Highlights of this trip

  • To discover one of the most fascinating places on Lake Maggiore
  • To learn about the legend about the construction of the hermitage
  • To experience one of the most intimate places for those with faith
  • To admire the splendid paintings of the church
  • To take beautiful and panoramic photographs on the lake
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Best things to do in Leggiuno

Born from a legend and built on a spur of rock, the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso on Lake Maggiore is the hermitage of "shaky stones"
Santa Caterina del Sasso, a sail on Lake Maggiore Santa Caterina del Sasso, a sail on Lake Maggiore

Overhanging the Lombard shore of Lake Maggiore, the hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso, in the municipality of Leggiuno, in the province of Varese, has a history full of legends and today shrouded in mystery.

We are in one of those places that legend has it, arise, as if by magic after a vow or a promise made to some saint, but also in one of the most evocative places in Verbano. In fact, from the hermitage you can admire the Piedmontese coast of the lake, Mount Mottarone and the Monte Rosa massif.

Travel tips

Whether for tourism or faith, a trip to the hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso is recommended. The five Euros for the entrance ticket are well spent because not only can you admire a beautifully kept place, but also because the place preserves a fresco dedicated to the "Danza Macabra" which is testimony to the religious fervor of the past and the late medieval period in which the dance between men and skeletons was often represented. But that's not the only reason to visit. With the audio guides (distributed for a fee) you can learn about the history and legend of the hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso. This is also a favorite place for photographers for the views and the exceptional beauty of the place. Even a simple snapshot with your smartphone can become a magical photo here.

Santa Caterina del Sasso, the entrance portico Santa Caterina del Sasso, the entrance portico


Tradition has it that the Hermitage was founded by a certain Alberto Besozzi, who had a chapel dedicated to Saint Catherine of Egypt built here (which can be seen at the back of the church), we are in the 12th century. Two other churches were later built in the same place: one dedicated to San Nicola and the other to Santa Maria Nova, the latter dating from the 14th century. The hermitage was inhabited by the Dominicans until the mid-1600s, then they were replaced by the Carmelites until 1770. It passed ownership in 1970 (to the Province of Varese) and was ruled by the Benedictine oblates until 2018. It is currently managed by the Franciscan Fraternity of Bethany.

The shaky stones

At the beginning of the 1700s, five huge boulders fell on the church, getting entangled in the vault of a chapel, fortunately without causing serious damage. Today at the back of the church you can see a chapel with a broken dome. Will this be it? The boulders remained suspended until 1910. A sign of destiny? These "wobbly" stones seem to give the name to this hermitage, in fact in full it is called: Santa Caterina del Sasso Ballaro. The etymology of the name, however, could also be linked to a town that rises not far away, namely Ballarate.

The Hermitage

The Hermitage was built in an area overlooking the lake, today it can be reached in two ways: arriving with the boat rides of the Navigazione Lago Maggiore and climbing a staircase of 80 steps, or descending a staircase of 268 steps that starts from the parking lot. by Leggiuno.

The church

Santa Caterina del Sasso, the main church Santa Caterina del Sasso, the main church

Descending the steps, the church is reached after passing a Renaissance portico formed by four round arches and which looks like a balcony extending towards Stresa and the Borromean islands. At the entrance to the hermitage is the southern convent, built between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, which has several frescoes in the fireplace room. Below is the 13th century Conventino, where an 18th century Danza Macabra was decorated and finally the actual Church which houses the chapel of Santa Caterina.

The wall of the porch was frescoed in 500. Saints Lucia, Maddalena and Caterina can be seen, as well as Pietro da Verona and Nicola da Bari.

The Frescoes

Santa Caterina del Sasso, fresco in the fireplace room Santa Caterina del Sasso, fresco in the fireplace room

Among the frescoes inside the Church: a blessing Christ in almond, flanked by the four symbols of the Evangelists (John, Matthew, Luke and Mark) and which dominates the altar of the church from above, while the two sails on the sides are occupied by the Doctors of the Church enthroned. Recent restorations have also brought to light a cycle of frescoes dating back to the 1300s, including a fragment of a Crucifixion.

In the Baroque-style presbytery, a "Mystical Marriage" of St. Catherine stands out, and on the sides of the altar the figures of the blessed Giuliana da Busto Arsizio and Caterina da Pallanza. In the chapter house there is a Deposition dated, presumably around 1300.

The Sacello

Santa Caterina del Sasso, the Sacello Santa Caterina del Sasso, the Sacello

The Sacello represents the first nucleus of the Sanctuary. The building dates back to 1195 and is located on the lowest level of the church. It has the same dimensions as the tomb of Saint Catherine on Sinai. The body of the Saint transported to Mount Sinai is frescoed on the outer wall above the window, while on the facade there is the wedding of the Saint, between Saint Ambrose, Saint Gregory the Great and Saint Augustine from the 16th century. The relics of Blessed Alberto Besozzi are kept inside the Sacello.

The bell tower

Built around the 1300s, the bell tower is 15 meters high, and has a rectangular base. Originally it was part of the Church of San Nicola, but in the 16th century it was incorporated into the current building. The peculiarity of this tower is the use of various materials for its construction.

The legend of the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso

To discover the legend of the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso, we must go back to the Middle Ages, when the lake was above all an important communication route. The boats that plowed the waters carried goods, travelers and pilgrims. It is during this period that the legend of Alberto dei Besozzi was born, a rich and avid merchant who, married to an equally rich girl, led a blissful life. One day, returning from the "Vergante" market, a sudden and strong storm surprised his boat by overturning it. The man saved himself by clinging with all his strength to a piece of wood, perhaps a branch and, frightened by having seen death in the face, invoked in those interminable moments, Saint Catherine of Alexandria of Egypt, making a vow of prayer and a lifestyle change if he survived. Alberto was saved by running aground under the Sasso Bàllaro or Rupe Bàllara and to keep his promise he retired to live in a natural cave, eating what little nature offered. Many years later, a strong storm hit the shores of the lake and the inhabitants of the area asked the hermit for prayers. In exchange he obtained the construction of a small chapel that he will dedicate to Santa Caterina.

Since then this place has been a destination for pilgrimages. The curious fact of this whole story is that no news of Albert's beatification has ever been reached, to the point that even his existence is doubted.

Santa Caterina del Sasso, the interior of the church Santa Caterina del Sasso, the interior of the church

As I arrive at the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso

The Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso can be reached by land from the A26 Genova-Gravellona Toce motorway, Vergiate exit, then following the SS 629 to Travedona-MOnate, then Sp 32 to Bozza di Bogno, then Sp 69 to the car park of the Hermitage. From here, a staircase leads to the entrance.

Or by lake with the Navigazione Lago Maggirore boat or with private boats. The berth is in the small harbor, then you go up a flight of about eighty steps.

Where to stay in Leggiuno?

To visit the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso you can stay in one of the many hotels located on Lake Maggiore

Recommended tours in Leggiuno

I have not booked any tours, but you pay a 5 euro ticket to visit the hermitage. For entry, you currently need to show the Green pass

Photography tips

Where to photograph?

As can be seen from the photos, every angle here is good for getting interesting shots. To photograph the lake I recommend the arches after the entrance. The panorama stretches from the lake to the town of Stresa, to Mount Mottarone and to the Monte Rosa massif

My Camera

Panasonic Z1000

Is any special equipment needed?

Excellent freehand photographs are also obtained, however a zoom or wide angle is recommended

Sightseeing tips

Which sights to visit?

The places I visited I described in the article

Is there a fee to pay to visit some sights?

The entrance to the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso costs 5 euros. Currently, only those who are vaccinated against Covid can access

When to visit?

Excluding Saturdays and Sundays, every other day is good to visit the hermitage

3. Travel Insurance

Why WorldNomads has impressed us so much?

  1. Backed by specialized insurance providers and global assistance partners
  2. You can always buy the insurance online, even if you are already traveling
  3. You can adjust your insurance coverage during the trip and claim online
  4. They cover a range of adventure sports and activities
  5. Very high availability worldwide

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