Post Updated to include curated videos of Lago d’Orta (Lake Orta) plus beguiling photos taken by Italian photographer Paolo Ferraris for ALOR Italy.
Nicknamed La Cenerentola (Cinderella) Lago d’Orta (Lake Orta) is secretly considered by many Italians as the superior little sister to the larger more well-known Lake Como and Lake Maggiore. Italy’s most romantic lake Lago d’Orta has long played muse for artists, poets, and weddings. Here are a few photos and videos that best illustrate the charms of Lago d’Orta. Plus, top must-see sights if you only have one day to visit Lake Orta.
What to Do, See & Eat at Lake Orta, Italy
The following tourism video is only in Italian and yet, I wanted to share it with you because the drone footage is the best I’ve seen of this beloved Northern Italian lake.
To get the most out of a first visit to Lago d’Orta start at with Orta San Giulio. Situated in the middle of the east bank, San Giulio offers easy access to many of Lago d’Orta’s top points of interest including Villa Bossi, Piazza Motta, and Isola San Giulio.
Villa Bossi Public Garden
After years of sitting abandoned, Villa Bossi was purchased in 1975 and carefully restored to serve as Orta San Giulio’s current Town Hall. While the villa is from the 17th century, it was constructed on a medieval site. Five entryway portals and an ancient gate still remain.
Behind Villa Bossi lies a small but enchanting public waterfront garden. Flowers cascade down a tunnel of trellises drawing visitors lakeside. At the end lies sensational water level views immersed in the romanticism of Lago d’Orta.
The video below is posted in Italian, but this time… there’s no commentary. Still, I adore putting myself in the shoes of the person who filmed it. Clip, clop, clip, clop, sigh! That view.
“The Perfect Picture” a bronze statue (pictured above) by German Actor and Director Carl Heinz Schroth captures the artistic spirit that reverberates all around Lago d’Orta. A three-minute walk south lies San Giulio’s main square, Piazza Motta. Please indulge me if you will with a few of our own family photos from our visit.
Palazzo della Comunità della Riviera in Orta San Giulio sits on the north end of Piazza Motta. Known locally at Palazzotto the Palazzo was built in 1582 with frescos still visible today.
Typical of ancient municipal palazzos an open-air portico makes up the ground floor providing shade and protection for markets. While the upper floor historically served as the hall where the General Council met.
All around Piazza Motta colorful Italian patina juxtaposes modern shops and restaurants. It’s the perfect spot to stop and take it all in over a coffee or Aperitivo. Best of all, Piazza Motta offers romantic views along with boats and ferries to Isola di San Giulio, Lago d’Orta’s only island.
Isola di San Giulio (San Giulio Island)
Known as ‘the island of silence’ Isola di San Giulio (Island of San Giulio) is home to a modern monastery. Posted along the curved walkways, signs with peaceful thoughts like “The moment is present, here at now” and “Silence is music and harmony” encourage visitors to put their cell phones down. Peace rings clear across this 900-foot long, 459-foot wide island anchored by a minor Basilica, Basilica di San Guilio. A walk around Isola di San Giulio offers the promise of serenity and the impossibility of getting lost, even without google maps.
Where to Eat
While there are a few options for lunch on Isola di San Giuoli, I recommend heading back to Piazza Motto for lunch. Just a two-minute walk from the docks up the winding street lies Al Boeuch an Italian wine bar with tiny tables spilling out onto the tilted narrow street. While they have vegetarian options, we opted for the cheese and charcuterie board pictured below. I’m still dreaming about this plate and its rather enticing grappa jelly.
Follow Nietzsche’s Footsteps, Sacro Monte
If a post-lunch walk is in order, try taking in panoramic vistas of Lago d’Orta at the top of Sacro Monte di Orta (The Sacred Mount of Orta). A Roman Catholic devotional complex dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi the Sacred Mount of Orta dates back to 1583 and is included in UNESCO World Heritage list. My American friends will appreciate the English captions on this beautiful video. I wanted to include it because this video shows what it’s like to walk around Sacro Monte di Orta in a way that’s difficult for photos to do.
A spiraling trail of twenty chapels depicts key phases of Saint Francis of Assisi’s life. Even for the non-religious, the hike is a pleasant exploration rewarded with heavenly views. The gracefully manicured woods provide shade and benches to ponder Nietzsche’s romantic connection to Lake Orta.
It was among these wooded trails where Nietzsche is said to have spent time with a young Russian woman named Lou Salomé. In a letter to Lou Nietzsche confessed “I owe to you the most beautiful dream of my life.”
When it comes time to find that summer vacation in the Italian lakes, both Lago Maggiore and Lago d’Orta deserve their due. Thankfully with only an hour’s drive between the two lakes, the itinerary described above would make Lago d’Orta the perfect day trip from Lago Maggiore.
With a balanced combination of nature and history, it’s not hard to see why Italians and artists throughout history have fallen in love with Lago d’Orta. Those tales told time and time again of Nietzsche’s summer romance reverberate from the Sacro Monte hillside down to Lago d’Orta glassy waters. Just to see Lago d’Orta is to love her.
What about you, does a history complete with famous artists and authors draw you to specific travel destinations too? I’d love to hear what your favorites are? Please share in the comments below!
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- Rousing Nietzsche in Orta, Italy – by D. Curoopen Colpman