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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:


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 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


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.


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?

A friend who lives in the Southern Highlands of NSW told me about the Bowral Farmers’ Market some time ago. This weekend I finally time my visit down to the Southern Highlands to get along to the Market.

It was a cold day, 5°C (41°F) when I arrived, only getting up to 11°C (51°F) for a brief time. A gorgeous day, with the autumn leaves glowing in the sunlight.

One of the stalls was selling herb and vegie seedlings and small plants. There was a good range, and it was all of superb quality, better than I usually see in nurseries.

This stall had the freshest, wide range of produce, which quickly sold out:

Another stall just specialized in potatoes:

Chocolate Brownie Biscotti

Luscious, fresh produce

Several stalls sold organic, healthy breads

The 1910 Bottling Company were there selling their organic preserves in Ball Mason jars, including pears, beetroot, apricots, pineapple and a tomato sauce.

Strawberry cream, and pistachio macarons

Many varieties of pumpkins

One thing I wish I had photographed (to show you) was a curry, with chickpeas and a potato rissole. That was like a good home-made, real curry. I’d want to try some of the other curries at that stall next time.

Everything about the Bowral Market was enjoyable. Excellent quality produce. Not too crowded to enjoy wandering around the stalls, and in a picturesque setting. I’ll be baaaaack.

Exotic Mushroom Risotto

I found this amazing pack of mushrooms (from Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms):

Included in there are enoki, shiitaki, brown, woodear, chestnut, shimejii, king brown and oyster mushrooms. I just had to buy a pack to try out in risotto! Here’s how it turned out:

It looks far less exotic once the mushrooms are sliced for cooking, but it still added interesting colours and shapes to the risotto. Each mushroom tasted slightly different, with different textures, but still very much tasting like… mushroom. 🙂 They did make the risotto look less bland than mushroom risotto usually does.


What Fresh vegies and fruit, and breads, all mainly organic. Herb and plant seedlings and small plants. Also flowers, honey, teas, and a variety of general produce stalls. And, an assortment of other stalls, such as sheepskin products, furniture, antique jewellery, and so on. And some hot food for eating right away!
When The second Saturday of every month, from 8am to 1pm.
Where  Bowral Primary School, Corner of Bendooley St and Boolwey St, Bowral, NSW


How would you have cooked that collection of mushrooms?