In order to improve the understanding of thermal-tectonic evolution of high-grade terranes, we conducted a systematic study of textures, REE content and U-Pb ages of zircon and monazite grains extracted from migmatitic metapelites across the amphibolite to granulite facies metamorphic gradient exposed in the Ivrea-Verbano and Strona-Ceneri Zones (Italy). This study documents the behaviour of these accessory minerals in the presence of melt. The absence of relict monazite grains in the metasediments and the gradual decrease in the size of inherited zircon grains from amphibolite to granulite facies cores indicate partial to total dissolution of accessory minerals during the prograde path and partial melting. The retrograde path is marked by (i) growth of new zircon rims (R1 and R2) around inherited cores in the mesosome, (ii) crystallisation of stubby zircon grains in the leucosome, especially at granulite facies, and (iii) crystallisation of new monazite in the mesosome. Stubby zircon grains have a distinctive fir-tree zoning and a constant Th/U ratio of 0.20. Together, these features reflect growth in the melt; conversely, the new zircon grains with R1 rims have dark prismatic habits and Th/U ratios < 0.1, pointing to growth in solid residues. U-Pb ages obtained on both types are similar, indicating contemporaneous growth of stubby zircon and rims around unresorbed zircon grains, reflecting the heterogeneous distribution of the melt at the grain scale. In the Ivrea-Verbano Zone the interquartile range (IQR) of U-Pb ages on zircon and monazite are interpreted to represent the length of zircon and monazite crystallisation in the presence of melt. Accordingly, they provide an indication on the minimum duration for high-temperature metamorphism and partial melting of the lower crust: 20 Ma and 30 Ma in amphibolite and granulite facies, respectively. In amphibolite facies, zircon crystallisation between 310 and 294 Ma (IQR) is interpreted to reflect metamorphic peak condition and earlier retrograde history; conversely, monazite crystallisation between 297 and 271 Ma (IQR) reflects cooling under ~750 °C to a temperature close to the solidus. In granulite facies, zircon crystallisation between 295 and 265 Ma (IQR) is interpreted to reflect high-temperature conditions, which were attained after peak of metamorphism during isothermal decompression and subsequent cooling under ~850–950 °C. The observed decrease of U-Pb ages in metamorphic zircon and monazite from amphibolite to granulite facies (i.e. from the middle to the lower crust) is interpreted to record slow cooling and crystallisation of the Variscan orogenic root at the transition from orogenic collapse to opening of the Tethys Ocean.