Sacro Monte Varese
Sacro Monte di Varese, Churches of Varese
Art and nature, faith and sport.
The Sacro Monte di Varese has something for every tourist. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2003, the 17th-century Holy Road and hamlet of Santa Maria del Monte are one of Varese and indeed Lombardy's must-visit destinations.
The site is easy to get to from Varese, with parking available in via Prima Cappella if you would like to start climbing from the very bottom. Alternatively, you can park in Piazzale Pogliaghi, behind the Santuario, at the top.
It can also be reached via public transport or the cable car.
There are 14 chapels dotted along the Holy Road which leads to the top. All are dedicated to the Mysteries of the Rosary and constitute truly exceptional works of art.
Each one has its own architectural design, characterised by meticulous attention to detail, with sculptures and paintings inside. When you stop to admire the art, don't forget to tilt your head back and observe the magnificent frescoes on the ceilings. Sadly, the grates and glass installed to protect the art mean quality photographs cannot be taken – so we advise that you come and see it in person!
Santuario di Santa Maria del Monte
Once you have passed the final chapel, you'll find yourself before the ascent which leads to the Santuario and the hamlet of Santa Maria del Monte. Here, you are greeted by an enormous statue of Moses and a fantastic panoramic view, after which you can climb the steps and enter the Santuario. This represents the end of your journey through the Mysteries of the Rosary, depicting the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven in the glory of the Angels and Saints; it is not very large, but packed with frescoes to admire.
We strongly advise that you also visit the adjacent crypt, which has been restored and is now open to the public, giving you the chance to admire the remains of the early-medieval church, decorated with stunning 14th-century frescoes. It costs to enter before 5:30 pm, but you get a fascinating guided tour included in the price. Entrance is free after 5:30 pm.
But that's not all. We've discovered two fantastic museums in Santa Maria del Monte that are certainly worth a visit. The Museo Baroffio is located by the entrance to the Santuario and holds Romanesque sculptures, illuminated manuscripts and paintings donated to the Santuario by Baron Giuseppe Baroffio. It was reopened in 2001 and extended to include a section on contemporary religious art.
Another must-visit is the Museo Pogliaghi, which is located in the house that the eclectic and brilliant Milanese artist chose for his home. From the outside, it seems like a regular early 20th-century house – perhaps a bit bizarre – but don't let that fool you. As soon as you step inside, you'll be surrounded by a myriad of sketches and sculptures by the artist, as well as a unique melting pot of Greek, Roman and Oriental artefacts. Half home, half artist's workshop, each room is different from the other and every door transports you into a new world. The highlight of the visit is the sitting room, which features the full-size plaster model Pogliaghi created while he was making the door for the Duomo in Milan – it's a spectacle that will leave you open mouthed!
The view and the Campo dei Fiori Regional Park
No visit to the Sacro Monte is complete without stopping to admire its stunning natural surroundings. Located on a hill behind Varese, on clear days visitors can admire a large part of the Po Valley and mountains of Lombardy, with the mountains of Bergamo and the Valtellina even visible in the distance.
It was Varese itself that really impressed us. The town appears almost swallowed up by the forest spilling down from the mountains – perhaps that's the reason why it is known as the "Garden City". Finally, for the more active among you, it's worth pointing out that from the summit of the Sacro Monte you can take several paths which set off through the Campo dei Fiori Regional Park. The terrain is largely accessible for all – perfect for a nice day in the great outdoors!
Text and photos from: