Last Updated on 8th February 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
On the fringes of the villa city of Varese, you’ll find one of the most impressive collections of Modern American Artworks to be found anywhere in Northern Italy, or indeed the entirety of Europe. Villa Panza (full name: Villa Menafoglio Litta Panza) is an impressive 18th-century mansion that has since been transformed into an art gallery and museum space. Here’s a guide on how to visit Villa Panza!
Varese as a tourist destination in Lombardia
Once upon a time, the wealthiest of Lombardians would construct their mansions and villas in the hills surrounding the city of Varese. At this time, the place where Villa now stands was the small Italian settlement of Biumo Superiore. Today, the village has since been incorporated into the fabric of the suburbs of Varese itself.
By that time, Varese was already a tourist destination thanks to its many lakes, an abundance of beautiful scenery, and impossibly high mountain peaks. Wealthy noble families would visit the area and built their mansion country homes in the hills surrounding the city.
This trend began in the 17th-century. Houses were typically constructed as ‘Villas of Delight,’ whereby these U-shaped structures would furl in around a well-manicured garden. Simple exteriors would hide the absolute extravagance of the sumptuous interiors.
History of Villa Panza
In time, Villa Panza has gone by three different names; each name signifying a different period and different owner. The palatial building was constructed in the 18th-century on the site of a former Noble Villa. Commissioned by Marquis Paolo Antonio Menafoglio, the man hailed from the Lombardian city of Bergamo, not far from the area.
Following Menafoglio’s death, the property was then acquired by Duke Pompeo Litta Visconti Arese. However, its sheer size meant that maintenance and upkeep cost a phenomenal amount and so Villa Panza eventually fell into neglect before being acquired by the Panza family.
It was around this time that, a Neoclassical extension was added to the Villa Panza. Today, the region still relies heavily on tourism. Villa Panza itself is run by FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano- ‘the National Trust for Italy’), an organisation which For a full guide to the area, check out this Provincia di Varese travel guide.
Highlights of Villa Panza
The trompe l’oeil ceiling in the Empire Room
Simply put, though the Villa may be Neo-Classical in design, the ways in which the style have been implemented are ever-so-modern. For example, the trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye) in the mirror-gilded stat-room is not a 3D moulding but an extravagant painting technique.
The Villa Panza Collection
In total, the number of artworks total over 150 pieces, all by contemporary artists and mainly Americans. Giuseppe Panza was the main art enthusiast of the Panza family and he began his collection in 1956. One key feature is a stable/ outhouse area that was built with the sole purpose of displaying installations created specifically for the rooms in which they now reside.
View of Varese from the Garden Terrace
If you manage to tear your gaze away from the breathtaking Villa itself, you’ll soon discover that one of the prettiest views of Varese to be found anywhere in the region can be spied from the English-style landscape gardens that sprawl out across from the back of the villa.
How to visit Villa Panza
If you’re looking to visit Varese for yourself, then there are a few things you should know before you go. Firstly, the region couldn’t be easier to get to! Less than an hour away from the city of Milan via car, the villa is also close to the lakes of Lombardy.
Things to see and do close to Villa Panza
For those with an interest in the history, the Sacro Monte di Varese is a must-see while visiting the Lombardy Region. This ‘Sacred Mountain’ is nestled high up in the hills surrounding Varese and comprises of a ‘Holy Way’ featuring chapels depicting the Stations of Christ and crowned with an ornate sanctuary.
Chiesa di San Giorgio
Ornate, imposing, and constructed in the 16th-century (1574 to be precise), the church of Saint George is one of the main highlights of Biumo Superiore. Nearby, you’ll find several traditional houses and some incredibly pretty cobbled lanes.
Centro Congressi Ville Ponti
Just across the road from Villa Panza, the Ville Ponti is equally as impressive with its pink-painted façade and Neo-Classical architecture. Built between 1858 and 1859, the villa is now used to house the headquarters of the Varese Chamber of Commerce.