Lake Orta: one of Italy’s best-kept secrets
Located in the northern lakes district of Italy, Lake Orta looks like a painting: the island of San Giulio where time seems to have stopped, the monastery Madonna del Sasso which is perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the lake and wooded mountains that frame an ethereal landscape.
And you know the best thing? This jewel has (luckily) not yet been invaded by crowds of tourists.
It’s a relatively small lake compared to Lake Como and Lake Maggiore, nonetheless at Lake Orta there are many things you can do: hiking, cooking classes (I recommend “cook on the lakes”), riding a bike along “anello azzurro” route or, simply, relaxing on one of its beaches.
But when I’m asked to say the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Lake Orta, I have no doubt: the village of Orta San Giulio and the picturesque San Giulio island.
Orta San Giulio
(Lake Orta things to do #1)
Orta San Giulio will steal your heart from the very beginning when, once arrived, San Giulio island (located right in front of Orta) appears before your eyes.
First tip: head to Hotel San Rocco.
The view from the hotel deck is remarkable; even more, if you have the typical Italian breakfast – cappuccino and cornetto – while enjoying the panorama (on the deck, there is a cafe accessible to everyone, not only to hotel guests!).
I consider this the perfect place to have a first “taste” of the lake. So, enjoy the view (and the breakfast ).
To visit the village, reach the main street Via Gippini. Along this cobblestone street, you can see most of the highlights of Orta, like the church of San Rocco (a cosy church with colorful frescoes inside) and Villa Bossi (the town hall of Orta; go inside to see the romantic little garden which lies by the lake).
While you wander around Via Gippini, go down the narrow alleys and peek into Orta’s hidden courtyards where arches, plants and vintage shops create a retro atmosphere.
The next stop I suggest is Piazza Motta with its colorful houses overlooking the blue waters of the lake.
Once there, don’t miss Palazzo della Comunità (an ancient building – with frescoed walls – which is used for art exhibitions) and the church of Santa Maria Assunta (take the street that from Piazza Motta goes uphill and you’ll find the church in front of you).
Orta needs to be discovered at a slow pace; that’s why you should spend some time at Sacro Monte, a park on the top of the hill behind Orta (it’s a 15-minute walk from Piazza Motta).
The spot is so calm and peaceful with breathtaking views of the lake. When you are there, take a stroll and admire the 20 colorful and quirky chapels which are spread around the park; they are worth a visit. Oh, and did I mention that Sacro Monte is also a UNESCO site?
San Giulio island
(Lake Orta things to do #2)
The island of San Giulio is located in front of Orta. As you approach it with one of the boats which regularly leave from Piazza Motta, you see the majestic Benedictine monastery rising up on the island.
After the visit of the monastery, take a walk along “the street of silence” to enjoy the quiet of this island where time seems to have stopped. Nowadays, it’s difficult to find a place like this. It stole my heart since the first time I have been there and I’m sure that Orta and San Giulio island will steal your heart too.
My recommendation is to plan your visit in spring (what makes this spot so special is the peace, so try to avoid summer weekends when it’s unlikely to be deserted!). I also like the mysterious beauty of these places during autumn and winter.
Last tip: before leaving Orta, don’t miss Villa Crespi (is located just outside the village). It’s a blend of different architectural styles, mainly moorish and oriental style. Besides that, inside Villa Crespi there is a restaurant which boasts 2 Michelin stars… Keep that in mind in case you are hungry (yes I know, I cannot avoid thinking about food!)
Have you already been to the northern lakes district of Italy? Write the place that you liked most!