5 stops you mustn’t miss when visiting Lake Orta in Italy

In Northern Italy, west of Lake Maggiore, you will find Lake Orta. Though not the biggest egg in the basket, it is surely one of the most beautiful lakes. It appears as if all the charm and memories of the larger lakes are found in this small sub-Alpine lake.

San Giulio Island, Lake Orta

Definitely a place for awe-inspiring moments! The discreet beauty of the landscape, enthralling history and wealth of artistic treasures, mainly Romanesque and Baroque architecture, create a favourite area around the lake.

Island view, San Giulio, Lake ORta

The Island of San Giulio

Of great importance is the story of the only island in Lake Orta, San Giulio. Only 140m wide and 275m long and less than 400m from Orta’s main square, piazza Motta. There are signs of communities as far back as the Neolithic era but it was deserted during Roman times. It was also known as a pre-Christian cult center. The two Greek brothers, Giulio and Giuliano, arrived on Lake Orta at the end of the 4th century for a very good reason: they were evangelists who sought to build churches in order to spread the Christian faith. Eventually they separated for a while and Gulio went on to Orta to seek a site for their 100th church. Legend has it that he had to destroy serpents and dragons before he erected his church where the current bascilica still stands. Nowadays there are about 80 nuns living in this Mater Ecclesiae Benedictine convent.

San Giulio, Lake Orta

Orta San Giulio village

The village of Orta is completely traffic free and it is sheer bliss to walk the cobbled streets and wind through ancient roads. The main square, Piazza Motta, is an open-air rendezvous on the lake and tourists love to gather there. Several boats take people over to the island and round the lake to browse in little shops. There are street cafés where you just have to stop for a drink and breathe in the air of times gone by. Watching the joyful passers-by, completes the picture. Visitors enjoy good food and drink at the various eateries and delis.

San Giulio Village, Lake Orta

The Broletto Palace or ancient town hall in the square dates back to 1582. The market was held in the portico or entrance with its arches on the ground floor. The external walls are decorated with frescoes and the coats of arms of some bishops. The right hand façade carries the heraldic shield of Orta itself and the words “Hortus Conclusius” – a secret garden which offers shelter from evil. An outside staircase goes up to the great hall on the first floor. This is the headquarters of the Community of the tiny feudal republic of Riviera d’Orta. It has large windows overlooking the square, and a baroque fresco depicts the Madonna, St Julius and St Francis to whom the Holy Mount is dedicated.

Broletto palace, San Giulio, Lake Orta

The grey stone building materials of the village buildings and the roofs in beole, a local stone frequently used in ancient times, are most charming.

Grey buildings, San Giulio, Lake Garda

Orta sacred mountain

The religious complex of Sacro Monte of Orta lies on the hill above the village, overlooking Lake Orta. It is one of the Sacri Monti of Piedmont and Lombardy, included in UNESCO World Heritage list. It is enormously rich in art and architecture, and links to the ambiance and beauty of this natural site. An atmosphere of indescribable spirituality makes a deep impression on the people going there. The 20 chapels and their strict, but elegant, Renaissance architecture, are set in a magnificent pine wood park with stunning views over the stone roofed village. Using frescoes and statues, it tells the story of St Francis of Assisi. The purpose of every Sacro Monte was to give religious instruction the mostly illiterate faithful, using descriptive images of the friezes.

Sacro Monte Church, Lake Garda

Romanic Santa Maria Assunta Church

The Santa Maria Assunta Church is indeed one of the most beautiful churches in the Italian Lakes District. It is often photographed by Vogue and several significant bridal magazines. The view from the main entrance on old Orta San Giulio village, the Island and the Alps, is impressive. Getting married here is every girl’s dream. Orta’s narrow car free roads lead to the main square where you can admire Orta in all its charm. And from there a small cobble stone road leads you to the charming Santa Maria Assunta Church. The church’s facade is colourful and its interior precious and rich with wide 1700 frescoes and golden details. Nicolao Monti designed the church for the Community of Orta to commemorate the plague of 1485. It was not elected a parish church until 1560.

Santa Maria Assunta Church, Lake Orta

Villa Crespi

“A wonderful, exclusive, matchless experience”: this is how a visit to this Moorish style villa is described. With its own minaret, it offers 14 lavish baroque rooms. Four- poster beds, antique furniture and extra- luxurious bathrooms add to the grandeur. With helpful, polite and courteous staff like Villa Crespi’s, it can only be an indulgent encounter. At more than 300 euro per night, all this and more should be the norm! Why not complete your stay at Lake Orta with this once-in-a-life-time happening?

Villa Crespi, Lake Orta

Celine Renaud is Head of Sales for Leo Trippi.

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Comments (5)

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  1. Dominic says:

    An excellent guide to a region of Italy I haven’t traveled before. Villa Crespi sounds ideal, as I am partial to a four poster bed. I especially enjoyed the photo of San Guilio, it looks as though there would be a lot of history to explore here as well as a beautiful surroundings and no doubt excellent food. Are there good travel links to this region?

  2. Lisa says:

    I love Italy and not just for the fabulous food. The people are so wonderful and friendly. Thank you for sharing details about Lake Orta, it is so helpful to have someone who has been there tell you about a place than read it in a magazine. The Broletto Palace is the kind of thing that I would love to visit.

  3. Sue says:

    Absolutely loved these photographs, especially the first one – I’d love to live there! This seems like such a little gem, I love finding out about these kinds of places. I also love places that have plenty of churches to explore, religious or not, you have got to appreciate the beauty of a church. I would 100% need to go to that pizzeria in the Orta San Giulio village – need that for my Instagram lol!

  4. Samantha says:

    What an excellent guide, I have never travelled to this region before. I love Italy though, the food is incredible and it’s full of history and beautiful places. Thanks for opening my eyes to a new region to explore. Lake Orta looks very charming and pretty, I definitely need to visit the Pizzeria mentioned. The church also looks very beautiful with its pastel yellow colour.

  5. Kelly Leanne Jones says:

    So much history this place sounds truly amazing and just like the kind of place I would adore to live. I really enjoyed hearing about Orta and the myths that surround him. Who knew that such a small place could have so much history!

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