The Province of Verbano Cusio Ossola lies in the northeastern strip of Piedmont, on the borders of Switzerland and Lombardy.
This is a realm of unspoiled nature and encompasses an extensive system of valleys that are appreciated for their culture and natural beauty. For example, the Val d’Ossola is carved by the Toce River, whose source lies in Val Formazza and, overlooking a plunge of 1,355 feet, gives way to the most beautiful and powerful waterfall in the Alps.
Among the pearls that make this environment unique are the little Lake Mergozzo, the northern bank of Lake Orta where Omegna is located (where the coffee maker and the pressure cooker were invented in the last century), and the western bank of Lake Maggiore that hosts renowned resorts: e.g. Cannobio, Cannero Riviera, Verbania, Baveno and Stresa, an international tourist destination.
The Borromean Islands are rich in fascination, lying in the middle of Lake Maggiore and offering the perfect balance between art and nature: think Baroque palace and the Italian garden at Isola Bella; the neoclassical home and English-style garden at Isola Madre and a colorful village of rustic houses on the Isola Pescatori. A truly enchanting landscape of banks dotted with historic villas and parks filled with the colorful flowers that are typical of Lake Maggiore: camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons.
The most famous of all is the Villa Taranto in Verbania, one of the most renowned and important botanical gardens in Europe.
Not only lakes, but other spectacles of nature reside here as well, such as the imposing Alpine peaks and valleys sprinkled with the modern ski resorts of Formazza, Piane di Vigezzo, Macugnaga (at the base of Monte Rosa), Alpe Devero, San Domenico, Mottarone and many more.
Not to be passed over are the Province's important reserves, such as Parco Nazionale Val Grande, regarded as the largest wilderness in Europe and extending - by way of rather inaccessible lands - to the high Alpine peaks; and the Parco Naturale Veglia Devero, encompassing meadows, Alpine tundra and wind-raked mountains, and incorporating some of the finest landscapes within the Alps.
The charm of these places is also linked to important cultural remains, such as the Strada del Sempione, a historic trade route. It has been flanked for more than a century by the Traforo del Sempione, a railway construction that in the early 20th Century rendered Liguria, Piedmont and Lombardy gateways to Europe.
In Verbano Cusio Ossola, moreover, the cultural influence of the Walsers - a people of Germanic origins that inhabited these valleys in the Middle Ages - remains very strong and can be spotted in the local architecture.
The typical stone and wooden dwellings reflects the unmistakable style of the Walser buildings (which can be admired above all at Macugnaga in Valle Anzasca and in the district of Formazza, in the Valley of the same name) and lend a fairytale-like ambience to the small villages of the valleys.
Artistic treasures abound here, including religious monuments nestling in evocative natural landscapes, such as the Sanctuary della Mandonna del Sangue a Re in Valle Vigezzo. Vigezzo is also known as the Valley of the Painters after the 18th-Century Alpine art school, as well as for the frescoes and décor that embellish the homes and churches.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the artistic complexes of Santissima Trinità di Ghiffa and the Calvario di Domodossola, the “capital” of the Ossola Valley. Here, in 1828, the Blessed Antonio Rosmini, philosopher and religious leader, founded the religious congregation of the Istituto della Carità (Charity of Institute), and later pursued his spiritual and cultural works at Stresa, where his remains are preserved.
The folklore, traditions and gastronomy lend further fascination to Verbano Cusio Ossola, a land of “lakes and mountains” to satisfy every type of traveler, and where varied cultural events make it a region to worth visiting any time of the year.
Many are the wonders that make this Province unique, starting with the beautiful banks of Lake Maggiore, sprinkled with beautiful and awe-inspiring villas.
Of the touristic resorts, the most famous are Verbania, known as “the garden on the lake” and boasting the renowned Villa Taranto; and Stresa, full of important architectural exemplars, in particular the marvelous Villa Ducale, surrounded by a magnificent Italian garden. It commands an enchanting view of the Borromean Islands, especially of Isola Bella, dominated by the majestic Palazzo Borromeo.
Picturesque views are also a feature of Lake Orta - with the historic village of Omegna - and Lake Mergozzo.
Val d’Ossola lies in the extreme north of Piedmont, near Switzerland, and awaits visitors to its many natural treasures: think verdant pastures, grasslands, waterfalls, mountains and valleys.
The main town is Domodossola, retaining an evocative Medieval appearance. With the backdrop of Monte Rosa, the Anzasca Valley opens up right where the resort of Macugnaga and the ancient gold mine of Guja are located; and the galleries and arcades of the latter are open to visitors.
Every valley offers exploratory excursions to discover the architecture and traditions of the Walser people.
And the Walser Museum-House provides historical and cultural information about this ancient people.
The unique Vigezzo Valley, known as the "valley of painters,” can be admired from the comfort of the train that runs along the ancient “Vigezzina” rail line and offers unforgettable views.
The Formazza Valley never fails to surprise, especially considering it is home to Toce Falls, the highest cascades in the Alps.
Two more of Verbano’s wonders are the Sacro Monte della Santissima Trinità in Ghiffa, and Sacro Monte Calvario in Domodossola, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites that perfectly blend faith, history, culture and art.
Moreover religious artworks are scattered around the territory: see the Church of San Gottardo in Carmine Sopra, the Church of San Gervasio and Protasio in Baceno, and the imposing Church of San Gaudenzio in Baveno, built on the spur of rock.
The snow-covered peaks and vast valleys of Verbano are the home of modern and well-equipped resorts where it is possible to engage in winter sports: skiing, cross country skiing, snowboarding, skating, snowshoeing, climbing, Alpine mountaineering and trekking.
In the mountains, amidst the verdant valleys and around the lakes, exciting activities are available, including mountain biking, cycling and horse riding, as well as beautiful golf courses near Lake Maggiore and Mount Rosa.
The lakes are perfect for water sports: sailing, windsurfing, kite surfing, canoeing, swimming and diving.
The rivers and streams offer great fishing,and for the more energetic, rafting.
Spas surrounded by breathtaking scenery: Terme di Crodo with mineral and oligomineral springs; and the modern and well-equipped spas of Bognanco and Premia, offering vacations focused on health and relaxation.
Many a traditional event is related to local culture, such as the Festa della Madonna della Neve e della Milizia Tradizionale di Bannio, the Carnival in Cannobio, the Milk Festival and the Feast of St. Bernard in Macugnaga, and the Vita tra le Ponti e Walser in Ornavasso.
Finally, numerous sagre are dedicated to the local produce: mushrooms, blueberries and chestnuts. The National Exhibition of Winter Camellia in Stresa is a must: it celebrates the this flower (called the “winter queen”) that colors the shores of the magnificent lake.
Local gastronomy is based on traditional products, such as black rye bread baked in a wood oven, and gnocchi all'ossolana, made with chestnut flour, potatoes and yellow pumpkin.
The lake and mountain areas offer different culinary traditions: cold cuts, cheese, mushrooms and polenta in the mountains, yellow perch, trout and pike by the lakes. The most valued are porcini mushrooms and asparagus from Oira, along with traditionally processed cured meats.
The entire valley is renowned for its cheeses, the most famous of which are the Bettelmatt from the Val Formazza, the Grasso d’Alpe and various types of tomini cheeses.
The typical desserts are simple but tasty, e.g. chestnut, nut and apple pies. The liqueurs are also of high quality: the fil da fer, the natural infusion of Artemisia Glacialis made with the wild herb of the Alps; Genepy; and many others.