We had made plans to have lunch with friends in Albugnano, so decided to stay close to home today. We'd been using the very informative guide to Piemonte Romanesque churches from the Asti tourist office to find these little gems. We headed over to Montiglio Monferrato, a short drive from Cocconato. We easily found San Lonrenzo, just outside the town cemetery on via Romano Gianotti.The door was open, and a handwritten sign on the door tells you to go to the local pizzeria for the key if it is locked. The church was dedicated in 1180, and has lovely carvings with pagan and Christian themes--forked sirens, Celtic knots, lambs and lions, a serpent eating its tail.
The oldest part of the village has a castle at the top, which is opened for special events. Sadly, no one was answering the phone at the local tourist office so we weren't able to get inside to see what are supposed to be remarkable frescoes in the chapel. Because the street leading up to the Caastello looked so narrow, I made Larry leave the car at the bottom, and we slowly climbed the hill to the top. Of course several cars passed us, the occupants probably shaking their heads over the crazy tourists walking up. Quite of a few of the old village houses looked abandoned,and there were many For Sale signs. Gorgeous views down.
We met Jenny and Kim at a restaurant they suggested, Il Gelsomino in Albugnano. There's a beautiful terrace with the marvelous view, but unfortunately today it wasn't open because of the harsh wind and a few sprinkles. Several days a week they offer a four-course lunch (with wine!) for 12 euros. We enjoyed several antipasti--robbiola cheese with a tasty jam, "Russian salad", peppers stuffed with tuna. Then pasta, tasty though obviously not homemade agnolotti, followed by roast veal with vegetables, and finally homemade tiramisu. Decent, simple meal, surprisingly bad wine, but fabulous company and conversation. http://www.ristoranteilgelsomino.it/index.html
We drove around the hillsides after lunch, and eventually would up in Cortazzone, to find San Secondo. Both doors of the church were locked. On a bulletin board was a sign to go to the yellow farhouse down the hill, and Sr. Fiori would give you the key. Larry walked down, and when he returned said Sr. Fiori told him the side door was unlocked. He tried, I tried, we both tried,and the door would not budge. Back down, a conversation with Mrs. Fiori, and the long key was found.
The interior has capitals with carvings similar to San Lorenzo's-lions, -birds, peacocks, seashells, forked-tailed sirens, flowers. There's a 14th century fresco above the altar.
Outside, more interesting carvings, particularly on the south side. Above the arches is a very unusual carving. From the little booklet you can get inside for a 3-euro offering:
"..In its primitiveness is meant to refer to a coupling scene, not common in church decoration, and can be explained in prehistoric local traditions. Some interpret the engraving and other signs of fertility, such as the breasts, as favorable to the birth of children and milk in abundance, or as an ex-voto referring to a difficult birth. "
Headed home. Larry enjoyed a pre-dinner nap. We had a light meal at Cantina del Ponte, a simple place in Cocconato. We shared an antipasti of eggplant mousse with red pepper sauce, a plate of salumi, and tajarin with butter, tomato and herbs. And a wonderful bottle of our new favorite wine, Ruche. Dinner was 35 euros, and very pleasant.