Lake Orta in Italy is one of my favourite places I always recommend to meditative people with a romantic side. Not all travellers know this enchanting place, this is why it is often underrated. Lake Orta is a little known gem that will enchant you with its blue glimpses, medieval villages, restaurants, high-class outlets and the stunning San Giulio island set in stone.
Lake Orta is about 130 km from Turin, but if you are in Milan you can reach it along about 70 km, an hour’s drive, and if you are landing in Milan Malpensa airport the journey only takes 42 km. I believe that this wonderful place can be a lovely getaway to include in your itinerary from one of these cities.
First of all Lake Orta has nothing to envy to Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore and Lake Como. Undoubtly, each of these lakes has its own charm but Lake Orta has something special to me. It is still a great place for a romantic weekend, for solo travelers or for who like to enjoy the landscape by trekking and hiking. I am literally in love with the atmosphere that the views lake offer travelers.
You can get to Lake Orta only on foot. It is at the end of a peninsula in the protected nature reserve of Sacro Monte. Italian writer Piero Chiara defined it as “God’s watercolor, painted on a silk backdrop, with its sacred mountain behind.“ The Holy Mountain is famous for its 20 chapels within which there are life-size terracotta statues depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis. It is considered a UNESCO World Heritage site.The mountain was also visited by Nietzsche together with Lou Salome, the woman he loved but she didn’t reciprocated his love. After he left that mountain he wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
You will love walking through the old houses.
If you want to visit Lake Orta I recommend 2 very pleasant paths to enjoy every corner of this enchanted place:
– The first path starts at Villa Crespi, a first-class hotel. It is also has a 2-star Michelin restaurant, housed in a Moorish palace with a minaret. From here take Via Fava leading down to the lake. The view is amazing, there are glimpses of chic villas belonging to impoverished aristocrats. Now they are home of lake-view apartments. Continuing towards the highest point on the horizon you will see Buccione tower,which is 23 meters high. It is a fort linked to the heroine of the Cusio, Maria Canavesa, who sacrificed his life and those of her children to save the banks of the lake from the invader. From this place the view is really fab.
– The second path is called “the lakefront” starts from Pasticceria Rosa and it is by the water. It seems famous Italian writer Montale was inspired from this path when he wrote one of his beautiful poems. Look at the Palazzo della Comunità in Piazza Motta. It is dated 1582 and it has got a large porch and sundials adorning the façade.
What to see in Lake Orta:
Here are 3 great places to relax, and enjoy the lake view:
- Town Hall,which is along the main street behind a wrought iron gate between the tall houses of the old town. There is a wonderful lakeside terrace. It is a truly magical place where you can sit and read a good book, listening to music overlooking the lake surrounded by roses and wisteria that drops down from the pergola. You can also admire the island of San Giulio.
- Hotel San Rocco is a former convent converted into a hotel. It is another place of relaxation wrapped in an religious silence.
- Church of the Assumption, where weddings are celebrated. It is so romantic!
- San Giulio Island. It is a small island. You can reach it by the boats that leave from the landing stage of Orta in less than 5 minutes. Round trip price is about €4. Once you arrive you can visit it on foot in just 40 minutes. It’s a really romantic place surrounded by the lake and the mountains. Here there is a monastery with a beautiful basilica you can visit. It contains a stunning Romanesque ambo and fairly preserved frescoes. What I appreciate most of San Giulio island is the silence, the absolute peace and the breathtaking views overlooking the lake. If you love photography you will love immortalize spots of preserved beauty.
- There is also “The street of silence”. It is a street around the picturesque monastery which offers several insights thanks to the quotes that guide visitors. Every 20 steps there are pearls of wisdom that lead man to meditation and the knowledge of himself.
When I visited Lake Orta I stayed at Al Dom B&B (Via Giovanetti, 57). It is a charming and elegant B&B. Rooms are cute and they overlook the lake. Breakfast is very good! I think this is the perfect place for a romantic and relaxing holiday. Website.
Places worth visiting around Lake Orta:
If you travel by car, as well as I did, here are nice towns and places that can satisfy your interests:
- Omegna is ideal for design lovers because here there is the Alessi outlet,where you can find interesting home stuff on sale.
- Pella is another town with the Romanesque church of San Filiberto. It is a medieval complex with a Romanesque bell tower and 14 chapels dating back to the ‘700 depicting Via Crucis. You can get here by car or by boat leaving from Orta San Giulio and getting off at San Filiberto. This is a little unknown gem. The view is very suggestive.
- Another gem to enjoy a breathtaking view is Madonna del Sasso and its beautiful sanctuary of the mid-700 located on a white granite outcrop overlooking the lake. There are several bends to reach it but I assure you it’s worth it. This place is pure poetry. In summer, the church is open only for a few hours during the day. From the square in front of the church, called “the balcony of Cusio”, you can enjoy a wonderful view over Lake Orta and the island of San Giulio. Then, you can also admire cute villages of the wide valley. You could also be lucky enough to find a clear sky and see Milan, Novara and Vercelli. To reach the church, you can also take the equipped likeside route of Pella, about 3 km, in two hours. If you need other info you can contact Tourist Office of Orta San Giulio sending a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
My Favourite Restaurants in Lake Orta
- Enoteca Re di Coppe (Piazza Motta, 32) is my place for appetizers. It is in the corner of the main square of Orta San Giulio. A platter of cold meats and cheese and two glasses of wine are about €20 for 2 people. It seems honest enough.
- Pan&Vino in (Piazza Motta, 37) is my place for lunch. I chose a chicken salad. If you want you can also choose appetizers. My friend chose a good sandwich with roast pork. I payed €6 for a glass of wine, I think it is too expensive. I wouldn’t choose it again. Website.
- Restaurant & Bistrot La Motta is ideal for a good dinner. I tasted pecorino cheese with ginger flan. If you want, you can also eat fish which is good too. Dishes are not abundant. You pay about €50 per person if you choose entrée, appetizer, first and second dish, dessert with a glass of fine wine but you can be satisfied only with appetizers and a first or second dish. Website.
- Hotel Villa Crespi Restaurant. I’m still waiting to try it personally. Many of my friends have told me that you eat well and the view is outstanding. Website.
- Gelateria Artigiana Antica Torre (Via Legro 10). Ice cream is very good here!
- Il Cucchiaio di Legno (Via Prisciola, 10). It is an agritourism farm when you can taste good meat. Price/quality ratio is good, you pay about €25 per person. I only recommend it if you want to stay more than one day at Lake Orta because it is about 30 minute by car from the centre.
I believe Lake Orta can be a wonderful alternative to a getaway that takes you away from the chaos of big cities. Do you agree? 🙂