Lago di Orta, in the region of Piedmont, Italy, is nestled in the hills just west of Lake Maggiore. It’s only a thirty minute drive from Milan and Lake Maggiore, but without the hustle and bustle or glitz of Maggiore and another well known lake, Como. In fact not many people have heard of Lago di Orta, not even the Italians, though they comprise the majority of tourists there. I think they must want to keep it for themselves. Why? Because I think Lago di Orta just may be the most beautiful place in the world.
The town of Orta San Giulio on the east side of the lake is one of the most romantic places I’ve ever been. The buildings are all brilliant terracotta colors with tile rooftops and painted shutters, tumbling down the hillside toward the lake. It’s a pedestrian-only town, with one narrow alley-like street and few little side alleys that beckon you to explore them.
Towering above Orta San Giulio is Sacro Monte (spiritual mountain), a place of pilgrimage dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi. There are twenty chapels illustrating the life of St. Francis along a clearly marked path with picnic and rest areas along the way. At Sacro Monte, nature and architecture are carefully combined to enhance the feeling of devotion and encourage meditation. You also have a spectacular view of the lake from the mountain.
Then there’s Isola San Giulio, a tiny gem of an island. In the ninth century the Bishop of Navaro built a basilica there which dominates the landscape. There’s also Benedictine monastery built in the 1900s. It seems that even the island is a place for the religious and spiritual seeker, although you could simply enjoy the scenery and the architecture. From Piazza Motta the main square in Orta San Giulio, you can take a ferry over to the island.
If you’re only here for a day or less, as I was, have lunch at one of the restaurants on Piazza Motta – all have a lake view. Isola San Giulio is visible from Piazza Motta, and sitting there with a view of the lake and the island is like sitting in a big open air theater in one of the most beautiful settings in the world.
From the moment I arrived, Lago di Orta stole my heart.
If you go, the best way to arrive is by car, though it’s possible to go by bus.
For more information on the area. http://www.orta.net/eng1/indexe.htm
Accommodations are mainly hotels on the lake, though there are some apartment rentals as well.
Have you been to Lago di Orta? Do these small out-of-the-way places call to you? Do you enjoy visiting places of spiritual or religious significance?