Ossola & surroundings

Not only lake but mountains and valleys...

 

Ossola Valley

domodossola 

The Ossola is a leaf-shaped complex of Alpine valleys in the northern tip of Piedmont bordering on Switzerland, wedged between the Swiss cantons of Ticino and Valais. Seven valleys make up the area, branching off the central river plain of the main Ossola Valley, which contains a number of ancient little towns and villages.

The geographical and administrative centre is Domodossola, the “capital” of the area, situated on the northern part of the plain. Twinned with the Swiss town of Brig on the other side of the Simplon Pass, it lies on the ancient route to the Pass and to the high Alpine passes of the Formazza Valley, and has all the characteristics of a frontier trading town.

Domodossola has since 2003 boasted a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sacro Monte Calvario, which is also a special nature reserve of Piedmont region, set on the Mattarella Hill above the town. The fifteen chapels in the Calvario complex fully reflect the local Ossola culture, and were built with the contribution of the best local artists of the 17th century, who introduced the Baroque style to the area.

Moving north from the southern entrance to the valley plain, the road passes the villages of Ornavasso, Cuzzago, Anzola and Premosello Chiovenda. The next town is Vogogna, whose captivating medieval centre with the Visconti Castle and the Palazzo del Pretorio is a popular tourist attraction.

Continuing north towards Domodossola, the road passes the small towns of Pieve Vergonte, Piedimulera, Pallanzeno and Villadossola. Of note is the Ferrerio Tower of Piedimulera, a relic of the military settlement of the 16th century.

Vogogna

 

vogogna

The ancient village of Vogogna, of medieval origin, lies in the heart of the Ossola area, not far from Lake Maggiore, Lake Orta and Switzerland. Now part of the Val Grande National Park, it has a wealth of tradition, culture and history.

Thanks to its strategic position, Vogogna was chosen in the 14th century by Giovanni Visconti, the Bishop and Lord of Milan, to be the capital of the Lower Ossola, and was the centre of the political and administrative life of the area in opposition to Domodossola, the capital of the Upper Ossola.

The town is dominated by the imposing Visconti Castle, designed in the 14th century as a defensive and military fortress, and later used at the end of the 18th century as a prison. Today exhibitions and events linked to the history of the Middle Ages are frequently held in the Castle, its courtyards and its external garden; it also possesses a nationally-recognised multimedia centre. High above the Castle is the ancient ruined Rocca (a castle built in a high, dominant position), once used for defensive and strategic purposes.

The Palazzo Pretorio in the historic centre is of great interest. Inspiration for the design came from the “broletto” of Lombardy, which was an arcaded building used for meetings of the populace and to administer justice. The Vogogna palazzo has a series of pointed arches resting on short, thick columns. Fragments remain of the original painted decoration, prominently the Visconti coat of arms on the front.

Vigezzo Valley

 

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The Vigezzo Valley lies in the north-west of the Ossola area of Piedmont, between the Antigorio-Formazza and Cannobina Valleys. The valley continues into Switzerland, and the two countries are linked by the historic “Vigezzina” railway which runs through the valley to Locarno over a 55 km route of tunnels, high viaducts and spectacular landscape.

Vigezzo is a broad sunny valley with settlements on both sides. Beginning at Masera, the road crosses seven municipalities before reaching the Swiss border. The main centres are Druogno and Santa Maria Maggiore, popular holiday resorts where art, culture and nature happily coexist.

Well-known as the Painters’ Valley, Val Vigezzo has been home to many artists and has inspired landscape and portrait painters who over the years have had a strong impact on the art and culture of the area. The Painting School in Santa Maria Maggiore was started in the 19th century as a unique school of mountain painting.

The little churches and wayside shrines throughout the valley offer examples of devotional art, paintings or frescoes. Art and piety come together in the imposing Sanctuary of Re at the end of the valley, built in Gothic-Byzantine style in 1922 to recall the miracle of the Madonna del Sangue (Virgin of the Blood), said to have occurred in 1494.

Vigezzo has a rich tradition of food and wine, typified by the wide selection of salumi (cured meat) like the renowned local raw ham, honey, preserves and traditional cakes: try them in the valley’s restaurants!

The Centovalli Train

 

centovalli

The whole Vigezzo Valley is served by a historical little blue train (better known in Italy as the little blue train of the Vigezzina and, in Switzerland, as the little train of the Centovalli), on a railway line which links Domodossola to the Swiss town of Locarno.

An Alpine railway par excellence, the Vigezzina passes through wonderful landscapes of woods, wild mountains, rivers and waterfalls along a route of 52 kilometres including 83 bridges and 31 tunnels. Completely immersed in Nature, this route between Italy and Switzerland offers passengers the chance to see up close some breath-taking scenery. Once past Valley Vigezzo, the little blue train crosses the impressive Swiss territory of beech woods, rivers and jagged mountains to reach Locarno.

For those who wish to admire the spectacular scenery of this area, the “Lago Maggiore Express” is a travel combination that covers, in just one day, the whole of Lake Maggiore from Stresa to Locarno by boat and then the Vigezzo Valley and Centovalli on the little blue train.

 Anzasca Valley & Macugnaga

 

macugnaga

Situated in the south-western part of the Ossola area in Piedmont, the Anzasca Valley, in common with the other valleys in the area, has managed to keep its rural character and its pristine nature. The valley extends from Piedimulera up to Macugnaga, and along the route lie a series of characteristic stone-built Alpine villages: Castiglione, Calasca, Vanzone and San Carlo.

Right at the head of this wild, narrow valley is the Walser village of Macugnaga, dominated by the stupendous East Face of Monte Rosa (4,634 mt), one of the finest mountain walls in the whole of the Alps.

Macugnaga is undoubtedly the most picturesque and intriguing place in the valley. Of Walser origin, Macugnaga is a first-class example of an ancient settlement which has developed into a modern holiday centre without abandoning its ethnic culture and its architectural traditions. It is a gem in which nature, tradition, modernity and Alpine wisdom come together in a harmonic whole.

Macugnaga along with the rest of the Anzasca Valley is a sportsman’s paradise, offering mountaineering, walking, hiking, mountain biking and all kinds of skiing. Don’t miss a visit to the Belvedere Glacier, the only glacier in expansion on the Italian side of the Alps, the Monte Rosa Animal Oasis, the Walser House Museum, and the Guja Gold Mine.

The Toce Falls and the alpine lakes

 

cascate-toce

The waterfall regarded as the most spectacular in the Alps, the Toce Falls, is in the Formazza Valley at the place called La Frua (1861 m. a.s.l.). This is an excellent departure point for long hikes to explore the most beautiful Alpine lakes in the valley.

The water of this impressive natural spectacle falls for 143 metres, and spreads out at the bottom to a breadth of 60 metres. As the river is diverted to be used for hydroelectric power, the falls can be seen only on certain days and at certain times during the summer, from June to September.

A hotel built at the top of the falls in 1863 to accommodate climbers and hikers is still patronised by tourists to the area. The little church next to the hotel is dedicated to the Virgin of the Snow, and dates from 1621.

A number of trails start from the Toce Falls for the Alpine lakes of the Formazza Valley. The first lake encountered is the reservoir of Morasco, created by a dam; you can walk right round it along a pleasant track. Farther on is the Sabbione lake (2475 m), near which you can stop for refreshment or overnight at the hospitable mountain huts of Mores, Somma Lombardo, or Busto.

A long round hiking trip involves crossing the Gries Pass (2463 m) from Lake Sabbione into Switzerland, returning to the Italian side over the San Giacomo Pass (2313 m). On the return trip the trail follows the shoreline of Lake Toggia (2191m), whose waters are replenished from the higher Lake Castel (2244 m). On the way back down to the valley hikers can rest at the Maria Luisa Mountain Hut, a short way above the waterfall.

 

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