According to tradition, the hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso Ballaro was founded by Alberto Besozzi, a local merchant, who, after escaping a violent storm while crossing the lake, decided to spend his life as a hermit there. At the back of the church the chapel dedicated to Santa Caterina d'Egitto, built in the 12th century, is still visible. It was soon joined by those of San Nicola and Santa Maria Nova, whose existence is certain from the 14th century. Over the centuries, the Hermitage first came under the rule of the Domenicans and then was run by the Carmelites until 1770. A miracle occurred in 1700 when five large boulders fell on the church, although they became entangled in the vault of a chapel, they did not cause any considerable damage and remained suspended for about two centuries until 1910. These "wobbling" boulders are said to have given the name to the hermitage, which is actually more likely to derive from the village of Ballarate. Since 1970 the Hermitage has been owned by the Province of Varese, and from 1986 to 1996 it was run by a Domenican community, today it is run by the Benedictine Oblates.
Perched on a cliff overlooking the lake, the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso offers a truly impressive view. To reach the church, one has to cross a four-arched Renaissance-style portico. The present structure is the result of the union of three originally separate chapels built at different times. Inside and outside, there are numerous frescoes covering a period from the 14th to the 19th century. The beauty of art and history blend with one of the most enchanting natural landscapes, providing a splendid balcony overlooking the Borromeo Gulf, Stresa and the islands.