Top Things to do in Vercelli (Piemonte - Italy)

This article first appeared in My Travelogue by Bhushavali

ULTIMATE TRAVEL GUIDE TO VISIT VERCELLI
AN EASY DAY TRIP FROM MILAN OR TURIN

After spending 2 days in Turin, my next stop in the Piemonte region was Vercelli, the land of rice! While I spent only one day in Vercelli, I did stay there overnight to go to Lake Maggiore the next morning. Here's all that you need to know about Vercelli - things to do in Vercelli, places to visit in Vercelli, museums, churches, timings, tickets & more!

The Towers of Vercelli - Places to visit in Vercelli

The Towers of Vercelli - Places to visit in Vercelli

Jewish Synagogue - Places to visit in Vercelli
Jewish Synagogue in Vercelli

Fresco of an Indian - Places to visit in Vercelli
At Piazza Cavour. Who is this?

Best restaurants in Vercelli - Ristorante Vecchia Brenta
Restaurant Vecchia Brenta

TOP 5 PLACES TO VISIT & THINGS TO DO IN VERCELLI

WALK AROUND VERCELLI
Roman city of Vercelum: Well, to begin with, Vercelli was an urban city since the Roman era and was probably developed in 6th C BCE and was then called Vercelum! While the Roman artifacts - inscriptions, amphitheater, hippodrome, etc are in the local city archaeological museum, there's nothing left of the historic Roman city walls. Quite amusingly, the Vercelli Cathedral is located outside the original Roman city limits! More details on it are below. 
Piazza Cavour: As soon as I reached Vercelli, my first stop was the main square of the town - Piazza Cavour. At its center is the sculpture of Camillo Benzo, the count of Vercelli in mid-19th C CE. The building at one of the corners of the square that leads to Via Camillo Benzo Cavour caught my attention. This historic building here is called Portici della Stella (porticos of the star). What made me stop here were the frescoes on its facade that imitated bas-relief, and depicted several historical & allegorical figures and one of them was a man with a turban! I don't know who he is! Maybe one of the Magi (3 Wisemen mentioned in the Bible)? If you know, let me know!
Octagonal Towers of Vercelli (Torri di Vercelli): Also at Piazza Cavour, is one of the many towers of the town! One of the unusual aspects of Vercelli is its presence of medieval towers all over the town. They have this typical octagonal shape and are built from atop the roof of certain buildings (and not from the ground!). The towers are private properties built by wealthy political families to ascertain their power. Historically there were very many towers and they were destroyed every time when the opposing party came to power. Today only 4 of these towers still exist, one of which is at Piazza Cavour. This one is called the Angel's Tower (Torre Dell'Angelo). Walking around Vercelli, I also spotted the 3 other towers - Torre degli Avogadro, Torre Tizzoni, and Torre dei Vialadri.
Vercelli Synagogue: One of the buildings that surprised me in Vercelli was its Synagogue. I did not expect a Synagogue of this size in this small town. The Vercelli Synagogue was designed by Marco Treves (the same person who designed Florence Synagogue). Unfortunately, I couldn't go inside because it is currently not under worship as the local Jewish population is too less for a 'Minyan' required to perform the rituals!

Self-guided Walking Tour of Vercelli: via Icybernonni
Where is Piazza Cavour (on Google Maps)? Piazza Cavour
Where is Angel's Tower (Torre dell'Angelo) (on Google Maps)? Torre dell'Angelo
Where is Torre degli Avogadro (on Google Maps)? Torre degli Avogadro
Where is Torre Tizzoni (on Google Maps)? Torre Tizzoni
Where is Torre dei Vialadri (on Google Maps)Monastero di Santa Margherita
Where is Vercelli Synagogue (on Google Maps)? Sinagoga Vercelli
How to reach? All these sites are at a walkable distance from one another. 
Tickets & Timings: All these sites can only be visited from outside and are not open to the public.

Chiesa di San Cristoforo - Sistine Chapel of Vercelli
The very plain exteriors of Chiesa di San Cristoforo

Chiesa di San Cristoforo - Sistine Chapel of Vercelli
Scenes from the life of Virgin Mary & Assumption of Virgin Mary

Chiesa di San Cristoforo - Sistine Chapel of Vercelli
Details from the scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary
 
Chiesa di San Cristoforo - Sistine Chapel of Vercelli
Scenes from the life of Mary Magdalena & Assumption of Mary Magdalena on one wall and Assumption of Jesus Christ on another wall
 
Chiesa di San Cristoforo - Sistine Chapel of Vercelli
Details from the scenes from the life of Mary Magdalena

CHIESA DI SAN CRISTOFORO - SISTINE CHAPEL OF VERCELLI
One of the beautiful Wedding Locations in Piedmont (Piemonte), Italy
My first stop in Vercelli was Chiesa di San Cristoforo, considered the 'Sistine Chapel of Vercelli'. The art was done by Gaudenzio Ferrari who is one of the protagonists of the Piedmontese Renaissance. To say that it was magical is an understatement. This place blew my mind. I was there in a room that was almost as impressive as Sistine Chapel, but with no other visitors, unlike the super crowded Sistine Chapel in the Vatican!
Looking at the facade, it looks like a very simple, modern church. But once inside, it shocks & surprises you! The entire ceiling, every inch of every wall, and every pillar was filled with frescoes. The original church in this location dates back to the 12th C CE. However, the current church was built in 1515 CE and the frescoes were painted by Gaudenzio Ferrari in 1533 CE (for comparison, this was very soon after Sistine Chapel which was completed in 1512 CE). On the altar is the painting of the Virgin Mary of the Orange Tree. 
On either side of the altar, in the right & left transepts are the frescoes depicting the life stories of the Virgin Mary & Mary Magdalena. Quite amusingly, since a lot more information is available on Virgin Mary, that section is filled with several panels from the birth of Mary, the wedding, adoration of the Magi, Assumption, etc while there's a much lesser number of panels & details in the Mary Magdalena section from birth of Mary, wiping the feet of Jesus and her Assumption as well! Unlike Virgin Mary, in Assumption of Saint Mary Magdalena, she is depicted wearing nothing except her own long hair! An illusion has been created in the depth of the domes with frescoes!

Where is Chiesa di San Cristoforo (on Google Maps)Chiesa di San Cristoforo
How to reach Chiesa di San Cristoforo? 1km (14 mins walk) from Vercelli Railway Station & 500m (6 mins walk) from Piazza Cavour
Chiesa di San Cristoforo timings: All days 8:00AM to 11:30AM & 3:00PM to 5:30PM
Chiesa di San Cristoforo tickets: Free

Chiesa di San Cristoforo - Sistine Chapel of Vercelli
View of the nave & altar of Chiesa di San Cristoforo - Sistine Chapel of Vercelli

Chiesa di San Cristoforo - Sistine Chapel of Vercelli
Ceiling fresco of Chiesa di San Cristoforo - Sistine Chapel of Vercelli

State Archives of Vercelli - Things to do in Vercelli

State Archives of Vercelli - Things to do in Vercelli

State Archives of Vercelli - Things to do in Vercelli

STATE ARCHIVES VERCELLI
The State Archives of Vercelli is open only on very very rare occasions and I was really lucky to be there on the very day when it was open, totally by chance because it was the weekend of European Heritage days. I got to see the historical archives of Vercelli from the times before Italy's unification! It was quite something. It reminded me much of the manuscripts at the KBR Museum in Brussels. It was on that day that I came to know that even the insides of the paper covers of bound books have writings on them. 

Where is State Archives Vercelli (on Google Maps)?
How to reach State Archives VercelliPalazzo Vicario di Sant'Agabio
State Archives Vercelli timings: Open only on very certain days for the public which can be found on their Facebook page. Reservation of guided tours for groups is possible.
State Archives Vercelli Tickets: Free

Saint Andrew's Abbey (Basilica di Sant'Andrea) - Top Vercelli Attractions

Saint Andrew's Abbey (Basilica di Sant'Andrea) - Top Vercelli Attractions

Saint Andrew's Abbey (Basilica di Sant'Andrea) - Top Vercelli Attractions

Saint Andrew's Abbey (Basilica di Sant'Andrea) - Top Vercelli Attractions

Saint Andrew's Abbey (Basilica di Sant'Andrea) - Top Vercelli Attractions

SAINT ANDREW'S ABBEY (BASILICA DI SANT'ANDREA)
After Chiesa di San Cristoforo my next main stop was Saint Andrew's Abbey. Again I was impressed by the size of the Abbey for a town this size! But then again, I reminded myself that Vercelli was an important city in the Roman Era and Medieval ages. Vercelli is on the route of the ancient Pilgrimage path called Via Francigena, which connected Italy to Canterbury Cathedral.
Basilica di Sant'Andrea was founded in 1219 and took 8 years to complete building it. It was built under the directions of Cardinal Guala Bicchieri who was the representative of King Herry III of England. He wanted to build an abbey and a hospital for the pilgrims traveling on Via Francigena. He got the Augustinian monks from Paris to do the job here. 
The plan is a typical cruciform one. The architecture is a mix of Romanesque & Gothic styles and there are traces of frescoes of the 16th C CE in the high ceilings. Apart from the frescoes, there's an interesting play of colors with the alternative use of bricks and white stones and an occasional green stone! At the intersection between the nave and transepts is the high ceiling with the dome atop (lantern ceiling). This once functioned as a bell tower, however since 15th C CE, a separate bell tower had been built. Here are the sculptures of the 4 evangelists and simple fresco decorations in red color. There's a very intriguing sculpture of a smiling man here as well!  
Don't miss the fresco and sarcophagus of Tommaso Gallo which was probably painted around 14th C CE. Tomamaso Gallo was the Augustinian abbot to whom Bicchieri handed over the task.  I managed to do a very quick walk in the cloister and one of the things that charmed me are the frescoes along the borders that look like a bas relief, made in the 16th C CE. During this time, the terracotta cornices were also made.

Where is Saint Andrew's Abbey (Basilica di Sant'Andrea) (on Google Maps)? Basilica di Sant'Andrea
How to reach Saint Andrew's Abbey (Basilica di Sant'Andrea)? 200m (3 mins walk) from Vercelli Railway Station
Saint Andrew's Abbey (Basilica di Sant'Andrea) timings: 7:30AM to 6:30PM on all days
Saint Andrew's Abbey (Basilica di Sant'Andrea) tickets: Free

Duomo di Sant'Eusebio (Saint Eusebius Cathedral) - Christian Pilgrimage Sites in Piemonte

Duomo di Sant'Eusebio (Saint Eusebius Cathedral) - Christian Pilgrimage Sites in Piemonte

Duomo di Sant'Eusebio (Saint Eusebius Cathedral) - Christian Pilgrimage Sites in Piemonte

Duomo di Sant'Eusebio (Saint Eusebius Cathedral) - Christian Pilgrimage Sites in Piemonte

Duomo di Sant'Eusebio (Saint Eusebius Cathedral) - Christian Pilgrimage Sites in Piemonte

SAINT EUSEBIUS CATHEDRAL (DUOMO DI SANT'EUSEBIO)
Quite amusingly, unlike most other cities, the Cathedral of Vercelli is not in the city center but in its outskirts. Specifically, the Vercelli Cathedral is beyond the city limits of the ancient Roman city of Vercelum because it was built on an ancient necropolis site where the guardian saint of Vercelli, Saint Eusebius of Vercelli had been buried!
The first ever cathedral to be built at this site was constructed in 4th C CE by Saint Eusebius himself. In the 5th C CE, a larger basilica was built here. Over time, it was time & again damaged and renovated & restored time & again. Much later in the 16th C CE, bishop Guido Ferrero was entrusted with the task of completely replacing the building with a new structure. The task began but came to a standstill when they ran out of funds. Construction continued in the early 18th C CE. Obviously, the most important feature of Saint Eusebius Cathedral is the chapel for the relics of Saint Eusebius. The remnants were excavated during the 16th C renovation. There are also some tombs of the members of the Savoy family. At the altar is a remarkable Romanesque crucifix made from wood covered with silver sheet, embossed on the front belonging to the 10th C CE.

Where is Duomo di Sant'Eusebio (Saint Eusebius Cathedral) Vercelli (on Google Maps)Duomo di Sant'Eusebio
How to reach Duomo di Sant'Eusebio (Saint Eusebius Cathedral) Vercelli? 450m (5 mins walk) from Vercelli Railway Station. 350m (4 mins walk) from Basilica di Sant'Andrea
Duomo di Sant'Eusebio (Saint Eusebius Cathedral) Vercelli timings: -
Duomo di Sant'Eusebio (Saint Eusebius Cathedral) Vercelli tickets: Free

Rice Museum of Vercelli | Tenuta Colombara | Riso Acquerello Carnolini Rice

Rice Museum of Vercelli | Tenuta Colombara | Riso Acquerello Carnolini Rice

Rice Museum of Vercelli | Tenuta Colombara | Riso Acquerello Carnolini Rice

Rice Museum of Vercelli | Tenuta Colombara | Riso Acquerello Carnolini Rice

Rice Museum of Vercelli | Tenuta Colombara | Riso Acquerello Carnolini Rice

TENUTA COLOMBARA & RISO ACQUERELLO
Tenuta Colombara is not located within Vercelli, but near another town closeby called Castell'apertole (near Trino). 
How did Rice reach Italy? Italy gave the world, the very delicious, very filling, Risotto. Italy is home to several varieties of rice. The weather in Italy is so perfect for paddy growing. It was the Cistercian monks to first introduced paddy in Italy after the 12th C CE. It gained popularity after the 14th C when rice was considered a staple food to sustain after plagues & famines. The monks set up granges (granaries) to reclaim wooded areas and convert them to paddy fields! These were confined to this particular area where the microclimate was perfect for paddy growing. This region called the 'Triangle of Grange' is between Vercelli, Trino, and Crescentino. 
What is Tenuta Colombara? One of these granges, a complete historic set of a farmhouse with an inner courtyard surrounded by paddy fields is Tenuta Colombara. Not just this, the entire historic lifestyle including the dormitory of the workers, schools for their children within the farm, the historic vehicles, etc have been reconstructed and set up as a museum! It was set up in the 1400s. It changed a couple of hands and in 1935 it was taken over by Cesare Rondolino. Today his sons are also involved in everything here. 
Museum of Rice Culture, Vercelli: I managed to see the restored & reconstructed dormitories & schools, that I mentioned earlier, where the women that worked in these rice fields, lived during the cultivation & harvesting months. It was quite interesting to see the historic photographs at the Rice Museum, of women working in the fields. These women mostly came from Romania & Tuscany. The concept of 8hrs of work a day came into being here in 1906, because of these women. They were paid 40 kilos of rice and ¢80 per hour for 40 days of work (harvesting period) in the early 20th C CE. This was the time when a dress would cost ¢18, so ¢80 is a good payment!   

The Specialty of Vercelli Rice: The rice produced here in Vercelli has PDO certification (Protected Designation of Origin - similar to GI (Geographical Indication)). More than 100 varieties of rice are cultivated in this region. 
Riso Acquerello: Tenuta Colombara is owned by the rice brand 'Riso Acquerello' and it is also possible to do a rice fields & factory tour here! Riso Acquerello has 2 specialties - one is aging unhusked rice for 1-7 years to let the rice absorb the starch and the second is the coating of the rice grains with its own embryo bud which adds back its nutrition to it! 
As a part of the tour, it is possible to go into the granary where the risk is aged. I saw a section where it said the harvest was from 2016! That's 6 years of unhusked rice! Of course, you also get to walk through the paddy fields which was just perfect and brought back fond memories from India!!!

Where is Tenuta Colombara (on Google Maps)? Tenuta Columbara
How to reach Tenuta Colombara from Vercelli? The distance between Vercelli & Tenuta Colombara is about 25km. Bus route: 61 goes from Vercelli Railway Station to Livorno F. Castell'apertole which is located about 2km from Tenuta Colombara. The bus journey takes about 45 mins. However, this bus runs only 4 times a day and only on weekdays. 
Tenuta Colombara timings: Open for visitors only upon reservation. Contact Ms.Claudia Haberkern who manages English groups tours at +39 ‭348/7609989.
Tenuta Colombara tickets: -

MY PIEMONTE TRAVELOGUE 
Click the links below to read my other travel articles on Piemonte

Hotel Borgo Ramezzana Country House Review

Hotel Borgo Ramezzana Country House Review

Hotel Borgo Ramezzana Country House Review

Hotel Borgo Ramezzana Country House Review

Hotel Borgo Ramezzana Country House | Best Places for stargazing in Piemonte, Europe

BEST VERCELLI HOTELS

There are quite a few hotels & BnBs in Vercelli itself, but we chose to stay in a hotel in the heart of the rice fields, farther away from Vercelli. 
 
BORGO RAMEZZANA COUNTRY HOUSE - A REVIEW
This is the most 'in-the-middle-of-nowhere' hotel I have ever stayed in, in Europe. As the name suggests, it is a country house, a mansion, in the midst of rice fields. It has a bit of a castle look to it. The view from the rooms to the endless rice fields is absolutely charming. There was a very nice swimming pool, but unfortunately, it was a bit cold the day I was there and didn't get to use it. 

Rooms & Restaurant of Borgo Ramezzana Country House: There are 10 rooms split across 2 buildings - the owner's house and the farmer's house. The 'Owner's house' section is the historic section. The rooms are very charming with fireplaces, frescoes, and rustic decor. The 'Farmer's house' is the new section with elegant as well as exotic decor. There is a beautiful restaurant on the ground floor of the historic section called the 'La Torre" (The Tower). The food is made of locally sourced products and the rice, obviously, the very local, Carnoroli rice. I had one dinner here and it was absolutely delicious. 

Biking around Ramezzana & Trino: The hotel also rents out bikes for the guests to explore the area. If you have any particular requirements like a tandem bike, e-bike, or child seat, you'll have to inform them prior.
Here are a couple of biking routes around Ramezzana & Trino that pass through or very close to the hotel: Tour 1, and Tour 2 (both via Komoot)

Stargazing in Piemonte: The most awesome thing about Borgo Ramezzana Country House is its location. Being in the middle of nowhere, I was outside in its garden till midnight clicking photos. Why?! Well, the sky was crystal clear and in the middle of the night without any light pollution, I could see our Milky Way galaxy in all its glory! Absolutely phenomenal. I tried all the settings in my camera and phone to try to get the best shots that I could and tried using everything from chairs to bowls to ashtrays to set the angle of my phone & camera. I'm absolutely satisfied with the outcome. Without a doubt, Borgo Ramezzana Country House is one of the best places for star gazing in Piemonte.

Where is Borgo Ramezzana Country House (on Google Maps): Borgo Ramezzana Country House
How to reach Borgo Ramezzana Country House? It is located about 7km from Livorno F. Castell'apertole mentioned above on Tenuta Colombara route. There is no public transport to cover this 7km. It might be possible for the hotel to pick you up from Livorno F. Castell'apertole if you request in advance.
Borgo Ramezzana Country House phone no: +39 0161 829412
Borgo Ramezzana Country House room rates: Room rates begin at €126 for double occupancy in a standard room if you book at least 10 days in advance.

HOW TO REACH VERCELLI

Vercelli has a railway station. The train line that connects Milan and Turin goes via Vercelli. Trains run in either direction, once every hour, both during weekdays and weekends. 
Milan to Vercelli train journey time: 53 mins
Turin to Vercelli train journey time: 54 mins

Hotel Borgo Ramezzana Country House | Best Places for stargazing in Piemonte, Europe


PIN IT / BOOKMARK IT
Save it now. Read it later!

Vercelli Travel Guide Pinterest Vercelli Travel Guide Pinterest

 Vercelli Travel Guide Pinterest Vercelli Travel Guide Pinterest

Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. Being an ex - Art History Teacher, my area of interest especially lies in Nature and Heritage. Visited 85 UNESCO World Heritage sites as of June 2022. I've been listed among the Top 7 Women Travel Bloggers of India, Top 50 in UK. I have been interviewed in a couple of TV Shows, Radio Channels and Events as well. Read more about me and read the testimonials of different brands

8 comments:

  1. The fact that you can travel to these five wonderful places in a single day is amazing. Vercelli is the destination for you if you're looking to view breathtakingly stunning architecture. I was really taken aback by the Chiesa di San Cristoforo's interior. My eye was likewise drawn to those antique cars in Tenuta Colombara. Without a doubt, I'll pin this article!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is the first time I read a blog post about Vercelli - and I put this charming town on my wish list immidiately. Chiesa di San Cristoforo looks wonderful with all that stories on the walls. And I love rice and rice dishes. So the rice museum and the Tenuta Colombara is high on my list of places to go.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is first time I read about this city Vercelli else I always read about other famous cities in Italy. Vercelli looks so pretty and I can see there are lots of things to do especially walking tours . All the churches looked so pretty , I am going to save this for my Italy trip.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is the first time I'm hearing about Vercelli and you have raised my interest in visiting this beautiful place. I am a big foodie and whilst I tried risotto so many times, I never actually thought about how it grows in Italy. I would love to visit Tenuta Colombara and learn about how rice grows in Piemonte and later on taste a delicious plate of risotto. Vercelli looks like a very beautiful town to visit as well, I love that there is so much art around.

    ReplyDelete
  5. We have visited a lot of Italy but have missed most of the whole Piedmont region. While I had heard of Turin this was the first time I learned more about Vercelli. Fascinating to learn about the Roman history. Well worth a visit to the archeological museum. I can see why the Synagogue surprised you - simple outside but beautiful inside. After a stop at the Chiesa di San Cristoforo I too would truly be propelled to see the other religious buildings. Good to know I can get there by train. Maybe a day trip but there seems like enough for more than one day.

    ReplyDelete
  6. What crossed my mind after I read Vercelli is the vermicelli noodle. I thought I would find something about it at the end of the post, but it's not. lol. Anyway, the Chiesa di San Cristoforo looks amazing! I just can't imagine the thinking process of the artist to put all that frescoes on the wall and ceiling of the cathedral/church. I like how he delivered the image of Mary Magdalene wearing her hair only based on the story of her wiping Jesus' feet with her hair. And of course, I would like to try the aging rice.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Vercelli is an awesome destination with it's recognition as the land of rice! I loved the distinct architecture of its colorful buildings in octagonal shape. Great to know that Tenura Colombara is home to more than 100 varieties of rice first developed by the Cistercian monks.St. Andrews Basilica is beautiful with its frescoes and and alternating bricks and white and green stones. And the mix of Romanesque and gothic architecture is amazing!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Vercelli is part of our bucket list. We'd love to visit the Sistine Chapel of Vercelli. The frescoes are just breathtaking and it would be nice to see them up close. The State Archives looks interesting. You are lucky indeed to be able to visit when they are open.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for visiting...! Why not leave a comment.? And tell your friends..!!!
By commenting you accept to our GDPR Policy.