Although I have wanted to go to Italy for over a decade, this is my first trip! Spoiler alert…it was all I imagined it to be!
You may be thinking Rome, Venice or Florence, but my Italy experience involved Lake Como, Mosso Santa Maria, Biella and Milan. I am so glad I started in this part of Italy. It wasn’t crowded, and it really felt like a true Italy experience rather than a touristy version.
I selected this part of Italy because I was going to see the Casa Regis (click here to see my previous post on Casa Regis), which is an art and cultural center which will serve as an artist’s retreat. It is located near Mosso Santa Maria in the Piedmont region of Italy.
Not knowing anything about Italy, before I left I had wondered if I should have included some of the more known Italian tourist sites on the agenda. Once I got to Italy I discovered that I really had not missed anything. Every street offers beauty, antiquity, ornate architecture, and/or a unique scene.
Mossa Santa Maria, with a population of almost 1,500, is quaint and beautiful. One would think that such a small town might be run down or abandoned. Quite the contrary. The center of town offers a lovely small church, that once inside, is as finely detailed and as well-preserved as its well-known, larger contemporaries. The local eatery (known as a bar) served a wonderful, fresh lunch which was also a great value.
Mossa Santa Maria and this part of Italy used to boast a large gathering of the finest wool manufacturers in the world. Over time, and a change of process, many of the factories have closed. But the beauty of the area still remains. There are large, historic homes (or maybe estates would be a more fitting descriptor) that overlook the small town. It was probably the influence of the wool money that lead to such lovely, ornate buildings being constructed in this town, but whatever the reason, the locals have held on to and preserved the structures.
The church in the middle of town was nice on the outside, but the inside was amazing. I have fallen in love with ornately painted ceilings. This church offered a beautiful ceiling.
Something else that I found interesting was that many towns, neighborhoods, and homes had continual free flowing spigots of mountain water. In Mosso Santa Maria, the water ran straight from the mountains, so it was cold and delicious. In the middle of Milan, the fountain water was not as cold, but still refreshing. While staying in Mosso Santa Maria, at night we would go to the closest fountain and fill our water bottles for the next day’s use at the house.
Biella is the closest large town to Mosso Santa Maria. With a population of approximately 44,000 is a beautiful town at the foothill of the Alps. It has a funicular to take you up to the medieval area with cobblestone streets and a large square. While in Biella we went to a contemporary art show, toured an historic home, walked through the park, toured old town, sat at a bar and watched the crowd, enjoyed a gelato or two, and went grocery shopping at a supermarket.
Sights we would recommend in Biella:
Pallazo de Marmora – Once you are in the upper part of Biella, there is a lovely private home/museum that you may wish to tour. The back gardens offer a wonderful view of Biella.
Santuario di Oropa – Is a large, beautiful santicuary that is worthy of a day’s visit. We only had a few hours, so we did not get to see and do all we had hoped. We did see the black Madonna and have lunch, but the twelve chapels (which represent the life of Mary), and the Upper Basilica had to be saved for later. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it attracts many visitors.
The Medieval Plaza in the Upper Part of Biella – The plaza (Piazza Cisterna) is framed by restaurants and a church. You will want to stop for a bite, just to enjoy the people watching. While enjoying dinner there one evening, our host mentioned that we might be the only tourists on the square. It is an Italian speaking, locals hangout for sure.
While at Piazza Cisterna, we had the best dinner at Due Cuori, which translates to “two hearts.” The zucchini flowers in tempura, gnocchi, and desserts were all divine.
Palazzo Gromo Losa – Although we did not tour this palace and its gardens, we did drop by. We waited too late in the day to go, and it was too hot to make it enjoyable. Sadly, I am addicted to air conditioning.
Via Italia – Walk this street for cute shops, cobblestone streets, and stop for a coffee or gelato (or both!). We had coffee at Caffe Magnino and did a bit of people watching. A few days later we stopped next door at Il Duca Bianco for gelato.
I think one of the most interesting aspects of travel is to do the everyday things like the locals do. We needed to go to the restroom, so we asked the person at the tourist kiosk in Giardino Pubblico Zumaglini (we also had gelato while at the park) where to find one. She directed us to a building across the street which housed several stores. While there, we stopped at Esselunga (a large supermarket) to look for some sinus medicine. Apparently grocery stores don’t carry many medicines. They did have a small display of homeopathic items.
While at the store we enjoyed seeing the different types of foods, brands, displays and offerings. The deli area was amazing. They have baskets that you pull behind you, which were practical. Later during our stay we went back to this grocery store to buy food for dinner.
There was plenty more to see and do in Biella and Mosso Santa Maria, but we were only there for four days. I always believe you have to leave some sights for the next visit.