Varese / Sacro Monte
"Varese is a financial/design center"
about 45 minutes north of Milan where we spent two days transitioning into northern Italy before hitting the lake district. Our hotel, within the city, was a restored villa with landscaped grounds that is now a 4-star boutique hotel, equipped with multiple high-tech gadgets -- the room key was a computer chip card that also ran the room electric system and dispensed wine from an 8-bottle vending machine. The minibar and regular terrace bar offered soft drinks, water, and coffees all day long at no charge. Glass hallway floors exposed the Roman stone foundations from the original structure. Hallway lights were lit by blue, pink and purple neon bulbs, and the colors changed every few minutes. The whole show was activated by motion detectors. The hotel is on the prestigious “Eco Hotel” list, so solar panels supplied much of the power. We didn’t eat there because reservations were full, but the restaurant has been Michelin rated the past two years.
Varese became Europe's first municipality to get 100% of its power from a mix of wind, solar and small-scale hydropower. There are 108 local organic farms which supply 98 percent of the town’s food; water is purified using environmentally friendly technology.
The tourist highlight of Varese is a day hike following the 14 monuments of the Sacro Monte del Rosario. This hillside path leads upward for 2 hours with stops at each monument dedicated to the Madonna's life events. Each monument could be small church in its own right. At the top of Sacro Monte is the car-free UNESCO-protected village of Santa Maria del Monte. After refreshments and a church visit, we walked back downhill to Varese, where Ed received a full body massage to soothe aching muscles at the Chinese Center Xiang Gan Lila.
That evening, we explored the city's Zona Pedonale, where many stylish folks drank and people-watched into the night. On our last night at the Villa, there was a outdoor jazz concert under the palm trees on the massive grounds lined with hundreds of sunflowers. Of course it was past our bedtime. Starting in Varese and thereafter, we saw Tour de France-type bike riders regularly on the streets and mountain roadways. Cars show them respect and safety.