Asti, the self-styled capital of the sparkling spumante-producing region is a bumpy ride along a lumpy tarmacked road through vineyards.

Parked up in its bustling central car park lined with market stalls and huge touring coaches we joined a busy throng in the central Piazza Roma, armed with a confusing walking tour guide.

Originally topped by more than 100 towers, built in the 14th century, only a handful have survived vengeful lopping by warring ducal families.

Asti’s centre today is largely, churches, towers, palazzos and piazzas. We weren’t always sure which one we were looking at, thanks to the confusing guide, but enjoyed a morning’s meander amongst some very smartly dressed, older, men and women standing proudly at the doorways of their exclusive boutiques and eateries. We had entered the wealthy belt of North Italy’s prosperous and pretty landscape south of Milan.

Down in the crypt of the Collegiate Church of San Secondo we circled the gracious stone pillars and columns of the 6th century church, built it was said to house the body of the martyred saint (and patron saint of Asti, Secundus). His remains are contained in a 15th century silver reliquary. It was quiet and mesmerising after the busy stampede through the tour groups above.

San Damiano d’Asti

Strangely, although Asti featured in advertising, banners and slogans and on menu boards everywhere, not a drop could be found to sample or buy. Provisioned instead with a slab of fresh focaccia bread we headed up the hillside, along more frost-damaged and bumpy roads, to San Damiano d’ Asti.

A treat of a country village, on a bluff above the Asti vineyards, San Damiano’s one street was lined on both sides with cool dark shaded arcades in which bakers, pharmacists, shoe sellers, bar owners and hair dressers were still busy at work at 6pm.

Cycling up, down, around and through the village we stopped at one of its two bars for a glass of local Ferme, a dry white and refreshing wine without bubbles. Asti is seemingly the one place in Italy where you can’t pop the cork and pour the fizz!