What to see on Lake Orta Italy, if not the culture and nature that surrounds it? Today I will tell you the best things to see on Lago Orta for a romantic and relaxing trip
From above, its appearance is reminiscent of a rifle… And if you turn its image upside down, it looks like the profile of a wreck! Nature, combined with creativity, forms images to which we can give free rein. But as fascinating as “pareidolia” may sound, the time has come to talk about this natural magnificence, Lake Orta.
Lake Orta is located in Piedmont, shared precisely between the province of Novara and the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola.
Its size, although smaller than its big rivals Lake Maggiore and Lake Como, is not to be overlooked. Situated at an altitude of 290 metres, the lake stretches from north to south, occupying an area of 18.1 km². It has a maximum depth of 143 m, which varies depending on the basin. This is because the lake is composed of two basins, separated by a ridge of about a hundred metres. The northern basin is deeper, while the southern basin is shallower but larger.
Moreover, Lake Orta is a glacial lake. In fact, its waters were created by the southern front of the Simplon glacier.
Why should you visit Lake Orta?
You might be wondering: why visit Lake Orta? The answer is very simple. Lake Orta is characterised by an atmosphere of relaxation and romance. A perfect atmosphere for nice couple trips or for those who simply want to relax and escape from daily routine. This enchanting stretch of water, home to incredible wildlife, is surrounded by forests, coloured in many different shades in autumn.
Visiting Lake Orta gives you the opportunity to observe its beautiful nature. However, it is not only nature that makes this location so unique. Equally interesting are the small villages around it.
From north to south, there are several unmissable stops on Lake Orta. Did you know that there is an island in the lake? Sit back and start this tour with me. I will show you what to see on Lake Orta and all its curiosities!
What to see: Omegna and Orta San Giulio
We come to the town of Omegna, nestled on the northern shores of the lake. Omegna is a small village characterised by tranquillity and hospitality. It is surrounded by streets and squares, panoramic views, shops and ancient churches.
The village is known for the famous “Nigoglia”, a small stream that flows into the town hall square. But it is not just a stream. Its peculiarity lies in the fact that it flows northwards, towards the Alps, rather than towards the sea. This is where the motto in dialect on the Omegna town hall building comes from: “The Nigoglia flows upwards and we make the law”.
Gianni Rodari, a famous Italian writer, also testified to this. In fact, Omegna, the writer’s hometown, celebrates Rodari’s culture and imagination by dedicating to him the Parco della Fantasia (Fantasy Park), which I recommend you visit, especially if you are with children.
You cannot miss a stop in Orta San Giulio, included in the circuit of the most beautiful villages in Italy. The town is known for its picturesque style and characterised by elegant palaces, porticoes and neoclassical villas. But the real “gem” is the magnificent view over the lake.
The heart of this village is identified in Piazza Motta, the main square which houses the “broletto”, or Palazzo della Comunità della Riviera di San Giulio, at its centre. Between the houses surrounding the square, there is a street leading to the 15th century Church of Santa Maria Assunta. This is an absolute must-see along with Villa Rossi, where the town hall is located. Piazza Motta, as well as being the reference point for all the inhabitants of Orta, is the port from which the boats leave to reach San Giulio island.
What else is there to see on Lake Orta but San Giulio island?
San Giulio island is located exactly opposite Orta San Giulio and is considered a true paradise for meditation. It is no coincidence that it has been nicknamed “the island of silence”. Once disembarked, you can enjoy this peace of mind as you wander through the picturesque streets and observe its beautiful gardens. All this with the pleasant background of flowing water, allowing you to immerse yourself in the true spirit of the island.
The curiosity of this island is that it is the subject of a legend. This legend describes its origins and the construction of the Basilica of San Giulio, the island’s landmark.
There are two brothers, Julius and Julian, who arrived on the shores of Lake Orta at the end of the 4th century. Legend has it that Julius left his brother the task of building the 90th church in Gozzano, while he himself was responsible for building the 100th church.
Julius identified the island as a good place to build his church. However, finding no way to ferry, he used his cape as a vessel. Once he reached his destination, Julius defeated the local dragons and snakes, driving them away forever. It was there that the Basilica was built. It is said that the bones of the dragon, which was defeated at the time, are kept there to this day.
Sacro Monte, Pella and the Sanctuary of Madonna del Sasso
In the hilly area above Orta, we find the Sacro Monte di Orta Nature Reserve. The Sacro Monte di Orta is one of the nine Alpine Sacred Mountains in Piedmont and Lombardy, considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The route is outlined by a wonderful wood with pine and beech trees. Definitely worth a visit are the twenty chapels surrounded by nature, a distinctive element of Sacro Monte. Their peculiarity lies in the fact that they contain some sculptures and paintings depicting episodes from the life of St Francis of Assisi, patron saint of Italy.
On the western shore of the lake is Pella, a small village rich in history and where peace reigns. The village is characterised by small, winding, uphill streets. These roads lead to the medieval tower, once part of the town’s defence system. Continuing along the route, you can reach the church of Sant’Albino bishop, built in the 16th century. But the real gem is the church of San Filiberto, located near the small harbours connecting the centre to San Giulio island, Orta San Giulio and the other villages.
We end our tour by reaching the Sanctuary of Madonna del Sasso. Situated on an area belonging to the village of Boleto, the church stands on a sheer cliff overlooking the lake. This allows you to enjoy a great panorama including the whole basin. For this reason, the sanctuary is known as the “balcony of Cusio”. The sanctuary was built in the Baroque style and completed in 1748. Its dome was frescoed by Lorenzo Peracino, a painter and sculptor. It also houses the Deposition of Christ by Fermo Stella da Caravaggio.
The Lake Orta Lido
Lake Orta is not only the perfect destination for a weekend, but also an excellent alternative to the sea. You have read well: on Lake Orta, there are equipped beaches! Thanks to them, this lake allows you to enjoy a moment of relaxation and warm summer days.
The coastline stretches for about 33 kilometres and has some very special beaches. Some are sandy, others pebbly or mixed. You can even find grass beaches. Among all the beaches, Miami beach is considered one of the most beautiful. It is located not far from the centre of Orta San Giulio, together with two other local beaches, Bagnera and Ortello. The free beach of Bagnella is also very popular and perfect for your pets.
Lake Orta Italy, how to get there?
The best way to benefit from such an evocative landscape, like that of Lake Orta, would be through a nice walk. But it is worth mentioning that, in order to reach the location first, our legs would never be enough. The lake can be reached by plane with Malpensa airport as a reference, a convenience for those furthest from the destination. But if you do not like travelling by plane – I understand! – you can reach Lake Orta by car, train and bus.
Visit Lake Orta with taste
Do you think that visiting Lake Orta means only meditation and peace? You are wrong. Lake Orta is much more than that! And you can’t do anything but complete your tour by exploring local foods.
From dried meat to flavoured lard, from cured meat to local cheese, from artisanal pasta to local desserts. There are plenty of recipes to satisfy all palates. Not to mention the great local wines made from Nebbiolo grapes, rich in tannins and characterised by a sustained acidity.
A dish that you definitely cannot miss is the Tapulone di Borgomanero. Tapulone is a plate of minced meat cooked with wine, which is very often eaten with polenta.
Coregone in carpione, bagna cauda, orecchiette in grey sauce, panissa. These are just some of the many delicacies that make up the rich food and wine culture of Lake Orta, which you can discover thanks to Italia Delight.
With Italia Delight you have the opportunity to enjoy this unique experience, with a travel idea made especially for you. A real tasteful escape to Lake Orta and Monferrato in Piedmont, lasting three days! All that remains is to wish you a pleasant journey! 🥂