An old town full of places to visit, food and wine specialities and top surroundings
Novara is a surprising and unexpected destination due to its history, culture, nature and good food.
Yes, we know, as a crossroads between Milan and Turin, Novara is often seen as an industrial centre, and therefore of little or no interest at all to tourists.
But if you follow us on this virtual tour through the streets of its historic centre and buildings, you will soon realise that this is not the case. There are indeed many things to do, see and taste in this beautiful city in Piedmont, not to mention its surroundings. Are you ready to be amazed?
What to see in Novara
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As with most Italian cities, Novara’s history tells us of its distant origins in time, from the Ligurians to the Celts, and of a succession of conquests and conquerors from the Romans, Lombards and Franks to Napoleon, who over the ages have contributed to defining it in its current architectural and cultural values, which you can breathe in and retrace as you stroll through the streets of its historic centre.
A compact, human-scale historic centre that can be visited all on foot, even in a single day. However, if you plan to stay a few more days and choose it as a base for exploring its surroundings and visiting the famous rice fields, we recommend arriving by car or renting one. If you can’t leave it parked at your hotel, you can make use of the pay car parks.
Strolling through the old town
There are many unmissable things to see in Novara, including important monuments such as the Cathedral and the Castle, or the numerous noble palaces, the theatre, and the churches. If you like walking in nature, you absolutely can’t miss the Allea park, also suitable for children, while if you have a boundless passion for archaeology you will love the remains of the walls and the Roman road.
Below we have prepared an itinerary for you to admire and visit the main sights of the city, while further on you will also find information on what local specialities to taste and what to do in the evening. To conclude, our tips on the surrounding area. So hop on your back and go, Novara is waiting for you!
1. BASILICA OF SAN GAUDENZIO
Our tour starts at the Basilica of Novara, whose construction began in 1577. On its majestic façade is the imposing walnut portal, with rose windows and cast iron heads. In the shape of a Latin cross, the interior has a single nave, onto which six interconnected side chapels open, all of which are worth seeing. But undoubtedly the most famous work remains the dome of the Basilica, designed by architect Alessandro Antonelli – yes, the one who designed the Mole Antonelliana in Turin – added 50 years later than the 18th-century bell tower that stands 75 metres high outside the Basilica.
2. CHURCH OF SAN MARCO
Not far away, in Via dei Gautieri, stands this church, evidence of the architectural renovation process ordered by Bishop Carlo Bascapè between the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century. Designed by the painter from the school of Ferrari Bernardino Ferrari, it has a two-level façade with four niches between two columns, each with a statue of a saint. The paintings inside will take you through all the 17th-century art in the area, while in the choir you can admire three works of the later period by Pietro Maggi.
3. CHURCH OF ALL SAINTS
Mentioned as early as 1124 in writings of the time, it has three naves with four bays and a circular apse with an octagonal tiburium. Visiting it, you can admire several frescoes, including a 15th century Madonna del Latte attributed to Giovanni de Campo.
4. BASTIONS OF THE BARRIERA ALBERTINA
Still considered the entrance to the city for those coming from Vercelli, the two bastions, also known as Porta Torino, are nothing more than two neoclassical buildings facing each other. Dedicated to Carlo Alberto for the impulse given to the economy of Novara, they were the former headquarters of the guard and duty station, while today they host exhibitions and conferences.
5. THE PALACES OF NOVARA
Almost every street in the historic centre of Novara has a palace worth admiring, if not visiting. We have prepared for you a selection of the most interesting ones that will take you through the main stages of the city’s architecture in just a few steps.
_ Palazzo della Posta
Just outside the Bastioni della Barriera Albertina, you will find yourself in front of the Palazzo della Posta, which in itself would have nothing special to be mentioned except for the typical monumental architectural style of the Fascist era, with an equally imposing staircase leading to the entrance.
_ Della Porta House
Located in Via Canobio, it is undoubtedly one of the most elegant and representative palaces in the entire city, with an original building that seems to date back as far as the 11th century.
_ Casa Fiorentini and Casa Quaroni
On the corner of Viale Dante and Via XX Settembre, in Largo Don Minzoni, this elegant palazzo was built at the beginning of the 20th century in Art Nouveau style, as is also the nearby Casa Quaroni, at number 28 Baluardo Quintino, embellished with circular windows.
_ Cacciapiatti Fossati Palace
It is the current seat of the Court of Novara. The Palace stands along Baluardo Lamarmora, but is accessed from the parallel Via Pietro Azario. The building dates back to the 1670 – 1675 period and, thanks to its excellent state of preservation, you can fully enjoy its late baroque architectural style.
_ Palazzo Natta Isola
This palace, built in the second half of the 16th century to a design by Pellegrino Pellegrini known as Tibaldi, is known in the city for its clock tower, to which everyone still casts an eye to tell the time. In all likelihood, it was pre-existing with respect to the building and was incorporated into it during construction, as several sources mention it as early as 1268.
_ Palazzo Tornielli Bellini
The current headquarters of the Banca Popolare di Novara, this elegant palace has an original nucleus dating back to the 16th century and owes its name to the first known owners, the Tornielli family, and to the Bellini family, who purchased it in 1751 and began the imposing work of renovation in Rococo style.
_ Villa Bossi
Known by all as Villa Bossi, it would actually be better to call it Villa Desanti Bossi, since it was the Corsican nobleman Luigi Desanti who commissioned architect Alessandro Antonelli to renovate and extend the original 18th-century building owned by Marchesa Amalia Coconito di Montiglio. In 1880 it was purchased by Cavalier Carlo Bossi from whom it took the name used by most.
_ Langhi Leonardi Palace
Still a private building with a 19th-century structure, we are sure you will be amazed just admiring it behind its beautiful wrought-iron door. Its renovation is linked to the reconstruction work that affected all the facades of Corso Cavallotti at the time.
6. THE CASTLE PARK OR ALLEA PARK: GREENERY, MEDIEVAL REMAINS AND TOMAN WALLS
If you love greenery, you will love the more than 42,000 square metres of this city park. It does not only contains the remains of the Visconti Sforza Castle, built around 1272, but also the remains of Novara’s Roman Walls dating back to the first century B.C.. Here you will also find a fenced-in children’s area for them to run around safely.
7. COCCIA THEATRE
Leaving the castle you will find yourself in front of the most important theatre in the city and the region, the Coccia Theatre. Neoclassical, it was inaugurated in 1888 on the ashes of the old city theatre, the Teatro Nuovo. Spacious in size, it has as many as three balconies on as many streets, and was named after Carlo Coccia, chapel master of the Cathedral Chapter and director of the Brera Musical Institute, who died in Novara in 1873.
8. THE HOURS CORNER
Past the theatre you will find yourself in the heart of Novara’s historic centre, the so-called Angolo delle Ore (Hours Corner), the meeting point between the cardo and decumanus of the Roman city centre and an ideal location for an amusing challenge that we obviously throw down to you too! You will have to find no less than four clocks on the façades of the buildings, one for each corner. If you succeed, let us know what time they tell… Because you will soon realise that they do not actually tell the same time!
9. REMAINS OF THE VIA ROMANA
Also at this crossroads, on one side of the street, you can admire the remains of an ancient Roman street, which emerged during excavations for the renovation of the city’s infrastructure and are now protected by a large glass structure.
10. THE STREET OF “STRUSCIO” AND SHOPPING
Culture yes, but also a bit of shopping in the city streets! Via Fratelli Rosselli is one of the most beautiful streets in the entire historical centre of Novara. Rather narrow, it is lined by many buildings with arcades housing beautiful shops, a feature that makes it very popular with the people of Novara for shopping and “struscio”, the daily strolling in the centre.
11. PIAZZA DELLE ERBE AND CITY’S BROLETTO
Known as Piazza Cesare Battisti, and before that as Piazza delle Beccherie Maggiori because of the market stalls of the beccari – butchers, shoemakers and other traders – it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful city squares. Several historical buildings face its triangular perimeter and, from one of its vertexes, you can reach Novara Cathedral. On the opposite side, on the other hand, you are at the city’s Broletto, which houses a number of premises and a city museum and consists of the Palazzo dell’Arengo, the Palazzo del Podestà, the Palazzo dei Paratici and the Palazzo della Referendaria, all built between the 13th and 15th centuries.
12. THE CATHEDRAL AND BATPISTERY
We are thus arrived at the Duomo, the Cathedral, the last stop on our city itinerary. It stands on another city “quadriportico” and it has also been designed by architect Alessandro Antonelli; it overlooks the Baptistery. Just think that the first Christian Basilica dedicated to Santa Maria dates to the end of the XII century, and it was built on the remains of the temple dedicated to Jupiter. Many changes and renovations over time, from Roman Times to Baroque, although the real revolution occurred in 1854, when Architect Antonelli has been asked to design the “quadriportico” in front of the church. On the opposite side is the Baptistery, built in the early Christian era and today awarded the title of oldest monument in the the city.
What to eat in Novara
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In Novara, not only rice!
History and gastronomy are often intertwined with each other and with the intimate story of each local family. Many traditional recipes characterise Novara and its province, in addition to the rice for which it is famous everywhere. In fact, they range from Paniscia – a poor man’s rice dish of very ancient origins for which every Novara family can give you a different recipe – to Tapulone, a dish of donkey meat cooked in wine whose origins date back as far as the 12th century.
There are many risottos, among all of them you cannot miss the one with gorgonzola, a perfect combination of two typical Novara products. There is also a strong tradition of fried frogs and soused river fish, as well as the sauces that accompany typical Piedmontese boiled meats, in particular Novara’s Bagnet sauce. If you like bringing home the aromas and flavours of Novara, take a tour of the food and wine speciality shops in the city centre, where you can buy many typical foods, such as Bisecon or cooked salami, lime honey, maize or corn bread, IGP Piedmont hazelnuts and the excellent DOC wines from the Novara hills.
For a short break while enjoying the hustle and bustle of the city centre, you can stop at one of the cafés in Piazza del Duomo and enjoy a good coffee accompanied by one of the local sweet specialities, the famous Camporelli biscuits.
What to do in the evening
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Although it is certainly not as famous as nearby Turin, Novara has a lot to offer, not only in terms of attractions and museums to visit during the day, but also in terms of nightlife from aperitif time to late at night, with a wide range of pubs, cocktail bars, live music venues and discos. So you will be spoilt for choice!
Bear in mind that the movida area is within the historic centre, especially in its squares, notably Piazza Gramsci or Piazza Martiri della Libertà. A curiosity: here, in the city, Gaspare Campari, after having been an apprentice in a famous liquor store in Turin, in 1850 rented the Caffè dell’Amicizia between Corso Cavour and Corso Italia, where the Angolo delle Ore is located, and after various experiments came up with several liqueurs that I have no hesitation in describing as innovative and extravagant, such as the Elisir di Lunga Vita (Elixir of Long Life), the Olio di Rhum (Rum Oil) or the Liquore Rosa (Pink Liqueur).
But, as you may have already guessed, the most famous and popular was the “Bitter all’uso d’Hollanda”, by most called Mr Campari’s Bitter, later to become the world-famous Campari Bitter.
Novara and its surroundings
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Have you decided to stay a few days? Excellent choice, the surroundings of this city are really beautiful and full of things to see and do. We recommend a couple of unmissable ones!
1. ABBEY OF SAN NAZZARO DELLA VOSTA
This Abbey is a religious complex of rare beauty consisting of the church of the same name and the nearby convent on top of the Victory Hill, near the city cemetery. It is believed to date back to the 10th century and was inhabited first by the Poor Clares and then by the Observant Friars Minor of St Francis, the convent’s heyday. It was then the conspicuous donations from the nobles of Novara that allowed various structural interventions to the site, such as the addition of the presbytery and the choir, and the beautiful decorations everywhere.
How to get there: the Abbey and its convent are located outside the city walls but you can easily reach them on foot in about twenty minutes by walking along Via Ettore Perrone. Alternatively, you can walk along Via San Francesco d’Assisi. It is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and admission is free.
2. PIRAMID OF NOVARA
The Ossaria Pyramid or, as everyone calls it, the Pyramid of Novara, stands on the outskirts of the city called Bicocca, the scene of the famous battle of 1849 between the Piedmontese and Austrians that led to the abdication of Charles Albert in favour of Victor Emmanuel II. The Pyramid was erected some thirty years later in memory of this particularly important event in Italian Risorgimento history. Designed by the architect Broggi of Milan, it was made of hard stone from Sarnico and is 16 metres high. On the entrance door, you will see a bronze eagle with two laurel wreaths in its talons; next to it a marble plaque commemorates all those who fell on the battlefield.
How to get there: it takes ten minutes by car along Via XXIII Marzo; it is always accessible and admission is free.
3. RICE PADDIES IN NOVARA
Carnaroli Classico, brown rice, black Venere rice, and rice flour are all typical products of the Novara rice plain. A gluten-free grain par excellence, and therefore essential for coeliacs, rice is nevertheless a precious food for everyone, as it is rich in fibre, mineral salts, sodium and potassium.
It is a fundamental ingredient in most Novara recipes, as Novara and nearby Vercelli alone account for 50% of national rice production. The city’s surroundings are characterised by kilometres of rice fields. The best time to visit them is undoubtedly in late spring, when the rice fields are flooded, making the landscape magical.
There are many varieties, but the typical ones from the Novara rice paddies are Carnaroli Classico, also known as the ‘king of rice’, perfect for preparing risottos, also available in the whole grain version, obtained through a special process that removes only the surface part of the grain; Artiglio, with its typical long narrow grain and shorter cooking time than the classic grain, is ideal for fish recipes and rice salads; Venere Nero, with its characteristic black pigmentation, is particularly rich in fibre, iron, selenium and manganese. In our opinion, the most beautiful rice fields are to be found in Casalbeltrame, about 20 kilometres from the city.
If you are planning to visit Novara, remember that this city is also very close to other unmissable places such as Lake Orta, Lake Maggiore, Ghemme, Mortara, Pavia, Vercelli, Ivrea and Asti.
How to get to Novara?
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Novara is located in the north-west of Piedmont, halfway between Milan and Turin. You can choose to get there by car, train or plane.
- A4 Serenissima Turin-Trieste motorway, Novara Est and Novara Ovest exit
- A26 Genova Voltri-Gravellona Toce motorway, Vercelli Est exit and Ghemme-Romagnano Sesia exit
- Novara Station and Vignale Station; buses and shuttle services depart from the station to the main Italian destinations.
Novara does not have its own airport, the closest ones are:
- Milan-Malpensa Airport (21 km)
- Milan-Linate Airport (51 km)
- Turin-Caselle Airport located (82 km)
- Bergamo Orio al Serio Airport (87 km)
From these airports you can take a bus directly into the city or rent a car, or reach the respective railway stations to get to Novara by train.
Now that you know what to see in and around Novara, all that remains is to wish you a pleasant trip to Piedmont!