The shores, towns, and enchanted landscapes of Lake Maggiore have inspired many great Italian and foreign artists. At Italy Beyond the Obvious, our most common Lake Maggiore itineraries are in & around the town of Stresa on the lake’s Western shore, primarily because of convenient train connections. For travelers who want to avoid driving in Italy, Stresa is a wonderful destination. However, just across the water from Stresa on the Eastern side of Lake Maggiore, travelers can experience a quieter and more local area with the same stunning scenery.
These three destinations are all near the small city of Varese. This area is equi-distant between Lake Como, Lake Lugano, and Lake Maggiore. Travelers will need a car, but there is a lot to see and do. We recommend starting with these very off-the-beaten-path spots. And one cheese.
Travelers who appreciate unique art and architecture beyond main tourist destinations should visit the Furnaces of Caldé, AKA Le Fornaci di Caldé. From the photo, the site may appear to be a graffitied abandoned building. However, this spot is a wonderful example of industrial archaeology.
Abandoned after WWII, the furnaces’ foundations go back to the 13th century. The abandoned site has been upgraded for visitors and is now a park. The eroded and scattered furnace walls are now decorated with colorful murals. But, alongside these modern additions, visitors can see the ancient arches and characteristic furnace towers, which rise like lookouts. The net result is an evocative and wild place right on the Eastern side of Lake Maggiore. In addition, the park has walking paths and beautiful views.
Summertime visitors: don’t forget to bring bathing suits. The beach here is beautiful and very clean.
Getting There: The furnace park is in the small hamlet of Caldé, in Castelveccana, between the towns of Laveno and Portovaltravaglia. Take the SP69 and exit near the Torrente Froda. Turn right, pass the tennis courts and then turn right again. To get to the ancient furnaces: after the parking lot, follow the short path that runs from the entrance of the park to the lake.
Next, we recommend the Sacred Mount of Varese (Sacro Monte di Varese), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This mountain rises above the small city of Varese, and offers visitors an amazing panorama and a quiet atmosphere. This sacred spot has been one of Northern Italy’s major pilgrimage sites since the 15th century.
Visitors access the site by an easy walking path marked with an arch. Because the trail is flat and paved, it’s accessible to people of all ages. According to tradition, brothers from the sanctuary would recite the holy rosary when ascending the mountain. They would stop at the 15 chapels along the path, which represent the steps of Jesus’ life.
The path ends at the Sanctuary (Santuario di Santa Maria del Monte), which has two museums. From the top, there are breathtaking views over the valley, Lake Maggiore, and the surrounding mountains.
Getting there: Exit the motorway towards the Varese city center, then follow road signs toward Campo dei Fiori. Pass through the hamlets of S. Ambrogio, Robarello, Fogliaro, and finally, Prima Chapel. Or, take the bus (line C) or the funicular railway up the mountain from Varese.
The third place we recommend on the Eastern side of Lake Maggiore is the enchanting hamlet of Arcumeggia, one of Italy’s “painted villages”. This quaint village is an open gallery of colorful frescoes that depict stories of other times.
Arcumeggia became one Italy’s first painted villages because of a “Painters on Vacation” (Pittori in vacanza) project. The local tourism board invited many well-known Italian artists to stay at Arcumeggia and fresco the town walls. Important artists who contributed include Gianfilippo Usellini, Giovanni Brancaccio, Ferruccio Ferrazzi, Eugenio Tomiolo and Achille Funi.
The themes represented in the frescoes vary: they include religious characters, popular scenes, and typical local traditions. However there is just one message: respect God, and love family and work, in the context of a simple life.
Travelers who love the atmosphere of small authentic Italian villages will appreciate walking through the streets of Arcumeggia. We can almost guarantee that you won’t see any other native English speakers during your visit!
Getting there: Take the Varese exit from the A8 Motorway and continue towards Laveno M. – Cuveglio.
One final recommendation: during your travels in this area of Italy, don’t miss the delicious local goat cheese, a typical product of the region.
Specifically, seek out the Formaggella di Luino DOP, the only Italian goat cheese with Protected Designation of Origin (DOP, in Italian). This exquisite cheese is made with traditional milk processing methods, using milk from three specific goat species: the “Black of Verzasca”, the “Saanen” and the “Chameleon of the Alps”.
Article inspired by information from B&B Il Borgo di Sabine.
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