Lake Orta is a quiet lake, 15km in length, in the southern Alps just west of Lake Maggiore, in the Piedmont region. To the west of the 'important' Lombardy lakes such as Maggiore, Iseo and Como it is smaller than these other lakes - and less visited.
It is often said that the Italians who know about Orta prefer to keep it a secret to avoid it becoming as commercialised as the larger lakes. The lake itself is in a picturesque setting surrounded by woods and hills.
The small town of Orta San Giulio is on the hillside on the south-eastern edge of the lake, and is an interesting place to start a visit, with an attractive historical centre bearing witness to a wealthy past. There are also a couple of notable historical monuments to discover in Orta, such as the 16th century town hall and a 15th century church.
The village is looked down on by the sanctuary of Sacro Monte - the path to the sanctuary has some especially good views across the lake, and passes 21 little chapels en-route. The ensemble is dedicated to St Francis of Assissi.
If you follow the road northwards from here, pause at Pettenasco then continue to Omegna at the northern end of the lakefor have further picturesque views across Orta.
Romantically sited and adding to the charm of Lake Orta, the island of Isola San Giulio is in the center of the lake. The island is easily reached on the boats that frequently leave from the central plaza in Orta San Giulio.
The main reason to visit the island (rather than just looking from afar) is to visit the basilica and the renowned pulpit and 15th century frescoes it contains, and to stroll along the waterfront admiring yet more picturesque houses.