Varese is a town in eastern Lombardy best known for the Sacre Monte di Varese (the Sacred Hill of Varese) and imposing villas such as Palazzo Estense and Villa Recalcati. It is situated near the lake of the same name and about 50 kilometres north of Milan, with Lake Maggiore a few kilometres to the west.
Your visit to Varese will certainly want to include the area around the cathedral, the pleasant main square in the heart of old Varese, and along Corso Matteotti but the first destination for most visitors is a short distance away from here at the Sacro Monte di Varese.
The Sacro Monte di Varese is the principal attraction in the town. It is a path that climbs a hill passing 14 monuments and chapels on the way, all built in the first 25 years of the 17th century, until it reaches the monastery of Santa Maria del Monte.
The chapels along the cobbled pathway are all quite different and relate to events in the life of the Madonna. The altar in the monastery represents the Coronation of the Virgin, the 15th event from her life of the Sacre Monte. The small village at the monastery is also interesting to explore with its alleyways and steep staircases. Allow at least a couple of hours for the climb, more for exploring.
There are nine 'Sacre Monte' in the Lombardy and Piedmont region which are together - including the one at Varese - listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site.
After completing the Sacro Monte you can return to the town centre of Varese where you will find a couple of notable religious monuments. These include the Church of San Vittorio and the associated (although not attached to the church) belltower and also the cathedral with its associated baptistry. Next to these there is also a small roman style chapel which looks quite unassuming from the outside but actually contains some lovely medieval frescoes.
Varese is also well known for its grand 18th and 19th century villas, often with equally impressive gardens. There are a good number of these near the city centre including Palazzo Estense and Villa Recalcati (in the Casbeno district).
The Palazzo Estense is a grand palace that was built in the 1770's and is in the centre of Varese. The large park of the palace is very nice to explore with a wide range of trees and plants to look at.
The Villa of Menafoglio Litta Panza is particularly interesting because it contains an art museum that includes both contemporary and primitive art collections, and the park around Villa Ponti is also noteworthy.
There are several other villas and medieval castles close to hand such as Villa Mylius, Villa Toeplitz, Villa Baragiola, Villa Augusta and Ville Ponti so be sure to visit Varese Tourist Office for a map if you are staying a couple of days.
Attractions nearby: Varese Lake
The Lago di Varese is west of the town and quite a small lake compared with the more famous of the Lombardy lakes: it is less than 10 kilometres long.
The Park Luigi Zanzi is the most popular destination with visitors to the lake because it includes a lake beach, a popular cycle path that goes all the way around the lake and an extensive botanical garden on the shores of the lake.