Italy´s finest wine: Barolo DOCG. Count Fracassi Ratti Mentone (PHOTO), producer of Cherasco´s own Barolo, is a most pleasant and amiable man and has a lot of passion for his wine – fortunately for Cherasco. His cellar is not always open for public, but as the count is by now 80 years, this is logical – so I was fortunate!
The surface of his vineyard is tiny, only 2,5 ha, in fact it is part of the hill of Verduno which remained under Cherasco. Count Fracassi is descendant of a noble family who were among the founders of Cherasco. He proudly shows his historical cellar which is well preserved. I tasted the wine, Barolo DOCG Mantoetto 2011: fine fresh and elegant perfumes, some violets and fruit of blackberries and a taste with some light tannins, fresh fruit, and elegant, long finish. Indeed the wine makes think of a Barolo from Verduno: very elegant and intense but with lighter body and tannins. Still the wine can age well and will open up better after a few years.
Cherasco had probably Ligurian (Celtic) origins before it became a Roman foothold. The podesta of Alba wanted Cherasco as ´villa nuova´, for defensive reasons and built the city walls in 13th century, partly still visible. Soon after the town fell under the league of Anjou but in 1348 was taken over by Luchino Visconti, duke of Milano and in 1559 Cherasco became Savoie territory. Many buildings, palaces and churches date from this period. When the pest arrived in Piemonte in 1630 Cherasco remained safe and the royal court took residence in the town. The royal court also fled to Cherasco in 1706 when the French sieged Turin, and thus Cherasco.
The impressive belltower dominates the centre. Alas, many of the palaces are still private but some can be visited and show abundant frescoes and decorations. When Cherasco was ruled by Mantova the taxes were lower than in Savoie territory, a reason why many noble families went to live in Cherasco and they lived in some of those many noble palaces. Many churches show the importance of religious life in Cherasco. Interesting are the Chiesa di S.Gregorio, Chiesa di S.Iffredo and the Chiesa di Sant´Agostino – all show typical Piemontese baroque. Also worth visiting are the Chiesa della Madonna delle Grazie and the Santuario della Madonna del Popolo, an impressive domed church. The most historical church is the Chiesa di San Pietro (13th century).
The synagogue dates from 1740 but Jewish presence in Cherasco dates from 16th century when they were active as bankers, doctors, silk production and textile trade. The ghetto was created by Savoie in 1740 and traces are still visible. One interesting aspect for which I found sources in the past remains not quite clear: the trade with olive oil and anchovy along the salt roads. Is it true that the Jews from Cherasco were the initiators of the famous Piemontese receipt ´bagna caoda´. Did they? This has to be researched. At least they left Cherasco with one dish because they could not eat pork: the salsiccia di Cherasco – with calf´s meat.
PHOTO: Maybe Cherasco´s most viewed monument is this arch: the arco trionfale della Madonna del Rosario, built between 1647 and 1688 because the town was safed from the pest in 1630. Cherasco is seated high above the rivers and is dryer and probably because of that was saved from the pest.
PHOTO Cherasco centre with the belltower: the town has preserved its authentic character even if – like in many Italian old towns – cars are still allowed in the historical part of the town. Historical palaces and fine baroque churches dominate.
PHOTO Interior of Palazzo Gotti di Salerano, which is the seat of the museo civico. The rooms are painted in typical Piemontese baroque style by local painter Taricco (1672/81). The museum contains many interesting historical remnants of Cherasco and surrounding. The senate of Piemonte hold its meetings in this palace in 1706 during the siege of Torino. Cherasco knows also some other museums like the museo naturale and the museo della magia, founded by a priest from Cherasco.
PHOTO: The castle of Cherasco, built by Visconti from Milano
PHOTO: A reminder of the raids against the Waldensians in 17th century. The protestants who lived in the Alps in Piemonte – many of them were executed here in 1687. Later the protestants were well accepted and made a treaty with the king of Savoie.
PHOTO: Snail cultivation was created since 1972 around Cherasco and it is also known as city of the snails, with a real snail festival each year. All restaurants offer dishes with snails and there are even festivals and congresses on snails. Piemonte was one of the first regions which had laws about searching for snails which was gave the origin of the snail production in Cherasco. In the meantime snail production has grown, there are some 1000 producers in Italy but off course the national association of ´elicoltori´ (snail producers) has its seat here with Mr.Avagnina, once mayor of Cherasco it´s president. The innovative energy of the snail producers of Cherasco knows no borders: this year a new ´bava´, a cosmetic cream made of slime of snails, will be produced in a sustainable way without having the snails to suffer – it works on basis of ozon, a new technique.
PHOTO: The centre boasts some historical shops like Barbero cioccolato. Fine artisanal chocolate of highest quality with the typical ´bacci di Cherasco´ a local speciality.
PHOTO Details of the ceiling in the palazzo communale
PHOTO: the octagonal formed dome of the Santuario di nostra signora del popolo: the number 8 was very symbolic, it was the sign for eternity
PHOTO: chef Walter Eynard. With the international headquarters of Slow Food nearby it seems logical that traditional piemontese dishes can be enjoyed. There is a wealth of places: 25 local trattorias and restaurants offer reliable and very affordable food. Most special was the arrival of star-chef Walter Eynard, once famous for his two-star restaurant Flipot in Torre Pellice. He established his new restaurant in the Somaschi Hotel where he continues to present his most original and authentic kitchen. Worth a long detour. www.monasterocherasco.it/ristorante-cherasco.
There is a rich cultural life and Cherasco knows too much events to quote. Worth visiting is the antique market, Mercato dell´antiquariato, held 3 times a year and much visited.
The wine from Cherasco can be purchased at Enoteca Mentone, directed by Fabrizio Stecca.
Many thanks to Marella Fumero, assessore of Cherasco and to Barbara Davico.