LAKE MAGGIORE – VARESE SHORE
FROM MACCAGNO TO ANGERA
The extraordinary position of the hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso Ballaro makes this monastery unique and fascinating.
Rocca Borromeo of Angera
This itinerary follows the eastern shore of Lake Maggiore, starting from Angera and then climbing towards the Swiss border to reach Maccagno.
Angera, the first stop on our itinerary, is easily accessible from Sesto Calende, the first town of key importance located at the extremity of Lake Maggiore and at the mouth of the Ticino River.
Inhabited since ancient times, Angera attained a significant level of development in Roman times. In the Middle Ages it was called "Stazzona", since it was a stopping place as well as a flourishing port on the lake. The Rocca Borromeo castle is positioned above the town on a large limestone crag. Open to visitors, it is an important site in the historical events during the time of the Visconti dominion, and subsequently during the rule of the Borromeo family. Its rooms accommodate the Museo della Bambola (Doll Museum) and the Museo della Moda Infantile (children's garments museum). Do not miss the frescoes in the Sala della Giustizia, real treasures of art. Elegant Art Nouveau villas and old residences recall the Angera of a different era, such as the Palazzo Borromeo, positioned beside the incomplete church of Madonna della Riva.
From the historical Ranco to the scientific research facilities of Ispra
Continuing our journey we reach Ranco, a picturesque town situated at the tip of the lake between the communes of Angera and Ispra. Linked to the historical and political events of the town of Angera, Ranco was the scene of a bloody battle between the Visconti and the Torriani who laid siege to the castle in 1276; then it became the property of the Borromeo family. The town Ranco is a quiet resort, but also a cultural destination where you can visit the Museo Europeo dei Trasporti (European transport museum), with material from the early 19th century to today. Along the shore of Lake Maggiore, a huge haphazard geological mass of morainal origin is visible, and is called "Sass Cavalasc" (horse's head) due to its unusual form.
Ispra – a pleasant town adorned with 18th century villas such as Villa Castelbarco Sagramoso, Villa Cadorna, Villa Ranci Ortigosa – is an international attraction that attracts scholars and researchers from around the world. The facilities of the sprawling complex comprising the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission and the ENEA Research Centre cover a vast wooded area. Here, in-depth investigations take place on a wide range of topics relating to the new technologies, including volcano activity, seismic building development and environmental pollution. Lake Monate is a recreational destination for tourists, cyclists, trekkers and bathers: with Comabbio Lake, it is located between the two larger lakes of Varese and Maggiore. In fact, Monate Lake is one of the few basins of glacial origin where bathing is possible, while navigation for motorboats is prohibited.
The Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso and Laveno
Passing through Breppia, renowned for its artisan manufacture of the pipe, and heading inland, you can see the medieval castle of Besozzo and numerous aristocratic residences. An important stage of the itinerary is Leggiuno, noted for the hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso Ballaro, which is embedded on the cliff-face over Lake Maggiore. It is a unique and astonishing gem of religious art. Access is by descending an old staircase, from which there are unique views of the lake. Its origin dates from the 12th century, when Alberto Besozzi, a rich local merchant, had it built to repay a favour bestowed on him by grace, and he withdrew there to lead a hermit's life.
Continuing along the Lombardy side of Lake Maggiore, you reach Laveno Mombello, a well-known tourist destination and important connecting link between Lombardy, Piedmont and Switzerland, across the Sempione. Laveno is located on a natural gulf and consists of several populated areas positioned in scenic locations. A centre for fishermen and farmers, it is also a well-known trading location. In Cerro district, you can visit the International Museum of Ceramic Design – the Municipal Earthenware Collection.
From Laveno you can make the ascent on foot or by cable car to Monte Sasso del Ferro (1062m above sea level), whose summit is a popular draw for open-air sports enthusiasts. The Forte Austriaco (Austrian Fort) is also worth visiting, and may be reached through the Parco delle Torrazze and the Villa De Angeli Frua.
Luino and Valtravaglia
Luino is the next stage of this itinerary, which takes us to the northernmost section of the lake, still on Italian soil. This lakeside town is situated at the juncture of the Valtravaglia Valley and the Valle della Tresa valley , on the border with Switzerland. It has ancient origins: its history has been linked to the rule of powerful local families, and in the second half of the 19th century it underwent a period of industrialisation and tourism development. The name "Luino", the ancient "Luvino", recalls that of the traditional Wednesday market, established at the behest of the Emperor Charles V in 1541, and still a tourist draw. You can enjoy various sports in this area, or stroll along the lake under a double row of age-old plane trees, or pay a visit to the old historic centre. The church of Madonna del Carmine is worth a visit, and also the church of San Pietro in Campagna and the church of San Giuseppe, designed by G. Quadrio, chief architect of the Milan Cathedral Works.
You can hike along the provincial trail "3V: Via Verde Varesina" and along the local trails of the Comunità Montana Valli del Luinese and of the CAI and ANA.
Maccagno, between lake and mountains
The last stop on this itinerary is Maccagno, a popular tourist destination due to its favourable position, which has natural assets such as the beaches of Giona Park, as well as the Lido beach and the beach of Ronco delle Monache. All destinations are suitable for a variety of sports, including windsurfing, sailing, swimming; climbing and trekking can be done in the hinterland and along the slopes of the mountains and valleys of Luino. Important historical remains are the Sanctuary of Madonna della Punta, located on a high spur of rock overlooking the lake, the imperial tower of medieval origin, the museum, the Maggiore district with arcades and homes from the 16th and 17th centuries. In the town centre, with its ancient houses and rustic stone buildings, you can see the Palazzo that was the seat of the Zecca family, Palazzo Mandelli and the Casa Branca with the beautiful arcaded courtyard.