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Varallo is a small town situated to the north-east of the Piedmont region, 50 kilometres north-west of Novara and in the wooded hills of the Sesia Valley to the west of Lake Orta.
The town of Varallo is a pleasant town in an attractive valley setting with a nice centre containing several interesting baroque style palaces.
The most important historical monument in Varallo itself is the 15th century Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie (the Lady of our Graces), best known for the extensive wall of 15th century frescoes of the life of Christ that it contains (by Gaudenzio Ferrari, 1484-1546).
Another religious monument of interest in Varallo is the Church of San Gaudenzio, surrounded by arcades and also containing paintings by Ferrari.
Elsewhere in Varallo you will see the Theatre (1901) and the 18th century Racchetti palace, now home to an extensive library. There is also an art gallery in Varallo that includes more examples of works by the local artists.
Sacro Monte di Varallo
The main attraction in Varallo, and the principal reason that visitors come to the town, stands on the hill a steep walk (or a ride in a cable car if you prefer, summer only) above the historic centre.
The Sacre Monte di Varallo is a small group of buildings around a basilica with a 19th century facade including various inset paintings and with an attractive open area in front of the church that gives no clue to the ornate baroque style interior.
In and around Sacro Monte there are 45 chapels dating from the 16th and 18th centuries originally built by a Franciscan Friar called Bernardino Caimi di Milano for the Archbishop of Milan in an attempt to convert the local population by using graphic portrayals of Biblical events. The friar had been the protector of the Holy sepulchre in Jerusalem and thought it important that the local population should experience a recreation of some of the wonders of the Holy Land.
The chapels follow a numbered trail (in chronological order of the events, so it's better to follow this path) and contain an extensive series of hundreds of painted statues by important artists from the Piedmont region in front of frescoed walls that depict many of the important events from the bible - such as Original Sin, the Slaughter of the Innocents, the Temptation of Christ and the Crucifixion - portrayed in a surprisingly (perhaps shockingly, according to your sensibilities) lifelike and graphic manner.
The basilica is surrounded by attractive parks and gardens and falls within a protected area, the Special Natural Reserve of Sacro Monti di Varallo.
Varallo is also a popular sports region, with skiing in the Monte Rosa ski region during the winter and hiking, rafting and canoeing popular during the summer months (many sporting activities take place on the fast flowing Sesia river).
You can find more local travel ideas in the Piedmont guide.