Quintessentially fairy tale Piedmont, Lake Orta beguiles visitors as they approach this captivating north-west corner of the region. A small, still somewhat unknown gem where a code of silence surrounds each and everything and enchanting vistas abound.
An intriguing island that conceals a reticent beauty: after all, the locals don’t call it “Cinderella” for nothing. The way mountains, weather and light are forever in counterpoint to the water itself is striking: the ever-changing light – misty in the morning, shining bright by midday and ethereal in the evening, not to mention the seasonal variations – surprises and enraptures: this is Alto Piemonte and you will not want to leave.
1. Orta San Giulio
Overlooking the forest-lined banks of the shimmering lake, Orta San Giulio is a romantic little village where narrow cobbled streets run between pastel-washed houses and palaces with elaborate iron-wrought balconies. Built on the slopes of a steep hill, tourists fill its alleyways at weekends in the spring and summer months, but charm returns in the evenings. 294 m above sea level, the village boasts a wonderful position.
The building known as Palazzotto, the cultural centre of the village, stands for Orta’s proud history: from 1345 to 1753, Orta San Giulio was allowed to have its own by-laws, being akin to an independent state. But it’s the way it fits into the square, like a jigsaw piece in a fairy tale puzzle, which astonishes. Eating in one of the square’s restaurants or simply strolling along this quaint square, intrigued by passers-by: this is how life should be lived.
2. The island of San Giulio
Opposite Orta, the Island di San Giulio stands ethereal on the glaring waters. Legend has it that evil creatures once dominated the island; in 390 AD, Saint Julius crossed the stormy waters floating on his cloak and defeated the monsters. He then decided to stay on the island, where he founded a church.
The present-day basilica dates back to the 12th century and you could say that the tranquillity brought by the Saint all those centuries ago still reigns. L’isola del silenzio is, well and truly, more than a lovely definition: a small path runs along the island and it is called, in fact, the Way of Silence. The island hosts a convent, as well, where eighty nuns live.
Visiting at twilight means discovering the houses take on alluring pale sand, terracotta and amber hues, and you can almost smell the scent of flowers hanging from the balconies and trailing on the water. Am I dreaming? Come and discover yourself.
Imagine strolling around a village and contemplating images of famous films on the walls of the houses: wouldn’t that be quite a sight? That’s what happens in the village of Legro, close to Orta San Giulio. In 1998, the local council embarked on a plan to set its village back on the map again. “Cinema against the Wall” sees forty-five colourful frescos decorating the historic centre of the town.
Legro is thus a paese dipinto, a painted village, part of the Painted Hamlets scheme. Inspiration did not merely stem from films set in the area, such as “L’amante segreta” or “La stanza del vescovo”, but also from local writer and poet Gianni Rodari, famous for children’s books. Walking through the streets of Legro is like re-enacting modern history.
Directly facing Orta San Giulio, Pella sits tranquil on the shores of the lake and boasts a long history. The earliest evidence of human presence dates back to the period between the IV and I century BC, and its first proven documentation goes back to 1039 AD.
A tower in Piazza Motta is all that’s left of its medieval past, and is set on the waterfront. Its fascinating history aside, Pella is charm personified: let the sound of the waves rolling in lull you, contemplate the high peaks and just enjoy the superb setting. Where else can the allure of a place be so magical?
Are you hungry for more? We have only shown four small stars in the realm of excellences that is Alto Piemonte. Come and discover all the others, starting from the delicious gourmet delicacies you can find in a region rich in traditions and fabulous treats. Piedmont Delights will bring them to your home wherever you are!