We love looking around religious buildings and historic sites when we are travelling with kids. There’s always great stories to tell, and beautiful imagery to interpret even if they aren’t enjoying the place quite on the same level as you. My girls love spotting dragons, lions and unicorns in the murals we have seen in 15th Century English churches and climbing amphitheatres that were once part of ancient cities in Greece. So, I’d not hesitate to explore Santa Caterina del Sasso with kids in Lake Maggiore, Italy. If you need more persuasion, read on.
My visit to the hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso was part of a press trip organised by Bookings For You. Read more about this trip and where our group stayed in my review of Golfo Gabella Lake Resort in Maccagno, Lake Maggiore.
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About the hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso, Lake Maggiore
This seemingly gravity defying hermitage above Lake Maggiore in Italy was founded in the 13th Century by a shipwrecked merchant who took refuge in a cave in the sheer cliff face. Alberto Besozzi de Arolo vowed devotion to Santa Caterina and built the first church in thanks for his deliverance. The church you can now visit at the far end of the monetary’s ledge is an amalgamation of three chapels built over the centuries.
Unsurprisingly TripAdvisor rates this as the top thing to do in Leggiuno. And I can recommend including this on you list of places to visit on Lake Maggiore with kids, especially if you enjoy historic sites.
Explore easily without a guide
Something that makes or breaks this kind of excursion for us is being able to explore at our own pace. We have taken guided tours of UNESCO sites with kids and it didn’t work for us. Kids need to pause or jump ahead, or have a snack at random times, so being free to do this without losing your group is essential. Santa Caterina del Sasso is very easy to do under your own steam, so there’s no need for a guide. Information signs around the monastery are in English as well as Italian, German and French.
We spent about 45 minutes taking in the church and its location overlooking the lake. I’d suggest you need little more than this if exploring with kids.
What will the kids enjoy at Santa Caterina del Sasso
I visited on my own as part of a press trip. But even so I had my eye out for things that I thought would capture my six and four-year-old’s attention, as well as other children’s.
The view across the lake is incredible. From the cliffs of Santa Caterina del Sasso you can see the Borromean Islands and the western shore. The weather was terrible on the day I visited but it was still possible to appreciate the stunning Lake Maggiore scenery from this vantage point. Here’s what you will see on a clearer day.
Inside the Chapter House and the chapel there are frescos dating from the 14th Century with plenty of symbology and characters for children to pick out. I like to give my girls a homemade treasure hunt of things to spot as we walk around religious buildings and historic towns. If you’d like to do the same at Santa Caterina del Sasso then I can recommend adding violins, eagles, apples, lions, crowns, snakes and birds to your treasure hunt. You can also challenge your kids to count as many angels as they can or the steps up and down the cliff.
If your kids are fascinated by the macabre then point out the frescos depicting the dance of the dead in the covered walk way between the Chapter House and inner courtyard before the church. Inside, in the far right corner is also a glass cabinet with the preserved remains of Alberto Besozzi de Arolo who founded the hermitage in 1170. I realise this kind of relic isn’t for everyone, so avoid the far end of the chapel if you think your kids might be scared.
At the very top of the cliff, between the car park and the entrance to the monastery, there is a large children’s playground which would be great for kids before or after your visit, or both.
I think there’s plenty to keep children entertained here for an hour or so. Combine it with a ferry ride and you have a good day out on Lake Maggiore with kids. See below for information about catching the ferry to Santa Caterina del Sasso.
Take a look at more things to do in Lake Maggiore with kids.
Family facilities at Santa Caterina del Sasso
I’ve already mentioned the there are 240 steps down the cliff to the monastery itself. The steps are cobbled but not too steep.
If climbing up and down this with young children feels like a daunting prospect there is a lift. This has been cut into the cliff face and can be accessed via a tunnel from the gardens. It’s quite a construction. The lift costs €1 per person per journey and is free for 0 to 12-year-olds and people with disabilities and their carers. You need change to put in a machine which opens a barrier so you can access the lift.
There are 80 steps up from the ferry and no lift for this part I’m afraid. If you are visiting with young children I’d recommend leaving pushchairs at your accommodation and using a baby carrier or child carrier.
You can bring a picnic to the monastery and eat this on a couple of benches in the garden or there is a restaurant at the top of the cliff. This is also where you’ll find the monetary’s public toilets so make sure your kids go before you head down the cliff. If you are arriving by ferry, take the opportunity to use the toilets onboard.
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Getting to Santa Caterina del Sasso by ferry boat
This has to be the most picturesque way to approach the hermitage. You can take a ferry from Stresa to Santa Caterina del Sasso. This takes 15 minutes and gives you the best view of the approach to the cliffs on which the monastery sits. If you are staying elsewhere on Lake Maggiore there are plenty of connections to Stresa on the west shore. The ferry runs every two hours which gives you plenty of time to see the monastery and go up the cliff if you would like to visit the restaurant or play park.
Here’s where you can find more Lake Maggiore ferry timetables and information.
Visiting by car
There is a free car park at the top of the cliff. Turn right out of this and cross the road to find a footpath that will take you to the top entrance of the monastery and the beginning of the 240 steps down to the monastery.
When is Santa Caterina del Sasso open?
From May 2019, you can visit Santa Caterina del Sasso between 9.30am and 7.30pm daily, but the church is closed during services. Find out more about the monastery opening times.
How much does it cost to visit Santa Caterina del Sasso?
When I visited in May 2019 the entrance fee was €5 for adults and free for under 18s. Find the most up to date entrance prices here.
Places to stay in Lake Maggiore
If you haven’t yet decided on where to stay in Lake Maggiore, take a look at my review of the family-friendly apartments at Golfo Gabella Lake Resort in Maccagno. You can find other options in this post about places to stay in Lake Maggiore by Carrie from Flying with a Baby.
More things to do in Lake Maggiore with kids
If you have more time to explore Lake Maggiore then here are some more ideas for excursions your kids will love:
- Outdoor activities and adventures on Lake Maggiore
- A wander around the picturesque town of Cannobio
- All you need to know about staying in Maccagno in Lake Maggiore
- A ride on the Lake Maggiore cable cars
- 10 activities you must do in Lake Maggiore
- Hike to the village of Musignano to meet its wooden people
Disclosure: my visit to Santa Caterina del Sasso was organised by my press trip hosts at Golfo Gabella Lake Resort. The press trip was arranged by Bookings For You who offer villas and apartments in Lake Maggiore. I covered the cost of my flights and some of my expenses during the trip. All opinions are my own. Main image and pinnable by Pascvii from Pixabay.
If you are looking for things to do in Lake Maggiore and fancy seeing Santa Caterina del Sasso with kids then pin this post for future reference.