Visit Lake Orta
Lake Orta is a quiet lake, 15 kilometres long and two kilometres wide, in the southern Alps just west of Lake Maggiore in the Piedmont region if Italy. To the west of the 'important' Lombardy lakes such as Maggiore, Iseo and Como, it is smaller than these other lakes - and less visited, although even Lake Orta can become quite busy in the summer.
The lake is in a picturesque setting surrounded by woods and hills, and it is often said that the Italians who know about Lago d'Orta prefer to keep it a secret to avoid it becoming as commercialised as the larger lakes. In any case both the town of Orta San Giulio and the lake are extremely pretty and a visit is highly recommended.
Explore Lake Orta: tourism and travel guide
The small town of Orta San Giulio is the most important place on the hillside on the south-eastern edge of the lake is the most important settlement on the shores of Orta and an interesting place to start a visit, with an attractive historical centre bearing witness to a wealthy past.
The main pleasure of a visit is in exploring the narrow cobbled streets, admiring the pretty village houses and relaxing with a coffee in a small cafe - or even better with an ice cream from one of several ice-cream shops. The main square, Piazza Motta, is also the main harbour for the town and a lovely place to spend an hour or two.
There are also a couple of notable historical monuments to discover in Orta San Giulo, such as the 16th century town hall with its arcades and frescoed exterior and a 15th century church. After exploring Orta San Giulo you can also follow a path that follows the shores of the lake from the village.
Most of the town centre is pedestrianised, for reasons that will be very clear when you see the narrow cobbled streets!
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.
As well as this and other walks around the lake, the bike ride around Orta is also very lovely. Although there are a few small hills there is nothing too arduous and the scenery makes any suffering worthwhile! Alternatively you can just relax on Miami Beach, a nice sandy lake beach at Orta San Giulio.
Isola San Giulio
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 remains of the 12th century basilica and to see the renowned pulpit and 15th century frescoes it contains, and to stroll along the waterfront admiring yet more picturesque houses or to follow the path that circles the island. The island is small and if you don't stop too often to admire the views across the lake it takes less than half an hour to explore.
Until the 4th century the locals refused to visit the island because they said it was infested with monsters and serpents. A preacher called Julius then went to the island and with miraculous intervention cleared away all the beasties. Due to this miracle Julius was made a saint, the basilica was established, and the island was named after him.
The villages of Omegna and Armena are also pleasant to explore and you can also follow a small road northwards from here across Monte Mottarone via Omegna, with a pause perhaps at Pettenasco, to reach Lake Maggiore, with lovely views across Lake Orta along the way.
Where is Lake Orta?
Orta is about 80 kilometres north-west of Milan and 50 kilometres north of Novara, in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. It is also quite close to the attractive town of Varallo 'as the crow flies' but the road between the two, that leaves from the west of the lake, while very picturesque is also quite slow and twisting - allow almost an hour to travel between the Varallo and Orta San Giulo.
Map of Lake Orta and places to visit
Lake Orta places to visit
See more places nearby in the Piedmont guide