Painted Villages: Boarezzo

We are back in Lombardy to the Province of Varese. This time –if you are in- we are going to visit one of the art villages of the province. You cannot really tell how many of them are there in the region. This is also one of the peculiarities of Italy what makes it a land of discoveries, that you cannot really be sure what else are you going to find on your way to one destination. According to some sources there are only three painted villages: Arcumeggia, Boarezzo and Duno meanwhile others mention also Marchirolo, Olona, Peveranza and San Fermo.

If it was the beginning of the last century, I would suggest that after taking the train from Milan to Varese, hop on the „tramvetto bianco” (the little white tram) and make that beautiful journey through the mountains to the Ganna Valley. Unfortunately the last trip the tramvetto made was back in February 1955 and after that there was a bus introduced which replaced the romantic train journey. Well, if you ask me, in today’s Italy taking a car is much more convenient. We did that too. After leaving the main road you have to take a narrow rout up the hill, all the way to Boarezzo. There must be an option of walking up there! We are talking about 3kms from the main road but I haven’t seen a car park accept for the Village of Ganna.

Tramvetto bianco (source:

The name of the hamlet, according to a popular belief relates to the activity of transporting wood char -which was produced in the surrounding forests- to Milan with oxen and to Arezzo from where the first family (the Chini) to inhabit the village comes. The expression “the oxen (buoi) of those people from Arezzo” was transformed with time to Bo-arezzo.

The village is situated on the slopes of Mount Piambello and you will find a splendid view to the Lombardy Alps once you walk by the church of San Giovanni Batista and head up the road to try the famous Panigacci (a type of thin bread prepared in front of you in the restaurant which you can eat either salty or sweet). Let’s not eat just yet but go back to the entrance of the village. You will find a post saying “Grandi e Tabacchi”. The sign refers to Giuseppe Grandi e Odoardo Tabacchi, both of them famous Italian sculptors of the 19th century. The hamlet was dedicated to them by Mario Alioli (a painter from Varese) who decided in the beginning of the’80s to reanimate the forgotten village.

That’s where they heat up the clay pots. They put the dough in between the pots which are so hot that the dough is baked without ever having been put in the fire.


The church dedicated to San Giovanni Battista

Between 1800 and 1900 Boarezzo attracted tourists from Milan, Como and Varese. The prestigious Piambello Hotel and Restaurant built in Liberty Style gave home to the visitors who came in big numbers. The change happened gradually but from the 1970s (or even earlier) on the place was abandoned and not just the Hotel but the whole village became empty, the population slowly abandoned the city until Alioli came with the idea to create an art village.

The project started with inviting contemporary Italian artists and goes on since then. Also school children leave there art on the walls. In 1988 the Association of Friends of Boarezzo was established which organizes events and makes sure that the city goes on living.

Wall painted by school children


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