The beauty of the northern Italian lakes is legendary and they’re no longer reserved as a destination for those with a title or celebrity. Embraced by a landscape of lush forested mountains and ringed by charming villages and towns, Lake Garda, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore tirelessly weave their magic to enchant their countless visitors. And enchanted one cannot help but be.
However, for those looking for somewhere not quite so overwhelmed with tourists, Lake Orta is definitely situated on the road less travelled. Don’t take that to mean it’s any less beautiful, though. In fact, those in the know insist there’s something very special about this ‘other’ Italian lake – something that elevates it beyond being just easy on the eye, to a place that truly nurtures the human spirit.
But whether you’re a die-hard realist or take a more existential view of the world (and the Italian lakes), we double dare you not to fall under the spell of these gorgeous towns situated on the banks of Lake Orta.
Insider tip: If you’re an amateur photographer, this place is an absolute gift. The light offers an ever-changing palette with which to work and there’s often an ethereal mist that settles over the lake in the early morning.
Orta San Giulio
Situated on the eastern shore, this is the largest town on the lake and it’s been the inspirational muse for the likes of such eminent creative minds as Nietzsche, Byron, Browning and Honoré de Balzac. To explore this lovely medieval town is to step into a perfect snapshot of centuries past. Baroque houses form elegant, orderly lines along the charming streets to creep up the steep hillside, and this is a place where the outside world may well exist but has very little meaning to everyday life.
One of the most delightful things to do is to take a walk up to Sacre Monte of Orta, a nature reserve dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, situated about a 15-minute walk from the town. Along the way you’ll pass the church of S. Maria Assunta and many other stone chapels that between them house 376 statues depicting the life of the much-loved saint.
Insider tip: Just off the headland, San Giulio Island is a delightful place to visit. It’s home to the pretty Palazzo dei Vescovi and the picturesque Basilica and its bell tower.
Situated on the northern shores of the lake, Omegna is hemmed in with a dramatic mountainous backdrop. Along the promenade that runs beside the lake there are vestiges of the ancient Roman village that was established here in the fourth century, most notably the one remaining stone gate. In the Old Town, the history is even more evident in the remains of stucco doorways and ornamental iron gates that appear at intervals around the streets, and the tenth-century architecture of the Collegiate Church of Sant’Ambrogio.
The town is famous for its designer kitchenware industry, as the home of such illustrious brands as Alessi, Piazza and Lagostina. If you’re in the market for anything of this kind, there’s no better place to get it than at the source!
Insider tip: Those planning a visit in August will arrive at the most important time of the year for locals, coinciding with the annual Festival of San Vito. The festival, dedicated to the patron saint of the town, includes what is renowned as one of the world’s best fireworks displays. Fairly impressive credentials for this modest Italian lakeside town!
Madonna del Sasso
For those with an interest in religious culture, the beautiful western side of the lake is the location of the sacred Madonna del Sasso (Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rock), which is just a short distance from the hamlet that carries the same name.
The existing buildings that comprise the sanctuary were established in the seventeenth century, but are set upon the foundations of a previous chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows. Built beneath the shadow of a huge granite overhang at an elevation of 638m, the medieval complex is made up of a church – with a magnificent frescoed dome, a high altar and a huge sixteenth-century organ – a bell tower and a priest’s house.
While the sanctuary is the main draw of this area, the hamlet is also renowned as one of the most picturesque and dramatic places to enjoy views of the lake.
Insider tip: Art lovers may be interested to know that interior of the church of the sanctuary is decorated with works by Lorenzo Peracino, an important artist who made his mark in many of the region’s churches.
How to Get to Lake Orta
Getting to any of the lovely towns around Lake Orta is easy, with the most convenient option to fly into Milan. Depending on your departure point you’ll be able to get a nonstop flight into one of the city’s three airports: Milan Linate, Bergamo and, the busiest and largest, Milan Malpensa. A number of major carriers operate regular routes to these airports, including British Airways and easyJet.
Whichever airport you arrive at, once you land the most convenient way of getting the rest of the way to the towns around Lake Orta is on a pre-booked shared or private transfer with Shuttle Direct. A friendly driver will meet you at the airport and transport you to your final destination in about an hour. Easy.
Where to Stay:
B&B Al Dom: The charming eighteenth-century ambience of B&B Al Dom is the perfect complement to its breathtaking lakeside setting, in the heart of delightful Orta San Giulio. With a décor that includes many original features – along with modern accoutrements including Wi-Fi, ensuite bathrooms and mini bar – this delightful accommodation feels like so much more than a B&B.
B&B Chocolat: Set behind its own private beach and surrounded by gorgeous tranquil gardens, B&B Chocolat offers a warm, personalised Italian welcome in the town of Omegna. You’ll delight in the quirky details of this charming establishment; luxurious extras like free toiletries, bathrobes and free Wi-Fi take it to a standard beyond expectations.
Dal Picasass House: Quiet, secluded and with majestic elevated views of the lake, Del Picasass House provides an enchanting blend of rustic authenticity and thoughtful details. With a fantastic sun terrace, all the mod cons and the benefit of being walking distance from the sanctuary and the western shores of the lake, this is the perfect base from which to explore.
About Shuttle Direct:
If you’re looking for most convenient and stress-free way to get from the airport to the door of your accommodation around Lake Orta, Shuttle Direct is your go-to solution. We’ve been providing airport transfers for many years and our range of shared and private services suit every budget and style of travel.
Make an easy online booking then sit back, relax and enjoy the views. We’ll take care of the rest.