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It was surprising to me how few people had even heard of the Italian Lakes region. I hadn’t actually either until my wife said that lake Como was now famous because of the celebrity homes such as George Clooney’s spotted around the lake. Maybe this region is under the radar because Italy has so many other famous sites…Rome, Florence, Venice to name a few. But just an hour north of Milan you have a beautiful setting of several large lakes with a backdrop of the Italian and Swiss alps. It was an incredible place to visit because of the scenery, food, and people and one of our trip highlights was little Lake Orta.
One of the smallest of these lakes is the easternmost, Lake Orta. From where we stayed on Lake Maggiore, it was just a 45 minute drive around the Mottarone over to Lake Orta. The drive took us to the town of Omegna, home of Alessi, the Italian designer famous for its kitchen and household items. We toured the factory outlet which had some great deals we took advantage of. If an item has a green dot, then they have a “seconds” option which is up to 50% the normal price, and way less than you would pay in the states. (and we certainly couldn’t find any reason for them to be considered seconds). Complete with our new oil and vinegar rack, serving plate, and other decorative items we headed to the other side of Lake Orta and it’s most famous town of Orta San Guilio.
Orta San Guilio is set on a hilly peninsula jutting out into the lake. The town is car free except for residents, so you must park in one of the parking areas outside town and walk. It’s an enjoyable walk of less than 10 minutes down into the town. There were two surface lots and a parking garage that were all reasonably priced and had parking machines to purchase by the hour or day.
This little town just took our breath away. The narrow streets, architecture, mix of churches, pastel colors…it was as If time had stopped. The town square is a beautiful setting right on the water, with shops and restaurants surrounding it. There are about a half dozen small motor boats on the harbor to take you over to the island of Isla San Guilio for an inexpensive 9 euro round trip. The island is an incredible site just sitting out there, so close you could reach out and touch it, though the actual distance is about 1/4 mile. We enjoyed the perfect 60 degree sunny day and walked around the town, stopping at a few souvenir shops and also the municipal building and courtyard (Municipa – Casa Bossi), which had a very nice garden and pier for great pictures of the island. We also saw several churches within the town, including the Chiesa di San Rocco near the municipal building. If you like old churches than this part of Italy is for you. Within Orta San Giulio is one of the largest Sacre Monte sites, with over 30 historic churches located on the hill overlooking the town.
Next it was lunch at Ristorante Venus right on the water. We opted for the inside seating which gave us a window table on the second floor overlooking Lake Orta and San Guilio island. What a perfect meal, we could have sat there all day, staring at the pretty island, and watching the boats go by. The highlight of the meal was definitely the risotto first course that we shared.
For the drive back to our hotel we took our time and drove the more scenic route over the Mottarone and down into Stresa, the grand town on the Southwestern side of Lake Maggiore. You can read more about our travels on Lake Maggiore here. So for now – Ciao!