Santa Maria Maggiore is set in a superb position, surrounded by mountains and forests. This Italian village was created by Romans and then it was developed more in Medieval time. The place, 818 meters above sea level, is in the middle of nature, but around the center shows historical houses. If you want to spend a quiet holiday, discovering the art and walking between the trees this is the right destination. Before to continue I have to precise one thing.
The village counts 1,301 inhabitants, so it is quite small. Surely it is not among the main proposals for Italian tours, but it is quite popular for tourism. Travelers arrive especially from Switzerland, Germany, and France but not only. So if you want to find peace in Santa Maria Maggiore it is important to know the right periods. Generally, in wintertime, the village is quite empty, except for the Christmas market days. Summertime is full of tourists, but not all the time. There is space enough for all for visits.
Let’s go to see the reasons why you should visit it. But before let me give you some more information about its position. Since it is in my region, I can go there quite often, at least if I am not abroad.
Santa Maria Maggiore: the last pearl of Italy
This title is just to say that Santa Maria Maggiore is on the way to Locarno, Switzerland. The village is around 16 km. from the border. So it is one of the last pearls before entering the Helvetic country. The area is part of Valle Vigezzo, defined also the valley of painters because many famous artists, especially in the 19th century were born or worked there. The place is also part of the National Park Val Grande and it is recognized with the orange flag for the high quality of the environment from the touristic point of view.
The position is strategic because it is in between the Alps and Lake Maggiore, two beautiful destinations for a break or a holiday. Together with Ohrid Lake, Maggiore is my favorite. Santa Maria Maggiore is the center of the valley, so it is important, but it is full of small villages around that deserve a visit. If you like to see typical mountain houses and historical buildings, you will love the area. Then you can explore the park with its flora and fauna. You can plan to stay in the place for a week and never get annoyed.
Reasons to visit Santa Maria Maggiore
Now I am going to tell you the 4 reasons why you should visit Santa Maria Maggiore. They are coincident with the things you can see and do there. Art, history, nature, and events are very well combined to give you a perfect holiday. I had the chance to sleep there for a couple of nights, but you know, living not so far from there I can plan day trips easily. So I live the place step by step. If you are coming from far countries, you should keep into consideration a longer break. Then you can go to Lake Maggiore or Switzerland from there. And Milan is around 15o km. far.
1. The village, painters, and history
The first reason to go to Santa Maria Maggiore is the village itself. Yes, art and history are part of all the buildings in the center. In the heart of the village, there is the old town hall, now used to host art exhibitions and cultural events. That can be your first step to get in touch with the local history and the art as well. The temporary expositions can be about different themes. Anyway the most beautiful building, according to my opinion, is this one. The oldest part is the tower, built in the 17th century, while the last wing was added in the 19th century. Visiting the exhibitions you can see the amazing rooms and their decorations.
A few steps from there you can see the church of Maria Santissima Assunta. The base was don before the 10th century, but there is nothing more to see from that period. The religious building was done between the 11th and 12th centuries. Then in the 17th century, they added many parts and in the 18th century, it was completely rebuilt. It doesn’t matter if you are Catholic, I suggest you enter it. The frescoes realized by two local famous artists of the past will leave you without words. You will be delighted also with unique decorations and wooden statues.
There are also other churches in the other parts of the village, but this one is rich in history and art. It is also the biggest one. Then you can dedicate time to museums. If you want to explore the essence of the valley of painters, you can’t miss “Scuola di Belle Arti Rossetti Valentini“. In the past, the founder Giovanni Maria Rossetti Valentini wanted to have a school to teach local young people to draw and paint. Now some of the pupils’ artworks are exposed in the museum. They still organize courses, but for visitors, there is the chance to see some very nice drawings and paintings made in different periods.
Are you a scents lover? In Santa Maria Maggiore there is a place you must visit. It is a museum completed in 2018 and called “Casa del Profumo“. Two people from the millage move abroad and invented the Eau De Cologne. The museum intends to be a celebration for them and the new creation. If you are not interested in this invention, you should go inside to admire traditional clothes and as well the winter garden. It is a jewel. This is not the end. There is one more important museum. But I will mention it in the events paragraph. Because it is related to something very particular. And that is one of the reasons why I love the place.
Let me give you advice. Most of the time the local museums and art galleries are following the lunch break closure and they open in the afternoon at around 4-4.30 p.m. So keep in mind for your tour. We are not in Spain, but we like a siesta.
2. Nature and mountains
All around the village nature is dominant, mountains and forests are the second reason why you have to visit Santa Maria Maggiore. From the center and on the way to the village you can see marvelous landscapes. But it is even more interesting to go hiking, as I did in different places around the area. I like hiking in nature. If you want to do some sports activities you find many opportunities. Most of the trails can be done by cycling or riding a horse. There are people ready to rent what you need.
I saw people doing paragliding and hag-gliding. Maybe it will be an activity to do during my next visit to Santa Maria Maggiore. Surely the view is incomparable. They have also an adventure park and a golf course. It is perfect to combine relaxation, tourism, and sport. You can spend a complete holiday there. Some villages are quite close, so you can move by car or prefer a bicycle. In wintertime the are, in Piana di Vigezzo, ski trails. Ski on the Alps full of snow is an amazing experience. As you read, every season offers something very beautiful.
3. Chimney sweeps in Santa Maria Maggiore
The third reason might be personal, but I am sure you will agree with me if you will go to Santa Maria Maggiore. It is about an event and a museum related to a local tradition. Luckily I attended the initiative more times and I am always so excited… Let me explain what I am talking about. At any time of the year, you have the chance to access Villa Antonia, the town hall. It is a very nice building with a lovely park. Inside there is the Museo Dello Spazzacamino, about the chimney sweeps history. It was a typical and traditional job of Valle Vigezzo.
Exploring the interactive museum you will live a journey into the chimney sweeps. There is also the chance to hear the sounds of their work through the headphones. It is cool to know their stories. You can see also see some items that represent gifts received during the international meetings. Yes, chimney sweeps meet each other each year. Where? In Santa Maria Maggiore since the ’80s, they have a parade and some events dedicated to their professional category.
Every year, during the first weekend of September, they have three days celebrations. One of the most important moments is on Sunday morning. A parade takes all of them around the center of the village and in the end, a couple of groups do a demonstration on the roofs. One group goes on the roof of the town hall and the other one on the roof of the old town hall.
Also, some very young chimney sweeps are involved. I can’t describe the emotions. Anyway, hundreds of chimney sweep coming from all over the world meet locals and tourists giving, flags, pens, candies, and many different gadgets. The color also faces coal, so if you are not ready, be careful.
I want to tell you an episode. A few years ago I was there and there was a guy from Japan with a little kid. They couldn’t take part in the parade because during the journey the luggage with costumes was lost. Locals immediately help them tailoring new costumes for them. They were helped and proud to appear in the street together with all chimney sweeps. This real story gives you the idea of the atmosphere and how welcoming is the people of Santa Maria Maggiore and Valle Vigezzo.
4. Activities and events
How to reach Santa Maria Maggiore
If you want to go to Santa Maria Maggiore you have two options: the car, you can rent one, or the train. You can go there through the highway from Turin and Milan, also from Locarno, it is easy and fast to get there. If you prefer the train from Milan or Turin you go to Novara and then to Domodossola. From there use the Ferrovia Vigezzina-Centovalli for the last part of the trip. To get more hints about Santa Maria Maggiore and the connections I suggest you visit the official website.
Organizing the trip
Santa Maria Maggiore is closed to Milan and Turin airports, so you can book a flight using the platforms with the best deals: Infobus and Kiwi. You can compare rates and combine connections, including the ones with buses and trains. I suggest a simple guide to learning all the travel agents’ secrets to obtain the best rates. Click here to discover the hints from an expert.
I can’t suggest any accommodation because I slept in a private house, a guest of some friends of mine. Around the place, there are hotels, Bed & Breakfast, and holiday houses. Local restaurants then will give you a great journey into the local food traditions.
Now I can only wish you to enjoy your holiday in Santa Maria Maggiore. To get more tips, visit the section of my blog and subscribe to my newsletter to be updated. I will also be happy to answer your comments or email. If you have questions or you want some specific hints from my experience, don’t be shy.