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Varese in a weekend

From the gardens of Palazzo Estense to the infinite vistas of the Sacro Monte. 48 hours to discover a city on a human scale

A Ducal Palace, the Belvedere hill, the geometries of an Italian garden that fills and designs the space.

The Palazzo Estense park (1771) is the icon of the Garden City, which Giacomo Leopardi called Little Versailles. Along the boulevards around the fountain, between the hedges, a reassuring symmetry dominates the scene. 14 acres of centuries-old greenery, taken care of down to the smallest detail.

America in Villa Panza. After a trip to New York and Los Angeles in 1954, Giuseppe Panza di Biumo began collecting the art of young American artists. He bet on names that were all but unknown and are now celebrated, like Dan Flavin, James Turrell or Mark Rothko. In Villa Menafoglio Litta Panza, their works reinterpret the spaces of the neoclassical house, creating strong contrasts that breaks the mental patterns of us viewers. Entrusted to the Italian Fund for the Environment (FAI – Fondo Ambiente Italiano), the villa also houses international art exhibitions.

The ascent of wonders. A walk, a journey of faith, a Baroque museum under the open sky: it is the Via Sacra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fourteen 17th-century chapels connect the city to the Santuario. The Casa Museo Pogliaghi deserves a stop. In this jumbled antiquarium, classical busts, Egyptian sarcophagi and sketches by Gianlorenzo Bernini are mixed up with the works of the home owner. In July, enjoy the event called “Tra Sacro e Sacro Monte” on the Terrazza del Mosè and experience the summer pleasure of the theatre outside the theatre.

Invitations to court. Late gothic frescoes that look like manga. On the walls of the hall of leisure of the 15th-century Castello di Masnago, you can admire scenes of court life,  when lords of the castle spent their time playing musical instruments or falconry hunting. The 17thcentury building abandons all pretense to have defensive purposes and exhibits its all-out nature of country residence. Five minutes from the city centre, among the leisure and amusements of 600 years ago.

On the islet of pile dwellings, i.e. the Isolino Virginia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that can be reached in twenty minutes by boat from Biandronno. It is the oldest of the 111 pile dwelling villages in the Alps: it was inhabited from as far back as 5200 BC un til the bronze age. Today, it is also a natural oasis where you can spot mallards, coots and grebes. And lose yourself in the lake’s horizon.

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