The Nature Reserve of Valle Sarmassa
From Asti follow the directions for Nizza – Canelli (advised route from the town on Corsa Savona). Turn to the right onto the bypass. After a few kilometres turn towards Isola d’Asti and continue on the SS456 road, Asti-Mare. After 15 km, you arrive in Montegrosso, take the turning on the left for Mombercelli and hence for Vinchio, continuing by car or on foot, in the direction of Cortiglione, until you arrive at a clearing in which a wooden notice board indicates one of the entrances to the nature reserve.
The naturalist aspect with historical and literary influences prevails in the Nature Reserve of the Valle Sarmassa which lies in the southern part of the province and includes the three Municipalities of Vinchio, Vaglio Serra and Incisa Scapaccino. The Valle Sarmassa (the name probably derives from a tribe of Sarmation that stayed here) was inhabited by prehistoric man, as evidenced by the remains of stone hatchets found in Serracorta and Monte del Mare. From a geological point of view, the Reserve is entirely contained in what the experts define as "The Tertiary Ligurian – Piedmontese Basin". The terrain belongs to the formation of the so-called "Clays of Lugagnano" (lower Pliocene, 5 million years ago), easily identifiable by the characteristic grey colour or ash grey, sometimes with blue touches. Above these, the so-called "sands of Asti" (middle Pliocene, 3 million years ago) that form the body of the hills and generally a yellowish colour, but sometimes grey or red, have been left as sediment. They are rich in fossils predominantly with molluscs and more rarely, marine vertebrates.
From the naturalistic point of view, the more interesting hilly woodland, is comprised of oak-grove coppices, dominated by examples of young oak and downy or pubescent oak, with a significant presence of south European flowering ash. There are other areas of chestnut-grove coppice, where downy or pubescent oak has established itself, with very poor undergrowth due to the heavy shading of the trees and the acidic sub-soil. In the bottom of the valleys, characterised by the constant and invasive presence of the black locust or false acacia and by extensive areas cultivated with poplar, one can also see the english oak, the common hornbeam and common ash. These oases of native vegetation are composed of mixed oak-grove where the english oak is accompanied by the field maple, the field elm and, in the dampest areas, also the black poplar and the white poplar.
Always at the bottom of the valleys on the sidelines of the poplar trees we find small woodland areas characterised by the presence of the common alder and white willow. For those not having a special interest in geological or botany but who simply love to enjoy nature and the landscape, the protected area offers panoramic views of great charm: from the summits of the hills one can see over the vast plain as far as the imposing alpine mountains on one side and the Apennine elevation on the other.
To penetrate the Reserve you can follow the itineraries organised by the Ente Parchi Astigiani (Asti Park Authority) marked out in different colours. Following the route marked in red, staying a while to enjoy the fascinating “Bricco dei Tre Vescovi” (small hill of the Three Bishops) is definitely worthwhile, where a milestone indicates the convergence of three dioceses (Alba, Acqui and Asti) and offers a splendid panorama.
For those wanting to visit some of the finest Barbera vineyards it is advisable to follow the itinerary dedicated to the "cru" hills of the renowned wine of the Asti area. The route connects Vinchio to the village of Noche passing the “Bricco San Michele” The walk can also be an occasion for sampling and purchasing from the wine producers directly or from the Cantina Sociale.
In the lower part of the Protected Area following the Dark Blue route it is possible to see the Lago Blu (Dark Blue Lake). Despite its name, the Lago Blu (Dark Blue Lake) is, in fact, defined as a "pond" due to its size. Thanks to the total absence of polluting substances it has been colonized by amphibious creatures. The species in evidence are common toads, agile frogs and spotted newts. Among the insects present there are numerous dragonflies, with their long and slender body they spend the first part of their existence in water preferring calm, stagnant pools. With a little luck it is possible to observe in the pond the water scorpion, recognisable by the presence of its long tail. Those, on the other hand, wishing to examine the links between history and legend will find the blue route interesting that proceeds to the hill of the Saracens: here history and legend intertwine and it seems that this place has been witness to the battle in which Aleramo, count of Acqui defeated the Saracens (935 A.D.). Some, in fact, hypothesise that the name Vinchio is derived from "Vinci “ ( from the verb vincere = to win), meaning victory over the Saracens.
Finally those fond of physical and sporting activities will find the equipped and guided gymnastic route pleasant: a healthy and evocative place to immerse oneself in invigorating and aerobic activities. There are two cycling routes, the grey one for mountain bikes and the yellow one for those wanting only to amble along at a steady pace by bicycle without physical exertion. On these routes you reach Incisa Scapaccino and Cortiglione to then return to Vinchio. The author Davide Lajolo, actually born in these hills, defined the Valle Sarmassa as "my green sea", a continuum of trees, vineyards and hills that seem to continue, one after the other, to infinity.