Usually, when people travel to Lombardy, they visit only Milan and that’s it, basta. They can’t even imagine how wrong they are missing out on smaller towns! The beauty in Italy is hidden in smaller towns and villages which preserve the ancient architecture, old traditions, and breathtaking landscapes.
I visited the city of Varese and the nearby locations. And you know what? I fell in love with Varese from the first sight. Varese is a lovely, cozy, ancient city some 50 km north of Milan. Its narrow streets without pedestrian ways make you be attentive and careful all the time, small FIATs riding up and down these narrow streets conjure up images of old Italian films, and hills and pre-Alps surrounding the city are the thing which I like much more than bustling crowded streets of huge Milan.
Varese is called the city of gardens (“Città Giardino” in Italian). The city is full of various green trees and blossoming bushes that bring a floral scent. Add to this scent the fresh mountain air and you will get a formula to improve your health after living in a big city.
The whole city consists of numerous villas – previously houses of privileged families. Today, some of the villas are public and open to visitors who can see exhibitions inside the house or walk around a beautiful park. Other villas still belong to Italian families and preserve old traditions and architecture, which is very important to feel the atmosphere of a true Northern-Italian town.
The city is home to the Sacro Monte di Varese (“the Sacred Mountain of Varese”). This is a place of pilgrimage and worship included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. There are nine sacred mountains in Lombardy and Piedmont and Varese is home to one of them with an altitude of 807 meters above sea-level.
There are 14 chapels of 1604-1623 years constructed along a road up to the mountain’s hill point. Inside each chapel, you will see different scenes from the Jesus’ life and on the top of the Sacro Monte, you will find an impressive Sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The way downhill is physically more difficult, but you can entertain yourself collecting chestnuts which you can later roast at home ;)
The region is renowned for its beautiful lakes, as well! Lake Varese, Lugano, Maggiore need to be included in your must-visit list. Spend a day enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of small towns located on its banks and surrounded by the magnificent Alps on the Italian and Swiss territories.
For a trip around Lake Maggiore, I recommend you visiting Isola Bella. This is one of the Borromean islands with an incredibly romantic story. In 1632 Carlo III from the influential House of Borromeo started construction of a palace and gifted the palace and the island to his wife. The palace is ornated inside with paintings, family portraits and beautiful furniture; and outside it boasts an amazing garden with the so-called theatre that reminds me a beautiful seashell.
In the garden, you will see white peacocks walking around and enjoying warm Italian climate.
This was my trip to Lombardy. Of course, I visited Milan as well. But I would say that nothing impressed me most than authentic Italian charm and beauty of a small town surrounded by hills and mountains. This is a true Italian lifestyle – the so-called “dolce vita” – enjoying every moment of your life without haste.