If you haven’t heard of Lake Orta, you’re not alone. Not many Italians have either!
French novelist Honorè de Balzak described it as a “A grey pearl in a green jewel-box”.
And I couldn’t agree more, for grey pearls are rare and unique and this encapsulates exactly what this stunning treasure of the world is.
Lago di Orta is the smallest lake in the northern lake district of Italy. This quaint cousin of the larger Como, Garda and Maggiore, located Italy’s northern region of Piemonte, is a secluded oasis of tranquility and has quite a fascinating history. It’s all villas and pine trees, Romanesque and Baroque architecture, medieval symbolism, legends of dragons, snakes and monsters and even has ties to the origins of Italian witchcraft. And views. Oh the views. The largest town in the lake, Orta San Giulio is beyond breathtaking; from the promenade at Piazza Motta where all the boats dock, to the glimpses of sparkling emerald green that tease you as you walk through the cobblestoned town streets. The best way to enjoy the lake is by boat. Private charters are available daily and you can book through the local sailing consortium or head down to the port and chat to all the crew – there always seems to be a few of them who congregate, sit and chat. Orta Beach Club can organise an on board or on deck aperitif with snacks for you.
And a stop on the island of San Giulio is a must. While the population of Orta San Giulio tops just 400, only but two families live on the island. Plus a monastery that’s home to about 80 nuns. Walking around the island is so peaceful and the only thing that breaks the imposed silence is the ringing of the church bells on the hour. The Ristorante San Giulio is the only restaurant on the island. They serve up local regional cuisine and offer a return boat service for guests. Quick Orta Tips
Eat: Pan & Vino. This small cafe, slash Enoteca stock local wines and cook with regional Piedmontese delicacies. My favorite was the lard, Gorgonzola, pears and local honey. Their homemade apple juice and apricot tea cake was also pretty special. Eat: Locanda di Orta Restaurant. Michelin star dining in a casual setting – a rooftop terrace overlooking the lake no less! You can choose from the menu but I recommend the chefs tasting menu. There are over 200 wine labels on the list here! Drink: Have an aperitivo at Al Boeuc. Perched in a tiny alleyway, this place does tasty snacks, has craft beer and an extensive wine list.
Sleep: Locanda di Orta is right in the heart of town on the main street. With about 10 designer appointed rustic-style rooms, this is chic boutique accommodation in the most perfect location.
Do: Boat day on the lake with a stop on the island. Have Orta Beach Club cater it for you for that extra luxury touch! Do: Book a sun bed and umbrella at the Orta Beach Club and have a day of swimming and lunching on lake.
Do: Take in the views of the island from Sacro Monte, the hilltop complex of 20 chapels dedicated to St Francis of Assisi; a site which is UNESCO protected. Take the mini train up from town as it’s a fairly steep uphill climb. Do: Walk through the town of Orta and get lost in the side streets filled with specialty food shops, boutiques and art galleries. And don’t miss Orta San Giulio, the island. It’s one of the most peaceful places in the world. Getting there: Fly into Milan Malpensa Airport and book a transfer on arrival (or book one online). The drive is about an hour and twenty and costs €140 return.
So – gorgeous scenery cradled within a region that is famous around the world for its award-winning wines and quality produce, make Lake Orta the most perfect relaxing gourmet mini break!
Signing off from Trastevere,