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Varese Lake

Pre Alps Varese

A Lipu protected area and a Unesco site

The lake of Varese is a basin of medium size (14 km2 and about 23 km the navigable perimeter) at the foot of the Prealps with relevant naturalistic and historical characteristics. In fact, the lake is home to a rich birdlife (including herons and red and white herons, reed warblers, gadwall, bitterns, swans, ducks of various species and marsh harrier) that finds refuge in the large Brabbia swamp that laps the southern shore, now a protected area managed by Lipu. Along the banks there are vast reeds, expanses of water lilies and utricularia, while on the mainland there are willows and alders. Therefore, it often happens during the navigation to see flocks of birds flying up in flight or being flanked by curious swans.

Near the western shore the small wooded island Virginia is an important archaeological site thanks to the discovery of remains of a prehistoric settlement preserved under the peat and water. Since 2011 it is one of the "Prehistoric pile-dwelling sites in the Alps" as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The casts of the foundations of the Neolithic pile dwellings have been prepared together with numerous explanatory tables along the open-air exhibition route. The mansion of the former owner of the island is now home to the museum that houses the finds.

Access to the lake is very easy and possible in several places. Excellent is the boarding at the Lido di Schiranna next to the headquarters of Canottieri Varese and the race course. Continuing counterclockwise, you will pass the villages of Groppello, Gavirate (with the headquarters of the Canottieri Gavirate) and Biandronno on the western shore just before the Isolino Virginia. Continuing southwards we proceed among reeds and water lilies reaching the edge of the Brabbia swamp and the small dock of Cazzago. The tour closes in the eastern bend where a campsite of sedentary caravans and a pier overlook the lake.


The island, near the shore of the municipality of Biandronno, is called Isolino Virginia after the name of the last owner's wife. The site is the oldest lake-dwelling settlement in the Alpine Arc and since 2011 is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since 1962, following the donation by the Marquis Gianfelice Ponti, the island is property of the Municipality of Varese.
The peculiarity of the island lies in the fact that although it is provided with a small Prehistoric Museum, which depends on the Archaeological Museum of Villa Mirabello, it is itself a museum, as it is an archaeological and environmental restricted area.
History and environment create in this site a balance of deep and unrepeatable beauty.

An exceptional naturalistic place with a prehistoric Unesco heritage site
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