We arrived at the Italian town of Domodossola knowing very little about it. We knew that it had the Domodossola train stop, and had great Saturday markets, where Swiss people come across the border because it is cheaper than in Italy. We also knew that it was in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. That was about it. We didn’t know what to do in Domodossola.
Why We Chose to Visit Domodossola?
Why would we choose to come to a place where there was very little information available and that no one had overly spoken about it? Well, we were coming from Zermatt, and if you want to read about the best things to do in Zermatt, just click the link; and were to fly out of Milan but we had a few days in between. As we would have had to back track from Milan to Malpensa airport, we thought we might save ourselves valuable time and find something in between. We chose to visit Domodossola in Italy.
We were not expecting much, and our initial approach as the train went through a continuous tunnel from Brig in Switzerland to the beginnings of Domodossola, didn’t disappoint. It felt like we had indeed arrived at a border town and that if a tumbleweed had blown down the platform, it would have been in keeping.
Our Arrival in Domodossola.
I looked at Gordon apologetically and intimated that ‘it was only a few days.’ We walked out of the station expecting our B&B people to be waiting as we had emailed them as per their site. What we saw was, in fact, a beautiful town. Cherry blossoms for goodness sake were putting on a show as the Italian and Swiss flags waved around. The charming old buildings were next to newer ones that were less appealing, but overall the effect was of a traditional Italian town, or at least how I pictured one. The Italian/Swiss Alps surrounded the town, and many were still snow capped, giving it that surreal feel.
We saw a few people sitting around having coffee and eating gelato and a lot of men on Harley Davidsons chatting to the Carabinieri and the Polizei, which are two different things. The Carabinieri being the military arm of the police force. They were all smoking and chatting.
Getting to our B&B in Domodossola
What we didn’t see was anyone waiting for us. So we sat in the sun and took in our surroundings, thinking we would only be waiting a little while. I got my camera out and was taking photos when an older man came up to me and started speaking to me rapidly. I know a little Italian, but I had no idea what he was saying. I got it that he wasn’t from our B&B and then I got it – I was not to take a photo of a statue outside of the railway station. Why? No idea, but I stopped.
So we went across the road and had a coffee and watched this strange but appealing little place.
We then decided to get a taxi because I had broken our cardinal rule and selected an area outside of the city center. We had no idea what the taxi driver said, and he had no idea what we said, and then we showed him the name and presto we were on our way.
What the short drive revealed was a city of considerable beauty, of lovely architecture, surrounded by mountains and many beautiful gardens.
After arriving at our B&B again, the owners spoke no English, and couldn’t understand our attempts at Italian. Still, we had a room with a stunning view of the mountains and the hillside garden plots and a church and the people were lovely people.
What to do in Domodossola?
We then walked back into the city center and decided to have a late lunch. We stopped at a restaurant, and our greeting was a growled ‘pizza’ and a sign that meant ‘that’s it or get out.’ This was seriously good food, and in fairness, the owner smiled at us after, probably because we ate it all and with some gusto.
Explore the Village of Domodossola
So we went exploring in the village. Surprise after surprise and all very good ones. So we kept walking and came upon the central piazza. This is the place that everyone seems to go on a lazy Sunday, and they sit and chat and have a gelato at one of the numerous gelato cafes all over the place. Nono’s and Nona’s still hold hands as they walk around, young kids ride their bikes and mothers and fathers push the prams as the young people sit, smoke and lick their gelatos. So when in Rome, sorry Domodossola – we joined them. This is the gelato queen of Italy, and we have had quite a few gelatos all over Italy. These were seriously very good.
We then spent the afternoon wandering around the various roads and back alleys. The place despite the seeming gruffness of the people had a good feel to it. It looks good, the food is good, and we will see if we can crack the people a little.
We did find out a little more. The version of Italian spoken here is not what we know, which is very little, but a dialect – we believe it is the Lombardian dialect, not Piedmont. The statue that I had tried to photo may well have been some representative statue to the Alpini – an elite mountain military group formed to guard the borders. What I did not know was that they were over here in the northwest of Italy, it does stand to reason. The Saturday markets that seem to draw people from near and far started in 917AD, which we read it on a sign and that the town seems very Catholic.
Domodossola is a city of 18,000 people with a village feel of a lot less. It is in my mind an archetypal Italian village. People sitting in the historic Piazza chatting, smoking and drinking with the Italian Alps surrounding the town and spring was in evidence with the flowering trees.
The people are a mix of old-fashioned country folk with a splash of trendy Milanese young people, at times. The town is surrounded by market gardens that will be in full show in the spring. They even grow a lot of kiwi fruit here. Go figure.
Explore the UNESCO site of Domodossola
Domodossola is very appealing and well worth the trip. To add to the surprise factor, it is also UNESCO World Heritage site. Sacro Monte Calvario is the most northerly of the holy mountains, and you can read about our visit to the 15 Stations of the Cross here.
Visiting Domodossola was one of those discoveries that make travel so special.
Piazza del mercato in Domodossola might be one of the most beautiful one in Italy. The old town is quite small but very charming. I know Domodossola very well for living just the other part of the border in Valais (Swizerland). Domodossola already has an italian flavors with one of the best adress for local gelati (based a la piazza del mercato) based on alpin cream flavors. Plus, the prices in Domodossola are ridiculous low for restaurants and to have a drink (nothing to see with expensive Swizerland). I found people from the Ossola Valley quite friendly. Yes, visit it if you are on the way from or to Swizerland.
OMG, the gelato and the pizza; yes Domodossola is amazing
Thank you for this article about a place very close to my heart. In fact,my husband and son are there at this moment. I will be traveling from the USA to Switzerland tomorrow and a very high point of my trip will be an excursion to Domodossola. We first visited a few years ago, and you are right. The Swiss visit for the inexpensive Saturday market. And our son, who lives in Switzerland, makes that trip often. But the people and the architecture make this the very special place it is. Our lack of the Italian language made no difference, the people were all friendly and helpful. And unforgettable. And not being on the tourist map is a very good thing.
Wow, you are the only other person I have spoken to (virtually) that know son Domodosola. We loved it there.
How great is it to just discover places like this by chance? Serendipity is all but dead in this age of information overload but it is still possible to be surprised. Frontier towns are not always the most attractive of places either; especially ones making money from cross-border trade. I will make a note of this one though – thanks for the info!
Thanks Andy. We actually believe that serendipity is alive and well and doesn’t make the mighty internet. Like Domodossaola, we had been wandering in Takayama and found a big firemen’s festival. When I tried to get some more background info for an article – there was nothing. Now there is .. because of me, but there are holes.
I’m ashamed to say I’ve never even heard of Domodossola before. Looks like some historic buildings and beautiful architecture there, though. And a growled pizza to boot…? Wha more could you want!? 🙂
As i said in the post I can’t even say the name properly. However it has a UNESCO listed site. Ask Gordon about the artichoke on the pizza and he will start a rapturous discourse.
Always going off the beaten track, we often follow our noses and see what we stumble upon – often finding the best food in places like this!
It is the best way.
What a splendid little town! I’ve never heard of it before and have to agree it should be better known from what I can see. The buildings look enchanting and with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains – what more could you ask for… apart from great gelato, which you say the town has as well – perfect!
I could not say it properly for ages – Domodossola is one of those great finds that is worth sharing.
I happened to find this lovely report about Domodossola and I want to thank you for it!
I am really glad you enjoyed Domodossola and recommend a visit to this elegant Italian border town.
I is nice to hear that you enjoyed it, first of all because I am a local ( I live very close by). And then, I am glad because I’m a local tour guide who leads guided tours in Stresa and also in Domodossola (here not as many as it could be !)
Domodossola has a great potential, but I agree with you: it is really little known, apart from being a train stop for international journeys or for the well known Centovalli trip.
Domodossola has much more to offer than just an international railway station!!
So I want to thank you again for sharing your experience!
P.S. It is a shame that you found locals to be gruff! We can also be very friendly and welcoming, we are not all the same!!
I think Domodossola is a very beautiful place and one that should be on the tourist map. I think that it was my strange sense of humour re the gruffness. The people were very good to us. We will come back to this beautiful village again and we have already told many many people about this hidden gem. My husband still talks that he had the best artichokes he has ever eaten in Domodossola… and gelato 🙂
Hi. We may need a guide in May when we visit. I’m not sure of the exact date yet. My husband’s mother grew up in Domodossola. Her father owned an inn on the main square and it was taken over by Mussolini as a headquarters during the war. Mussolini would kiss my mother-in-law every morning. It disgusted her! So, we have a deep interest in Domodossola and would love to explore it and hear its history. What do you charge to tour two people? Grazie. Joanne
That is a fascinating story, your poor mother in law. Unfortunately we don’t do tours. The town is easy enough to discover and there is some decent information. If you speak Italian it will be even better.
We’re also planning to visit Domodossola in May 19. We went through a couple of years ago as part of the train/ferry trip to Locarno from Baveno. Really want to spend a little more time in Domodossola so will come up on the train from Baveno, look around, have lunch and then head back.
Enjoy, lovely place
Looks amazing! I miss Italian gelato…it was so delicious!
We think that it was possible the best gelato we have had in Italy – and that is quite a few :))