Panoramic view of Laveno Mombello on the banks of Lake Maggiore

Panoramic view of Laveno Mombello on the banks of Lake Maggiore

Laveno Mombello, a town of almost 10,000 inhabitants, is one of the most picturesque in the province of Varese. Located on the eastern shore of Lake Maggiore at the foot of the Sasso del Ferro mountain, it is divided into three areas: Laveno, the heart of the town, and the two districts of Mombello and Cerro.

The blue colour of the lake, the green colour of the hills and the grandeur of the mountain overhanging the lake all contribute to the town’s fairy tale atmosphere. It is certainly a romantic place, full of trails leaving the village up onto the mountain roads, with unforgettable views.

The town of Laveno extends along the coast as far as Cerro and Ceresolo, equally picturesque residential zones; the district of Mombello faces the hills rather than the Lake. Laveno Mombello is an ideal place for relaxation at the weekend, and is also an excellent point of departure for hiking enthusiasts, who can go on excursions into the countryside on foot or by bike.

The Tower of Laveno Castle

The Tower of Laveno Castle

The earliest evidence of human settlements is to be found in Mombello, in the protected hilly area known as Torbiera: the remains of pile-dwellings dating back to 3,000 BC. The name Laveno appears to derive from the name of a Roman general Labienus, who fiercely opposed the Gauls. The name Mombello, on the other hand, derives from the Latin Mons Belli (the hill of war), because the battles between the Roman and Gallic soldiers were fought on these very hills.

In the Dark Ages, the territory fell under the dominion of the Lombards and the Franks. Later, it fell within the political orbit of aristocratic families such as the Visconti, Sforza, Borromeo and Besozzi, who made it their domain at one time or another. After the Spanish domination of the 17th century, Laveno Mombello passed under Austrian rule. The shores of Laveno witnessed the defeat of Garibaldi's troops by Austrian soldiers. In the Tower of the Castle, an ossuary reminds us today of the bravery of those Italian soldiers who proudly lost their lives in battle.

The town's economy revolved mainly around fishing and agriculture, but an important grain market made Laveno a point of reference for many retailers and wholesalers. Another important activity developed in the 19th century, and is still carried out to this day: the production of ceramics. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, important businesses were established such as Società Italiana Ceramiche (subsequently Richard Ginori and then Pozzi-Ginori), Lago or Revelli.

The recent restoration has brought to light the splendours of the frescoes of the oratory of Santa Maria di Corte

The recent restoration has brought to light the splendours of the frescoes of the oratory of Santa Maria di Corte

Church of Santo Stefano

In the centre of town you can admire the parish church of S. Stefano, whose presbytery is covered with frescoes dating from the early 17th century. The same artist's hand, probably that of the painter De Advocatis, also frescoed a chapel of the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso Ballaro, just ten kilometres from Laveno.

Other examples of religious architecture are the Church of Santa Maria in Ca' Deserta, which has a wooden altar dating from the Baroque period, and the Church of SS. Filippo e Giacomo, whose tall bell tower soars over the lake.

Oratory of Santa Maria di Corte

The oratory of Santa Maria di Corte is located in the nearby district of Mombello. Built between the 12th and 13th centuries, it is decorated with splendid 16th century frescoes which have recently been restored. Also in Mombello, don't miss the ancient oratory of San Michele, at the fortress. It was originally the lazaretto of the town, which was struck in the 17th century by the famous plague described by the writer Manzoni which brought Milan and neighbouring towns to their knees. In 1727 it was rebuilt in honour of S. Michele, possibly in gratitude for having saved part of the population from the terrible epidemic.

Villa Frua, where the municipal administration of Laveno Mombello is based

Villa Frua, where the municipal administration of Laveno Mombello is based

International Museum of Ceramic Design

The International Museum of Ceramic Design - Municipal Earthenware Collection is located in the district of Cerro, and contains important evidence of the tradition and history of ceramics in the Laveno area, and of the techniques which have earned Laveno the title of "town of ceramics." It is located in Palazzo Perabò, a splendid example of 16th century architecture.

Villa Frua

Another important civic building is Villa De Angeli Frua, or simply Villa Frua, located in the centre of Laveno. Dating back to the 18th century, it was built by the Tinelli family. Giuseppe Garibaldi was a distinguished guest at the Villa: he visited Laveno on several occasions and addressed citizens from the balcony overlooking the square. Today's municipal administration is based in Villa Frua, as well as the Municipal Library. Meetings and art exhibitions are also often held here, and the beautiful garden inside is now a public park, open to citizens and visitors.

Alfredo Binda Museum

The hills of Varese are particularly popular with cyclists. Those two-wheel enthusiasts will find charming trails in the surroundings and can also stop off in Cittiglio, a few kilometres from Laveno, to visit the Alfredo Binda Museum, dedicated to the life and sporting achievements of that great cyclist.

Villa Della Porta Bozzolo

Further inland and just after Cittiglio is Casalzuigno commune. The Villa Della Porta Bozzolo is located here, a magnificent villa dating from the 16th century and restored in the early 18th century. This is an impressive and majestic building, richly decorated with rococo details. But it is the splendid Italian garden in particular which attracts visitors in all seasons. Donated to the Italian Environmental Fund (FAI) in 1989, it is a regular venue for meetings and cultural events. Rustic buildings are still to be found here, such as sheds, stables, cellars, granaries and a monumental winepress.

The submerged crib in the waters of Lake Maggiore

The submerged crib in the waters of Lake Maggiore

The submerged crib

Laveno Mombello is famous for its underwater crib. It is a curious tradition that began in 1975 on the initiative of a group of divers: an entire nativity scene containing the whole range of figures - over 35 life-size statues in stone - positioned a few metres deep under the surface of the lake. The nativity scene is visible from the platform adjacent to the main square, thanks to powerful underwater lights. An evocative ceremony is held on Christmas Eve: the statue of the Infant Jesus is carried in procession from the nearby church to the edge of the lake. The statue is then entrusted to a group of divers: some take it under water to the manger, while the others illuminate the scene with torches. Visitors are accustomed to throwing coins into the water as a propitiatory gesture. The underwater crib event is a magical moment which generates huge emotion, despite the recent origin of the tradition.

Trofeo del Golfo

The Feast of the Assumption on 15 August is another very important date on Laveno's calendar. For over thirty years, the Trofeo del Golfo has been taking place on August 15th: a procession of illuminated boats that culminates in a spectacular fireworks display. An event not to be missed by the inhabitants of Laveno and of the surrounding areas, and one that attracts many visitors and tourists.