Across Lago Maggiore from the western shore of the lake, you can discern the stucco and terracotta tile roofed buildings of Santa Caterina del Sasso. In the photo to the left, taken from a walkway just north of Stresa, you can see the monastery in the distance.
It was during an 11th Century storm on Lago Maggiore that a merchant by the name of Alberto Besozzo was cast from his boat into the violent waters of the lake. Not a man known for his kindness or generosity, he prayed that he would be saved. Once safely on shore, he vowed to create a place of remembrance for the miracle of his survival.
Alberto ensured that a chapel, dedicated to Saint Catherine of Egypt, was built on the rocks. The chapel was built directly above where he swam ashore during the storm. That chapel is now contained within the larger church of San Nicola. Between the 14th and 17th Centuries, brothers of Sant’Ambrogio from Milan cared for the hermitage. In latter centuries came the Carmelites, Dominicans and Benedictines.
Within the chapel are the remains of the venerated Alberto Besozzo. The intimate interior of the space gives you a sense of the centuries; frescoed walls, floor tiles polished by the shoes of thousands and a revered silence in keeping with the history of the place. An event described as a miracle occurred in the latter part of the 18th Century.
Several huge boulders fell through the roof of the church, but stopped suspended, above one of the side chapels. After this event, the hermitage became known as “Santa Caterina del Sasso Ballaro (Saint Catherine of the Dancing Rock).
This is a site known more, by visitors, for its incredible position along one of the steepest rock faces on Lago Maggiore. The buildings literally cling to the rocks. Approaching the structures for the first time is breathtaking. Due to its rather remote position on the lake, there are far fewer ferries that provide transport to this magical place.
For a virtual tour of the site, visit: Santa Caterina Virtual Tour
Best time to visit is in the afternoons. There is a ferry at 2:15PM from Stresa directly over to the monastery. Visits take only about an hour. If you wish to have some refreshment, you can walk to the new elevator, recently opened, that connects the lake level to a hotel and cafe. Check times before ascending the elevator. Hours are unpredictable.
Hours: From March through October open every day, 8.30 to 12.00 and 14.00 to 17.00.
For further information about the monastery and its history:
For ferry schedule information for Lago Maggiore: