Orta San Giulio, Province of Novara, Italy

March 1, 2013 — 6 Comments

This is one of those cases where you hesitate to write about a place so that more people don’t find out about it.  However, Orta San Giulio on Lake Orta in the north of Italy is such a picturesque place that I can’t help but write about it.  The only difficulty is trying to keep the number of photos to be just enough to give you a feel for why I love it!

Introduction to Orta San Giulio

Lake Maggiore or Lake Como in the north of Italy are talked about frequently, including in movies.  Lake Orta (Lago d’Orta) is less well known. It is a small lake to the west of Lake Maggiore. The Lake is about 13km long and about 2.5km wide, so is much smaller than the other lakes in the area.

Orta San Giulio (often just referred to as “Orta”) is a town of about 1200 people on a peninsula on the east side of the lake.  It is surrounded by lush green forested hills.  Across the lake are tall mountains, often snow-capped.

Across from Orta, in the middle of the lake is Isola San Guilio, a small island consisting mainly of a Basilica.

Wandering Around Orta

Wherever you wander around Orta you see glimpses of the lake, and the island.

Orta - lago view 4

This is the entry to the Piazza Mario Motta, the main square in Orta:

Orta - entry to piazza

Where the people are standing is a bakery, selling luscious breads and pastries.  And now here is the main square, surrounded by restaurants, and a few hotels:

Piazza Mario Motta

The Piazza is the centre of town life.  Since 1228 markets have been held there every Wednesday.  Boats to the Isola and for crossing the Lake can be hired on the Piazza’s lake edge.

Around every corner of Orta are picturesque scenes.  I think it’s the combination of the age of the buildings, the colours, the textures that I love.  And because Orta is small, there’s an intimacy to the place.

Orta - wall

Even the Comune di Orta San Giulio, the municipal building is picturesque, with a pretty garden, overlooking the lake:

Orta - Municipal

One of the churches in Orta, Chiesa dell’Assunta, dating back to 1485:

Orta - church

Orta - inside church

Leading from the Piazza are narrow winding walkways, closed to traffic (well to general traffic to be precise – delivery vehicles do occasionally use some of the roads).

Orta - via olina

This is Orta , taken from the boat on the way back from the Isola:

Orta - Orta San Giulio

More restaurants around the Piazza:

Orta - dining

Orta - flowers

Orta - libations

We bought a risotto mix like this for one meal, to cook back in our apartment. It included herbs and dried porcini mushrooms, which made it easy!

The top picture here is the view from my bedroom, and the lower one just outside the apartment:

Orta - Lodging

I’ll never forget the sounds of the sparrows and other little birds singing as they bounced around the bushes and flowers.  And the sounds of the bells ringing across the lake from the Isola, and from the churches in Orta and beyond, that sound of Italy.

Around Orta

Sacro Monte

Up on the hill above Orta is Sacro Monte, a UNESCO-listed site dedicated to St Francis of Assissi, built in 1591. It’s quite a steep walk up there, past some lovely homes, but worth the effort.  Dotted around the special nature reserve are 20 chapels, with terracotta scenes depicting the life of St Francis.

Sacro Monte

The visit to Sacro Monte is worth it for the views of the Lago alone:

Orta-Isola

Around Orta

On the hillsides around Orta are a number of small villages, dotted through the green, green forests.  Makes for a good walk, exploring those on foot from Orta.

Orta - greens

Around the Lake

Isola San Guilio

Isola San Giulio seems to be the reference point wherever you are around much of the lake. It’s only small, about 275 metres long and 140 metres wide, which makes for an easy stroll around the island. Most of the island is made up of the Basilica of San Guilio, built in the 12 century, now a Benedictine monastery.

Orta - isola - walk

The path around the island is called La Via del Silenzio (“The Way of Silence”), with signs suggesting meditations dotting the road along the way. The silence adds to the peaceful atmosphere.

Orta - Isola

Omegna

Omegna is at the northernmost tip of Lago d’Orta. It is much bigger than Orta, with a population of about 16,000. It has developed as an industrial area for small home appliances. Around the lake the town has the colourful older buildings, and fanning out north from there the town extends into suburbs and factories. Of particular note is the Alessi factory, which has a shop with “seconds”, with things not often seen elsewhere, for generally excellent prices (so when you’re visiting Orta make sure you have space in your luggage for Alessi things!).
Omegna town, and the Alessi factory shop

Pella

Across the lake from Orta is another small town, Pella, with a population of about 1,200. You can get there by car, or by boat from Orta. It’s a neat, pretty town, worth visiting, and walking around the streets there.
Orta - Pella

Some Final Thoughts

Orta San Giulio is a peaceful quiet place, picturesque. It does get busier on weekends, with people visiting from other parts of Italy, so it’s good to be there during the week to get a feel for more regular life. There are some lovely walks you can do, around the Orta peninsula, exploring the lane ways, up to Sacro Monte, around the lake edge, and to the villages on the hillside, so you don’t even have to get in your car while you’re there, unless you want to go further afield. You can get a boat from Orta to the Isola or Pella or Omegna.

Orta would be an excellent place for a quiet, restful vacation, reading some good books, wandering to one of the restaurants for a meal, and sipping prosecco as the sun goes down, overlooking the lake.

Spring was a lovely time to visit, with the new green leaves on the trees in abundance, and the flowers in fresh bloom. I’ve seen photos of Orta in other seasons, and even in the middle of winter it still has its own beauty.

Thinking about Orta again makes me want to get back there, a gem of a place.

Getting There

Orta San Giulio is about 90km north-west of Milan. There are numerous ways of getting to Orta from Milan, including by car and by train. You can hire a car at the airport in Milan, or if coming from other parts of Europe by train, you can hire a car at the Milan station, too. The train station for Orta, Orta Miasino, is about 3km from the township of Orta San Giulio. During tourist season (March-October) there is a shuttle going from the station down to the town.

Details

Here are some places with more information about Orta San Giulio:

 

Where is your favourite gem of a place that is usually off the tourist map?

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6 responses to Orta San Giulio, Province of Novara, Italy

  1. 

    Hi Andrea, I just found your blog because I am researching more places to visit in Italy and have been drooling over Orta lately. Love your photos here and they certainly inspire me to go there. I have been to Lake Como a couple of times and loved it but I would like to try somewhere else in the lake district. Your apartment looked divine – was it an available rental by any chance? Paula

    • 

      Hi Paula! It’s been a few years since I’ve been to Orta San Giulio now, but I suspect it is still just as good. It did seem that the village and surrounding areas had everything you could want on a relaxing vacation. I’ve thought that it would be a lovely place to linger for longer, too. It’s a bit quieter, too, than some of the bigger lakes, although weekends were busy there in the village (always plenty of places to find which are peaceful). I stayed in a house divided into apartments probably less than 500m from the main square, a gentle stroll on relatively level ground, overlooking the Lake. The name of the house is Casa Sul Lago. When I booked I think I did that through Interhome. The apartment I was in was a 2-bedroom apartment, on the ground floor at the right on that photo. Beautiful sitting outside, eating at the table there, when we weren’t eating in town. See Tripadvisor for the latest comments about the place, and the Casa Sul Lago web site showing room floorplans. Ahhhhh, I can just remember the tolling of the bells on the Isola wafting across the Lake. And remember watching nuns on a boat zoom by on their way over to the Island, habits blowing in the breeze. I remember trying to figure out which shop sold the best gelato. Would love to go back. Hope that helps, Paula.

  2. 

    Ciao Andrea, very nice overview of our little village. I live here and am searching for specifics about our town and happily came upon your blog. Orta has an even different personality in winter when the tourists are gone and it’s just the residents and occasional visitor. Thank you and see you again here in Orta.

  3. 

    Hi Andrea. So happy I stumbled upon your blog. I will be visiting Lake orta end of May 2015. Can hardly wait now that I saw your pictures

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