Cocconato is a small (pop.1,550) country town with simple country ways. Its annual palio is run by donkeys, unlike the fierce Sienese event, and the procession of townspeople in medieval costume sounds like family fun. Locanda Martelletti has a similar cheerful simplicity. It is a painstakingly restored 18thC building in the heart of the little town, with balconies and some classical details on its yellow stucco facade. Shuttered windows and troughs of flowers testify to the unusual micro-climate which has given Cocconato the nickname Monferrato's Riviera, despite being nearly 1,600 feet up in the hills.
  Inside, the rooms are simply but comfortably furnished, much as one might find in a prosperous farmhouse. There are stone floors in the bedrooms, modern iron bedsteads, plain colours. Modern Turkish rugs and solid, very shiny furniture in the sitting-room remind one of a Swiss pension rather than Chiantishire (though the owners come from Tuscany); and in fact the Matterhorn is less than 100 km away. A paved garden -really a large terrace - has fine views and there guests can take breakfast, lunch or an aperitif. The restaurant, in a vaulted cellar, serves fine Tuscan and Piedmontese food. If you ring the hotel at lunchtime, the cheerful chef may answer the phone (in excellent English) and ask you to call back after service: it's Luigi Bordonaro, the owner. That's the sort of place it is: friendly, hands-on, unpretentious, welcoming.