Tips and Facts for Eremo Santa Caterina del Sasso at Lago Maggiore

Tips and Facts for Eremo Santa Caterina del Sasso at Lago Maggiore

Italy
Italy

When Is the Best Time

The hermitage is perched on the cliffs in the southeast of Lago Maggiore in Italy. Lake Maggiore is the second biggest lake in Italy, with a size of 216 sqm, and it is one of the “Upper Lakes” in the north of Italy.

The famous view of Santa Caterina with Lago Maggiore and the mountains in the back
 A steel structure secures the cliff to protect Santa Caterina.

Already the history of Santa Caterina del Sasso is fascinating and begins in 1170 when Albertus Besozzi survived a violent storm at sea. He then fulfils the vow he made to St. Caterina of Alexandria. From then onwards, he lived as a hermit in a grotto. 

A painting with Jesus and fishermen
One of the many impressive paintings and frescoes in Santa Caterina

I will give you an overview of the entire monastery, exciting facts about the history of these unique chapels, how to get there by car and ferry, where to get the best views, and the best daytime for fantastic shots of Santa Caterina del Sasso.

How to Get to Santa Caterina del Sasso

The famous motif from another perspective
The most photographed motif of Eremo Santa Caterina del Sasso.

There are two ways to access St. Caterina del Sasso. We have done both, and approaching Santa Caterina by boat is simply breathtaking. How you access this unique hermitage and monastery also depends on where you stay. We had booked a campground and a hotel on the eastern side of Lago Maggiore; therefore more convenient to get there by car. 

By Boat

The view to Santa Caterina del Sasso from the ferry
We approached St. Caterina by boat in the afternoon.

Either you stay on the western side and take a boat to these three chapels, or you park your car close to Santa Caterina and combine your visit with a boat trip to the eastern side to beautiful Stresa, which we did. 

The ferry boat and guests waiting for access
The jetty and the ferry are to the left, and the ticket counter to the right.

The ferry departs from Stresa and Arona several times daily from April 10th to October 2nd. Stresa is located on the opposite side of Santa Catarina del Sasso, and the ferry ride takes 15 minutes, offering fantastic views. Arona is located far more in the south of Lago Maggiore. Timetable – 9 ferry rides from Santa Catarina to Stresa and back

Ferry return ticket: 6,80€

By Car - Parking at St. Caterina

The parking lot at Santa Caterina
The huge parking at Eremo Santa Caterina.

There is a vast parking lot within walking distance of Santa Caterina del Sasso and one even closer for people with disabilities. Google Maps Location Parking

Access With Disabilities

The nearby parking for people with disabilities
Forward to the left is the closest parking.

There is closer parking, and the street to the ticket centre is paved. At the ticket centre is an elevator available - one Euro fee.

Elevator and tunnel to get to the monastery
The entrance and exit for the elevator at St. Caterina

The elevator leads through the rock to a tunnel. However, the path to the entrance of Santa Caterina leads on uneven cobbled stones for roughly 150 m. No elevator from the ferry boat to the chapels, but it's only a short ascent.

Best View of Santa Caterina del Sasso

View to Santa Caterina from the back of the ferry to Stresa
Santa Caterina is most impressive from the boat.

You get the best view of this stunning monastery and hermitage from the lake. Check out my ferry details above and try to approach this unique place by boat or book a private tour by GetYourGuide at no extra cost with the free cancellation option up to 24 hours in advance.

Best Daytime

The first portico at the monastery
Postcard-perfect pictures can be taken here.

Regarding the crowds, I recommend a visit in the morning. However, it is rarely super busy, but if you like to experience tranquillity and this spiritual atmosphere, come early. If you wish to take incredible shots with the perfect sunlight, the best daytime is the early afternoon. Although Lake Maggiore is a popular location, the monastery is not overrun though weekends are busier. 

Best Time

People swimming in Lago Maggiore in September
A great spot for swimming and famous for diving close by Google Maps

The best time to visit Lago Maggiore is from May to late September, from late spring to the beginning of fall. The water temperature is around 25°C in August and about 22°C at the end of September, which is still lovely for swimming.

Opening Hours Santa Caterina del Sasso

The electronic entrance gate where the ticket is scanned
The entrance and exit at the staircase to the chapels.

Check wisely when Santa Caterina opens. Extended opening hours in the peak season and only for 4.5 hours during the low season.

  • Open daily from 9.30 am–7.30 pm from 16. March to 14. October and 16. December to January 6th (Epiphany)
  • Weekends and Bank Holidays throughout the year
  • Monday-Friday from 1.30 pm – 6 pm in the low season from 7. January to 15. March and 15. October to 15. December
  • Access to the chapel is prohibited during service: daily 5.30 pm Holy Rosary and 6 pm Holy Mass.

Entrance Fee Santa Caterina del Sasso

The ticket centre for Santa Caterina
The ticket centre

The entrance fee is 5€ per adult – 1€ for the elevator use. Please bring cash; no credit cards are accepted. Most websites mention free entrance and donations requested, but this is incorrect. This fee has existed for more than three years already, and IMO worth paying.

A cafe and facilities are available next to the ticket shop and a picnic area with a shelter down the staircase.

Are Dogs Allowed

View out from the second portico back to the rest of the monastery
Although not permitted, we saw this cute dog on the lash.

If dogs are allowed is difficult to answer; dogs are not permitted officially, but we saw a visitor with a little dog in the yard.

 

 

Tours via GetYourGuide with 24 hours in advance cancellation policy. Thx for booking via my website! With your support, I am able to provide all information first-hand. Tour prices are at no extra cost!

Weather and Crowds Lago Maggiore

View from the last the third church back to the chapels
The charming first two chapels.

Lago Maggiore experiences a mild microclimate; it is much colder at higher elevations in the mountains around the lake. Lake Maggiore is great for swimming from May until September.

Spring (March-May)

A boat with tourists and mountains in the back
Due to the mild climate, there is lush vegetation throughout the year.

Lovely temps during the day, up to 20°C/68°F in the sun. Increasing rain in May and June but usually in the afternoon or evening. Nights are almost freezing in March and still cold in April and May, below 10°C/58°F. It gets more crowded from April onwards, especially during the Easter holidays. The villages and towns around Lago Maggiore are bustling.

Summer (June-August)

A reddish-orange sunset at Lago Maggiore
The spectacular sunsets from the hotel Relais Villa Porta on the eastern side.

The summer is warm, often scorching, with temps almost hitting 30°C/86°F. Nights are pleasant, around 15°C/59°F, and it’s also the wettest time of the year. Heavy thunderstorms occur in the afternoon or evening. Usually, the mornings are clear, and it gets damp during the day due to the humidity of the lake and the clouds built up. Lago Maggiore and all sights around are crazy busy in July and August, the Italian summer holidays. Hotel and rental holiday prices are sky-high; however, Lake Maggiore is a terrific place to spend the summer. The lake has an average temperature of around 25°C/77°F, which is excellent for swimming.

Autumn (September-November)

The best view to the monastery from the ferry
You get the best view of this remotely located monastery from the lake.

September is a lovely time at Lago Maggiore, and it is still great for swimming with a lake temp of around 22°C/72°F. Crowds thin out a little. September feels more like summer, and the stunning fall foliage starts in October. November is already cold, and temperatures can drop below 10°C. Fresh porcinis can be found in mountainous areas while hiking or buy fresh mushrooms on the market.

Winter (December-February)

Colourful frescoes at the ceiling in St. Caterina
The ceiling of the chapel of St. Caterina in the last; the biggest church.

Usually, days are mild, with temperatures ranging around 10°C/50°F and freezing temperatures at night. Most campgrounds are closed. Snow occurs in higher elevations and at least once a year on the north shore of the lake. If visiting Lake Maggiore in the winter, you either need winter tires or snow chains for driving in higher elevations or if coming from Switzerland. As soon as the sun is shining, it’s pleasant. The morning is crisp, and the days are clear without haze during the day. Less precipitation during this time of the year. It is the quietest time of the year, and some shops and restaurants are closed until January 6th. Though before Christmas, it is a little busy. Winter is our preferred time at the Upper Lakes with snow-capped mountains.

Accommodation Tips

Relais Villa Porta

The palm garden of the hotel Villa Porta
It is a vast private property excellent located at Lake Maggiore

This hotel is top-notch, the location at Lago Maggiore with breathtaking sunsets, the beautiful garden and seating, their amazing breakfast, lunch, and dinner and on top, the fantastic and attentive staff.

The view out of the restaurant to the lake at sunset.
The Italian cuisine is top-notch in the Tiffany restaurant belonging to the hotel.

Honestly, I could have easily spent an entire week here. Thanks for having us on my birthday!

Camping

Our campervan at Lago Maggiore
We had a fantastic time at this campground.

Are you looking for a wonderful budget location? I highly recommend the LAGOCAMP north of Luino on the cheaper Italian side. This was one of our best campgrounds in Europe so far. The receptionist walked an extra mile for each customer, the facilities were always clean, and most of their guests were super nice. In walking distance is a restaurant, a great ice café (Google Maps Location) and an excellent Pizzeria La Concordia Google Maps Location.

Best Months to Visit

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec

Related Topics

Location and Tips

Lago Maggiore, Luino
Italy
Italy

Santa Caterina del Sasso is a treasure and a Must-Visit place 16 m above Lago Maggiore. I am always overwhelmed by the beauty of this place.

Frescoes from the 14th and 16th century in the church of Saint Nicholas
The preserved remains from the vault of the old chapel of St. Nicholas from the 14th century.

Plan at least two hours for your visit to soak in the spiritual atmosphere and learn more about the history which is provided on information boards. 

A Tour Through Santa Caterina del Sasso

The cobbled staircase leads down to the monastery.
It takes roughly 10 minutes from the parking down to Santa Caterina del Sasso.

More than 200 steps lead from the entrance to the monastery or, to be precise, three chapels.

The Southern Part of the Monastery

The chapter house the first room on the tour through St. Caterina
Unfortunately, this room was extended, and the frescoes were badly damaged.

First, you walk through the arcade to access the first room of importance, the chapter house. In the 17th century, the entrance building was extended by an additional floor.

The two remaining frescoes with knights in their armors
Left fragments of the great crucifixion from the 13th century in the chapter house.

Regrettably, this construction destroyed large parts of the medieval frescoes. Parts of two large frescoes remained and were uncovered during the entire reconstruction. 

The huge wooden olive and wine press in the yard.
The stamper looking like a screw, is 3,53 m high.

The next stop is the impressive inner court, where a huge wine and olive press from 1759 is exhibited, restored in 1988. The view here is simply jaw-dropping; everybody takes pictures of the main church and the 16 m lower Lago Maggiore. 

The Old Chapel - Convent

The old portico with spectacular views to Lago Maggiore
The old winch and the stunning view to the lake.

From here, you get to the portico. To the left is the old winch with which water was drawn from the well. Opposite, in the upper right corner, is an exciting part, and it is usually overseen; murals of the Dance of Death, 10 of 15 scenes, are still preserved.

Murals of the Dance of Death - a courtier with a mistress and a skeleton
Opposite of the old winch are these murals

This type of representation dates back to medieval times and is a reminder of the world’s vanity. A merchant as a symbol of greed, a courtier with a mistress as a symbol of fornication and a few more.

The second court and portico to the main church
There are also beautiful frescoes outside of the main church.

Now you reach the next court and a grotto before you enter the main church. Excellent frescos from the middle of the 16th century can be seen protected under the second portico.

The Main Church

View through the church to
The main altar and nave seen from the back of the church.

These are five tiny chapels in one church. In former times the entrance was on the opposite side of the church. Today you first get to the Chapel of St. Nicholas, with magnificent frescoes on the walls and ceilings and the altarpiece from the beginning of the 17th century.

Beautiful and colourful fresco at the ceiling from 1610
The fresco by Giovanni Battista in High Resolution

I find the baroque vault with its fresco by Giovanni Battista from 1610 the most beautiful of all. One step forward, and you already access the next former chapel, St. Caterina, with benches for the prayers.

The back part of the church and the replica of the skeleton
The back part of the church is very convoluted - Fresco 16th century in the memorial chapel of St. Caterina where angels carry the body of the saint to Mount Sinai.

The next smaller one is the Chapel of St. Maria Nova, together with the tiny chapel of the blessed Alberto, the founder of the hermitage. Exhibited is a wooden copy of its skeleton from the 17th century.

The tiny chapel of the Blessed Alberto
The wooden replica of the Blessed Alberto Besozzi of Arolo died Sep. 3rd, 1205

This chapel has also been named the Chapel of the Rocks or Capella Dei Sassi due to a rockslide in former times. The last one is a tiny Chapel of Remembrance, which is not accessible.

19 History Facts of St. Caterina del Sasso

A huge part of the frescoes on the ceiling in the church.
Take your time and you will figure out many details.
  1. Around 1170 Albertus Besozzi, a wealthy cloth merchant survived a violent storm at sea. He then fulfilled the vow he made to St. Caterina of Alexandria. From then onwards, he lived as a hermit in a grotto. 
  2. In 1195, during the plague, the inhabitants at Lake Maggiore went to the pious hermit for help. His requirement was the construction of a chapel, Santa Caterina del Sasso.
  3. In 1205 the blessed died and was buried in the chapel.
  4. Soon people travelled from all sides of the lake to receive grace and salvation.
  5. In 1270 the nobles of Ispra decided to build another chapel, the Santa Maria Nova.
  6. The first prior commissioned the beautiful paintings of the church between 1300 and 1324.
  7. In 1620 the monastery reached its highest number with 14 monks.
  8. In the 17th century, the entrance building was extended by an additional floor.
  9. In 1769 the abolition of small monasteries was decided. 
  10. On January 28, 1770, the last six Carmelite monks left the hermitage. Santa Caterina was very wealthy with estates and was assigned to the archbishop. From now on, the decay began.
  11. Finally, recognized as a monument in 1914, for the first time, tourists were asked to pay an entrance fee but not pilgrims.
  12. In 1970 the hermitage, now in ruins, was sold to the Province of Varese.
  13. In 1971 the province decided to reconstruct the monastery.
  14. In 1973 the work began but had to be stopped because of the complex statics.
  15. Finally, in 1979 the restoration work for the rescue of the monument began.
  16. During these works, frescoes of high importance from the early 14th century were discovered in the eastern part of the church of St. Nicholas.
  17. On September 10, 1986, this unique monument was reopened with a new altar with rocks from Baveno weighing 1.5 tons.
  18. However, the restoration continues, and a fresco from the 14th century was found in May 1991.
  19. Santa Caterina del Sasso Bellaro is the full name of the monastery, which means Santa Caterina on the wobbly rock.

6 Facts About Lago Maggiore

A praying statue with view to the lake
Excellent to explore by bike on former roads - Google Maps
  1. One-fifth of the lake in the north is located in the canton of Ticino in Switzerland.
  2. The lake is 66 km long.
  3. The width varies between 2 km and 12 km.
  4. The total circumference of the lake is 166 km.
  5. The lake is situated at an altitude of 195 m.
  6. The Lago Maggiore is up to 372 meters deep - at S. Caterina, 313 meters.
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