Varese, the “garden city”, offers many possibilities for those who want to take advantage of the holidays to visit some places of important cultural interest.
Till the beginning of the last century, Bobbiate, the district of Varese where we are, consisted of a church with its square and a few farmsteads. Everything else was a wonderful expanse of fields sloping down to the lake.
The primary economy of the place was based on agriculture and tourism which, at the time, was the prerogative of the Lords of Milan who enjoyed the fresh climate and the beauty of these places in the summer.
In the past Varese was also a meeting point at European level for the exchange of horses and cattle, now a lost tradition since the early ‘900. However, in our Bobbiate a traditional donkey race is still alive. It takes place once a year, in September, and it recalls the farming traditions of the place when the farmer who, thanks to his donkey, arrived first at the market of Varese stated the best price for his goods.
Villas and their gardens
Varese is still known as the “garden city”, thanks to its many parks and gardens, both public and private, created at the time when the noble families of northern Italy built their villas around the lakes of the province.
So in Varese, besides the beauty of natural landscapes, you can enjoy the charm of some of these villas (featuring many different styles from the renaissance to liberty or art noveau) and the parks in which they are nestled.
Besides the Estensi Gardens and Estensi Palace, nowadays the seat of the townhall, and the Archaeological Museum of Villa Mirabello, which are in the very centre, we can mention: Villa Menafoglio Litta Panza and its art collection, Villa Della Porta Bozzolo, Villa Cicogna Mozzoni, the Municipal Park of Villa Toeplitz and Villa Bossi in Bodio.
Varese was defined by Giacomo Leopardi, “the little Versailles of Milan ” thanks to the Estensi Palace and its gardens. The Palace was built in the eighteenth century as a residential home for Francesco III d’Este,Duke of Mantova and Lord of Varese who was inspired by Schönbrunn, the summer residence of the Habsburgs in Vienna.
The Gardens, in fact, are of great beauty with their perfect combination of “Italian” and “French” style. Once through the main access to the Gardens, one is immediately captured by the large parterre flower beds as well as by the central fountain at the end of the parterre, surrounded by the Belvedere hill, the top of which can be reached walking through picturesque paths lined with hornbeams. A splendid panorama awaits there for you.
During the nineteenth century the gardens were enriched with new environments, among which a picturesque pond called ” the Swan lake”. In 1949 they were joined to the park of Villa Mirabello, where the Civic Archaeological Museum has its seat, making it a single entity covering the whole hill.
Villa Mirabello was built in the eighteenth century by Count Gaetano Stampa Soncino, it was later transformed and enlarged by its other proprietors Luigi Taccioli and the Marquis Litta Modignani. In 1948 it became property of the municipal administration and now houses the Civic Archeological Museum.
The museum was born in 1871 for the initiative of some local scholars and enthusiasts animated by the desire of collecting historical and archeological speciments related to the Varese area,and it was significantly expanded in 1924 with the donation of the collection of the Marquis Andrea Ponti, funder and promoter of an archaeological research at the ‘Isolino Virginia”, prehistoric dwelling site (now protected by UNESCO) placed on a small island in the lake of Varese, of which he was the owner.
The material kept at the Civic Archaeological Museum, is very diverse and multifaceted. The exhibits cover an extremely large period that includes Prehistory (particularly represented are the Mesolithic and Neolithic), Early History (Bronze Age and Iron Age), the Roman period (represented by materials coming mainly from cemeteries and burials) and the ‘High Middle Ages (the period of theLongobards).
Surrounded by a magnificent garden of 33,000 m2, Villa Menafoglio Litta Panza di Biumo overlooks the town of Varese from the Biumo hill. The Villa was built in the mid-eighteenth century by Marquis Paolo Antonio Menafoglio and later expanded in neoclassical style by the Duke Pompeo Litta Visconti Arese.
The villa is famous worldwide for the collection of contemporary art that Giuseppe Panza started in the 50s. In the halls and in the large stables, are now exhibited over one hundred works by contemporary artists, as well as rich original furnishings and an important collection of African and Columbian art. A visit not to be missed on the tourist tour of Varese.
Nestled in the quiet landscape of Valcuvia is the elegant Villa Della Porta Bozzolo, now owned by the FAI (Italian Environmental Fund). The original nucleus, which dates back to the fifteenth century, was later enlarged into a “villa – farm”, with the addition of a new building. In the first half of the eighteenth century the house was transformed again, this time into a refined residence of representation, thanks to a spectacular park and precious fresco decorations of the interior, wanted by Gian Angelo III. After the extinction of the family and after several changes of ownership, the entire estate passed in 1877 to Senator Camillo Bozzolo, a distinguished physician and active patriot, who designed numerous improvements for the good preservation of the house, building a stable and also the caretaker’s cottage. Finally, after a period of neglect and pillage, in 1989, the complex was donated to the FAI, which could provide the necessary actions to restore it and open it to the public.
Villa Cicogna Mozzoni in Bisuschio is an architectural complex designed and built during the Renaissance; the first body, used as a hunting lodge, was built before 1440, the second part, erected after 1530, transformed the residence into a beautiful villa surrounded by a garden of delights, In the hunting season, the family Mozzoni used to receive renowned guests from Milan who could enjoy the ancient art of hunting; In fact, at that time the Valceresio was a favourite destination for the hunting of brown bears and wild boars.
In 1581 Angela, the last heir of the Mozzoni, was married to Gian Pietro Cicogna who, in exchange of the dowry, accepted to join the two surnames. The new family continued to use the villa as a place of leisure and pleasure where to host friends for hunting and fishing and to enjoy the wonders of nature so beautifully “concentrated” in the gardens. Still today the descendants of the family Cicogna Mozzoni take care of the residence, but in 1957 the garden and 12 rooms were opened to the public. Today the Villa is also a venue for concerts, exhibitions, cultural events, and you can rent its rooms for wedding receptions, gala dinners, set for movies and photos.
Villa Toeplitz, built as a country residence of German nobles, in the early twentieth century, was later bought by the banker Giuseppe Toeplitz,to whom It owes its name.
He gave an “eclectic style” to the villa through various changes in different time, but above all he created a magnificent park with spectacular fountains, made of blue mosaic and gray marble, embraced by an impressive stairway. It is a harmonious expression of many different garden styles displaying a very rich variety of plant species, often exotic, that can be admired walking through a wide network of trails and romantic paths.
The villa, instead houses a Faculty of the “Insubria” University and the Museum of the Castiglioni brothers, leading archaeologists from Varese, interested in the African and Egyptian world.
Villa Bossi, in Bodio Lomnago is the ideal destination for “music lovers”. It’s a big architectural complex made up of an original body of the sixteenth century to which an important wing was added in the eighteenth century. It consists of 46 rooms. It belonged to the Bossi Family for more than four centuries and now it’s in the property of the society “BIZZI STRUMENTI STORICI A TASTIERA”, who has turned the rooms and workshops into the “living museum” of the clavichords works.
The guided tour takes the visitors through all the gardens, cellar (now a concert hall for evening concerts) and rooms of the residence. Besides the original furniture, a very large and precious collection of wind, string and percussion instruments can be admired. The tour continues in the workshops where a lutemaker will show the various phases of construction of a clavichord and will explain the principles of the of the production of sound. in Bodio Lomnago is the ideal destination for “music lovers”. It’s a big architectural complex made up of an original body of the sixteenth century to which an important wing was added in the eighteenth century. It consists of 46 rooms. It belonged to the Bossi Family for more than four centuries and now it’s in the property of the society “BIZZI STRUMENTI STORICI A TASTIERA”, who has turned the rooms and workshops into the “living museum” of the clavichords works.
The guided tour takes the visitors through all the gardens, cellar (now a concert hall for evening concerts) and rooms of the residence. Besides the original furniture, a very large and precious collection of wind, string and percussion instruments can be admired. The tour continues in the workshops where a lutemaker will show the various phases of construction of a clavichord and will explain the principles of the of the production of sound.
Sacro Monte is a historic and artistic excellence of our territory, which was included the UNESCO list of World Heritage in 2003 together with nine other “Sacred Mountains” of Piedmont and Lombardy.
A place of faith, but also the favourite walk for the natives of Varese,it consists of a“ Holy Path”, a cobbled devotional way characterized by fourteen chapels dedicated to the mysteries of the Rosary. The mysteries are represented by means of sculptural groups and frescos. At the top there is the sanctuary of Santa Maria del Monte, a place of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages, that hosts the fifteenth mystery:the coronation of the Vergin. The construction of the cobbled path and chapels began in 1604,and thanks to generous donations and devotional free labour it was completed in 1623.
The small village of Santa Maria del Monte, that surrounds the sanctuary is fascinating for its peculiar shady streets,often with steep steps, illuminated pedestrian tunnels and many Art Nouveau style villas .It can be reached also using a historic funicular.
THE VILLAGE OF MUSTOMATE
It’s an old rural hamlet completely restored, with a beautiful equestrian centre. There you can admire horses while walking in the countryside or while sitting at the characteristic kiosk cafe feeling at one with nature. Worth a visit.
International “couch and horse” competitions are held here.