A day in Varallo
Let’s explore Varallo through a short itinerary: what to do and what to see in just one day in the historical and cultural capital of Valsesia.
Ancient villas and the Collegiate Church of San Gaudenzio
Let’s start from Corso Roma, a tree-lined avenue, home to majestic nineteenth-century villas that now house several organizations and associations: Villa Virginia with its characteristic tower and walls decorated with the artificial marble of Rima; Villa Barbara with its Moorish style and Villa Durio, with its interior decorations in stucco and frescoes. Almost at the end of the tree-lined avenue, on the left, the former convent of the Orsoline leads to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.
All attention goes immediately to the Collegiate Church of San Gaudenzio overlooking the plaza. Built on a rocky promontory, it can be reached through an imposing staircase that leads to the splendid loggia and offers a beautiful view of the plaza down below with its Civic Theater and, lifting the eyes to the sky, the Sacred Mount of Varallo.
Historical Varallo, an ancient trade village
Continuing on along Via Umberto I, and turning towards Via Don Maio - the ancient Contrada dei Nobili - it is possible to reach Via Calderini where the Museums Palace is located. The palace hosts the Varallo Picture Gallery and the Pietro Calderini Natural History Museum. At the end of the street, one can find Piazza Ferrari where it is possible to admire the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Commissioned by Bernardino Caimi (yes, the same Bernardino Caimi who designed the Sacred Mount of Varallo), it combines Franciscan simplicity with Gothic architecture boasting large arches supporting a ceiling decorated with visible wooden beams. And it is here that the eyes stop on the so-called "Gaudenziana Wall”, one of the most important examples of Piedmont Renaissance: 21 frescoed figures are featured on the partition wall that separates the space for the faithful from the space once reserved to the priests. The artwork by Gaudenzio Ferrari dates back to the year 1513. Leaving the church, on the left, do not miss the opportunity to take the steepest cableway in Europe that will take you to the Sacred Mount in just 90 seconds. For sports enthusiasts, there is also a pedestrian alternative that, through a 20-minute walk uphill, will lead you to the same destination.
Continuing the city itinerary, do not miss a stop by the house where Gaudenzio Ferrari lived for some time, then go on to explore the historical town districts. First of all, Piazza Ravelli (the ancient Piazza della Tela) and Via Albertoni (formerly Contrada del Vino) all the way to Piazza San Carlo, a small square full of history with a fantastic view of the Sacred Mount. This is where the Cesare Scaglia House-Museum is located.
Heading back to Via Umberto I, go past the Bottega dell’Artigianato and Palazzo Racchetti, now headquarters of the Farinone-Centa Civic Library, and explore the historical alleys and via Alberganti (former Contrada del Burro). These narrow alleys are the ancient city center, commercial streets that still show traces of their ancient urban planning: courtyards, arcades, frescoes, and balconies skilfully decorated.
A little further on, the view opens up on Ponte Antonini overlooking the green waters of Mastallone. Cross it to discover Varallo Vecchio: the original town center. Crossing the bridge, on the right, it is possible to admire the Scarognini d’Adda Palace, decorated with noble coats of arms and today headquarters of the Fishery Museum and a venue hosting several cultural events. On the left of the building stands the Church of San Giacomo. Keeping the church on your right, climb down to the "El Raffa” promenade. For a few hundred meters, it follows the Mastallone stream, and in the summertime, it allows visitors to sit and enjoy a moment of peace on the famous Varallo beach.
Cross the bridge again and walk along Via Osella, built-in 1838, to facilitate the arrival of wagons in town without having to cross its narrow historical alleys. This will lead you to Piazza Calderini. Continuing in Via Draghetti, notice the former Monumental Prisons to then enter the Sottoriva district that preserves its medieval origins still intact. Following any uphill alley, after a few steps, you will be back in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.
Past the historical center, Varallo hosts other treasures: the Chapel of the Madonna di Loreto, at the crossroads with Civiasco, featuring beautiful frescoes by Ferrari; the Church of San Marco, one of the oldest in the valley and with valuable frescoes by Giulio Cesare Luini; the Energy Museum and the former Hydrotherapy Establishment, center of elite tourism from the Belle Époque and today headquarters of IPPSAR.
This itinerary at the discovery of Varallo offers countless views of the Sacred Mount and the beauty of ancient architecture; a panorama made even more charming by the marvelous artistic murals, part of the WARAL Art Urban Project.
Did you fall in love with the town of Varallo? Join us in Alagna then, where nature and tradition will amaze you.