Day Trips from Milan
Villa Panza, Varese
Villa Menafoglio Litta Panza, Varese
The Villa Panza
Villa Menafoglio Litta Panza was built in the mid 18th century by the Marquis Menafoglio, and then enlarged by the architect Luigi Canonica in 1830 on the orders of the new owner, Duke Litta Visconti Arese. The villa later passed into the hands of the Panza family, hence its threefold full name. Count Giuseppe Panza donated the villa to the FAI (Fondo per l'Ambiente Italiano - the Italian equivalent to the National Trust) in 1996, together with part of his vast collection of contemporary American artworks. After extensive restoration it was opened to the public in 2002.
As well as the contemporary artworks, the villa also contains some period furniture and furnishings, early African and Central-American (pre-Columbian) artefacts, plus other items of interest. The Baroque Imperial Salon is particularly fine.
The villa is surrounded by beautifully-tended gardens giving excellent glimpses and vistas of the rooftops of the city of Varese. The long hedge tunnel in the gardens is particularly noteworthy, as is the collection of fuchsias.
Audioguides (included in the admission charge) are provided in Italian and very good English and give a detailed guided description of the villa and the artworks in the villa.
The stable block houses temporary exhibitions on the lower floor and a permanent exhibition of light installations on the upper floor. Some of the unique light installations are on permanent loan from the Solomon Guggenheim museum in New York. Guided visits only are provided for the light installations and will be arranged on arrival.
Villa Panza is open every day except weekday Mondays from 10:00 to 18:00; Admission is Euro 8 for adults, Euro 3 for children, Euro 2 for the park only. Facilities include parking, refreshments and a bookshop.
Varese is easily reached either by FS (State Railways) trains or FN (Ferrovie Nord) trains. Most FS trains leave from Passante (underground) stations and take an hour and a quarter (leaving at 37 min. past the hour from Porta Venezia, 40 min. past each hour from Repubblica and at 43 min. past each hour from Garibaldi, for example). Some faster trains leave from the main Garibaldi station (upstairs) at around 37 min. past most hours. FN trains leave from Cadorna station at 33 min. past each hour and take just over an hour. There are additional services, especially at rush hours, on both lines.
Return trains to Milan leave at 35 min. past the hour from the FS station (with some faster trains to the main Garibaldi station leaving at 6 min. past the hour), and at 18 min. past the hour from the FN station. Be sure to check train times before departure.
The Varese FS and FN stations are more or less next door to each other and the main local bus station is on the FS station forecourt. Take the local bus "A" to Biumo (Superiore) to get to Villa Panza. Buses leave at least every half hour; buy your local bus tickets from the newsagent and stamp them once on board the bus. The bus can also be picked up from the city centre, for example in Via Vittorio Veneto and Via Veratti.
By car, after reaching Varese on the A8 (Milan-Varese) motorway (Varese centro exit), the Villa Panza is well signposted from the city centre. Parking is available at the villa, or nearby on busy Sundays.
The Contemporary Art Displays
The Baroque elaborateness of many parts of the villa provide a stark contrast to the large monochrome canvases by contemporary American artists such as Fredenthal, Sims and Cole that are hung in many of the rooms and galleries. Some modern sculptures by the Italian artist Spalletti are also on display in some of the smaller rooms. The audioguide explains - as best possible - the "raison d'etre" behind the works. Because of the painting technique used, some of the canvases change colour depending on the position of the viewer.
While the paintings may not be to everyone's taste, the light installations are generally a fascinating experience for young and old alike. Dan Flavin's groundbreaking 1960s neon light sculptures are technically interesting and enticingly different. The flat red neon cross dedicated to his brother who was killed in Vietnam is a particularly moving piece. Some of the plays between natural light and artificial light by Turrell are stimulating, while Irwin's inside-outside pictures and trickery are intriguing. Even the lighting of the long gallery is unique.
Installation by Dan Flavin
More to See in Varese
Varese has much more to offer to complete a day trip. The park of the Villa Ponti next door to Villa Panza is open to the public, and the park behind Palazzo Estense (the city council offices) makes for a very pleasant stroll.
The internal facade of Palazzo Estense is delightful, and a short walk through the park takes you to Villa Mirabello where the city's museums are located.
A walk through the city affords some elegant shopping, especially under the central porticos. In this pedestrianised area of the city centre, the Baroque basilica of San Vittore should also be seen along with its old baptistery.
A little further out of the city (take bus "C"), the Sacro Monte walk and chapels with Art Nouveau villas dotted here and there - plus some wonderful views - make for a interesting couple of hours.
Tourist Information Office - Via Carrobbio, 1 (Piazza Monte Grappa) , Varese - tel 0332 283604
Varese website: www.apt.varese.it
Villa Menafoglio Litta Panza - Biumo Superiore, Varese (VA) - tel 0332 283960
FAI Fondo per l'Ambiente Italiano (Italian National Trust) - Via Coni Zugna 5, Milano (MI) - 02 4676151 - website: www.fondoambiente.it
Ferrovie dello Stato (State Railways) - tel 848 888088 - website: www.trenitalia.it
Ferrovie Nord Milano - Piazzale Cadorna 14, Milano (MI) - tel 02 20222 - website: www.ferrovienord.it
Food and Drink
Villa Panza has a cafeteria which provides drinks and snacks. Light lunches and sandwiches are available and can be eaten outside in warmer weather.
Varese has a good number of bars in the pedestrianised central area offering drinks, sandwiches and snacks, many with outdoor seating. There are some upmarket restaurants in the little streets to the east of the basilica of San Vittore, such as:
Ristorante Teatro - Via C. Croce 3 (corner of Via Albuzzi) - Varese
Ristorante La Tartana - Vicolo Scuole 3 - Varese ... as well as
Ristorante da Vittorio - Piazza Beccaria, 1 - Varese
© Nigel J. Ross, 2004 (no liability accepted)