Archives For Europe

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?

Ah, Paris, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

My apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning for mangling her poem, but that’s the best way of expressing what I think of Paris.

I’ve posted a few comments about places I’ve eaten lately, and seeing this is “Eat. TRAVEL. Bliss.” I thought I should have one travel-related post. The first just had to be on Paris.

I’m going to take you on a walk around the heart of Paris, pointing out a few favourite places along the way. It’s difficult to limit the number of places, because there are so many, but this is a start.

The photos here were taken in winter, with much darker light, and quite a lot of rain (and freeeezing cold weather). Somewhere down the road I’ll post more photos and details about other favourite places.


The tour of some of my favourite places around Paris starts at the Musée de l’Orangerie in the Jardin des Tuileries, the green place marker on this map:

The mini-tour below goes clockwise from the green marker, at Musée de l’Orangerie. As soon as I land in Paris this is basically the walk I take, to see the best of Paris along the way. There’s so much I could say about other fabulous places along the way, or with minor detours. I’ve needed to keep this as brief as possible, for just one post. More details will need to wait for other posts!

1. View from Musée de l’Orangerie looking towards the Louvre

The starting point is in the Jardin des Tuileries, just outside the Musée de l’Orangerie. That means I would have just been to soak up Monet’s water-lily paintings covering the walls inside. Truly bliss.

2. The Grand Bassin Octagonal in the Jardin des Tuileries

From there l’Orangerie I would make my way to the Grand Bassin Octagonal, and sit on one of the chairs there, watching kids sail boats, watching people walk by, looking around, towards the Louvre, the buildings along the rue de Rivoli, down the wide avenues down towards the Place de la Concorde. Love just resting there, breathing in the air, soaking up the atmosphere.

3. Café Le Nemours, Place Colette

It must be about time for lunch, so I would head over Place Collette, on one side of the Palais-Royal (another favourite place), to Café Le Nemours for a light lunch. Typically, I would order a quiche with chevre and salad, of course served with slices of baguette, and a glass of red. Another place to sit and watch the world go by while savouring the food.

4. The Louvre

Another must-see place, at least to walk by, is the Pyramide du Louvre. I tend to find the Louvre overwhelming, and should take smaller bite-sized views to avoid that. I don’t go there every visit to Paris because of that, but I do love to walk through the courtyard here where the Pyramid is located. A beautiful place, with the stunning Pyramid, the historic and picturesque and huge Palais du Louvre, the fountains. Atmospheric, day or night.

5. Pont des Arts

Another place I must go to linger is the Pont des Arts, a pedestrian-only, wood-paved bridge across the Seine, between the Louvre and the Institut de France. Sit or stand here, looking up and down the Seine, watching the bateaux-mouches and the heavily-laden cargo vessels, seeing so many of the landmarks of Paris, including the Tour Eiffel, the Cathédrale Notre Dame, and the Île de la Cité.

6. Pompidou Centre

The photo at the top of the post is taken from the upper levels of the Pompidou Centre. I love the art there, finding it always stretches my creativity and my head. Inspiring. At the top right of the photo you can see
Cathédrale Notre Dame (another favourite place).

7. Place des Vosges

Wander on over to through the Marais to the Place des Vosges, the old square, with apartments, restaurants, hotels, and shops around the outside, and garden in the middle. Classic Paris.

Oh, I could write so much about the areas around each of these “favourite places”, and more.

8. Patrick Allain, Fleuriste, Île Saint-Louis

I would then wander over to the Île Saint-Louis, window-shopping, looking at Patrick Allain Fleuriste, a fabulous cheese shop, stopping off at Berthillon for a glace.

9. Métro

It doesn’t really make sense to catch the Métro to the next stop, but I had to include it in the list of things to do in Paris, with the Métro making it so easy to criss-cross the city. It’s fun looking at the character of each of the stations, reflecting the area above.

10. Café Delmas, Place de la Contrescarpe

I usually catch the métro to Censier-Daubenton, and wander up rue Mouffetard on a market day, loving walking up the narrow street, looking at all of the food shops along the way, and restaurants galore. Whatever fresh food you want to buy, you can always buy there, cheese, olive oil, breads, meats, fish, wine, and so on.

To take a break, I like to stop at Café Delmas for a coffee. Another place to sit and watch the world go by. Cars go zooming through the Place, people are always hurrying by, and the fountain in the square in the middle splashes.

11. Jardin du Luxembourg

Heading back to our starting point, another place to explore, and linger, is the Jardin du Luxembourg. While I love the Jardin des Tuileries, somehow the Jardin du Luxembourg seems more peaceful, more laid-back. I love wandering around the variety of gardens, looking at the beehives, watching people play chess, seeing the kids play on the playground, and others just sitting back and relaxing. Even on freezing winter days I’ve still seen people enjoying being here, eating their lunch, trying to catch whatever warmth could be found from the sun’s rays.

12. Église Saint-Sulpice

Every time I get to Paris I always spend some time in Église Saint-Sulpice, the second-largest church in Paris. There’s a 20-minute or so organ performance at the end of the Sunday morning service, with a regular organ recital later in the day.

13. Musée d’Orsay

The last blissful place in Paris in this list is the Musée d’Orsay. I have to get there every visit, loving see the Corots, Renoirs, Manets, and so on. Such goodness, but not overwhelming like the Louvre.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-review of some of the highlights of Paris. I have! Such memories. It is such a rich place, with so much to see and do. I never understand how people can visit Paris for just a few days at a time. You need time to see sights such as these, but above all, to explore, to sit and soak it up, to discover fabulous little places in the back-streets, to shop at the food markets.

I bet you’re thinking: “what about …” and “why not mention … “. Hopefully I’ll get back to writing more posts digging more into the delights of Paris.

What are your favourite places in Paris? I’d love to hear.