Villages on Lake Orta: the most beautiful to visit at least once

TOancient villages nestled on the shores of Italy’s most romantic lake

The most romantic of the lakes of Italy fascinates with evocative villages that are reflected in its waters.

Lake Orta is a pre-alpine lake in Piedmont located between provinces of Novara and Verbano-Cusio-Ossola.

It is a body of water of glacial origin, one of the smallest and most characteristic of northern Italy, with a length of 13 km and a maximum width of 1.5 km.

In the Middle Ages the lake was known as Lake San Giulio and it was only from the 17th century that the current name of Lake Orta began to be established, from the main location, Orta San Giulio.

They are nestled along its banks picturesque villages with ancient origins worth discovering. Here are some of the most beautiful villages on Lake Orta.

San Giulio Island

Beautiful and cursed is the island of San Giulio in Lake Orta, in the province of Novara. According to legend, the island was infested with snakes and dragons.

In 390 San Giulio landed there, carried by his mantle and led by his staff. In this place the saint founded his church and turned the island into a center of evangelization for the whole region. It is certain that the island of San Giulio attracts with its mysterious charm.

An elegant Romanesque basilica will greet you as soon as you disembark, before getting lost in the village lanes. Then explore the whole island by following the Via del Silenzio, a narrow road that passes ancient villas, gardens and small streets that descend to the calm waters of the lake.

And pay attention to the messages of Mother Abbess Kanopi which if read while walking in one direction are about silence, in the opposite direction meditation. San Giulio Island can be reached in a few minutes by ferries departing from Orta San Giulio.

Orta San Giulio
Orta San Giulio

Orta San Giulio is located on the eastern shore of Lake Orta, in the province of Novara, it is part of the circle of the most beautiful villages in Italy and has entered the ranking of the most romantic villages in Italy.

It is a charming village with cobbled streets and stone houses where you can stroll between handicraft shops, antique shops and old bars.

Visit the church of Maria Assunta, dating from the 15th century, which enjoys an incredible view of Lake Orta.

So take the staircase that leads to Piazza Motta, the city’s central square, home to the sixteenth-century Palazzo della Comunità.

Next, explore the Moccarolo district, located in the southern part of the city, consisting of an elegant row of villas and buildings, all with small but lush gardens on the lake.

The most beautiful panorama, however, is the one you can see from the Sacro Monte of Orta, a place of worship dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi and declared a UNESCO heritage site. Sacro Monte d’Orta offers an easy panoramic circular tour from which to admire this magnificent lake.

Omegna

Speaking
Speaking

Surrounded by a magnificent mountain setting, Omegna is reflected in the waters of Lake Orta. This municipality of over 15 thousand inhabitants in the province of Verbano Cusio Ossola is located at the northern end of the lake.

Omegna is known for the beauty of its historic center overlooking the lake. Walking along its banks you will see the characteristic arcades of a village founded by the Romans and already existing in the 4th century AD.

At that time the city was protected by a wall with five gates, of which today only one survives in via Speri. In the older part of the city, pay attention to the centuries-old testimonies, such as gates, stone and stucco decorations and wrought iron gates.

Also noteworthy is the church of San Gaudenzio, one of the best preserved Romanesque buildings in Cusio, located in the hamlet of Crusinallo. Also visit the late Romanesque church of Sant’Ambrogio.

It is then worth taking a walk along the Nigoglia canal, the only emissary of the pre-alpine lakes that flows north, in the direction of the high mountains.

Omegna is also the home of Gianni Rodari, a famous children’s author, to whom the Parco della Fantasia, a fictional city loved by children, is dedicated.

In August, Omegna comes alive on the occasion of the patron saint of San Vito when the International Fireworks Festival takes place, which offers beautiful plays of light on the waters of Lake Orta.

Pella

Pella
Pella

The village of Pella is located on a small peninsula extending over the waters of Lake Orta, formed after the sedimentary deposits carried by the Pellinou stream over time.

Like most of the villages around Lake Orta, Pella came under the territory of the San Giulio Riviera, a principality that maintained its autonomy between the 13th and 18th centuries. Then visit the historic center with its characteristic narrow and winding streets.

Not far from the center is the San Filiberto complex which is worth a visit. The Romanesque church faces east towards the landing point on the shore of the lake, from which even today boat processions depart for the island of San Giulio.

A majestic layout characterizes it, while a series of nineteenth-century chapels depicting the via crucis surround it. This is the only church in Italy dedicated to San Filiberto and its bell tower is the oldest on the western shore of Lake Orta, dating from the years between 1075 and 1110.

A little further north of Pella, following the asphalt road that runs through the lake, you can reach the charming village of Ronco.

The municipality of Pella also includes the settlement of Alzo, located in an elevated position, known for the intense mining activity that has been practiced here for centuries. A fine white granite was extracted from the Alzo quarries, it was highly valued and exported to Italy and Europe.

Gozzano

Gozzano
Gozzano

Gozzano is a small village located a short distance from the southern shore of Lake Orta. It is located in the center of a large basin, bordered to the west by the last pre-alpine blooms and to the east by the Agogna stream.

The historic center of Gozzano houses ancient buildings and monuments worth seeing, such as the 16th-century Community Palace, the Bishop’s Palace built between the 13th and 18th centuries, and the 12th-century Torre di Buccione.

On the hill overlooking the city is the Basilica of San Giuliano, built on the ruins of an ancient 9th-century church to house the saint’s body. Next to the building you will see an imposing 11th century bell tower.

The basilica is inspired by the model of the church of San Fedele in Milan. In the area below the presbytery is the crypt where the body of San Giuliano is preserved. Inside the basilica, notice also two large canvases of scenes from the life of San Giuliano, by Giovan Battista Ronchelli, and the chapel of the Madonna del Rosario, with frescoes by Lorenzo Peracino.

Finally, near Gozzano, on the shores of Lake Orta, there is the lido with a long sandy beach and various services, including a restaurant and bar, to enjoy the summer.

Petenasco

Petenasco
Petenasco

Nestled on the eastern shore of Lake Orta, Pettenasco is a small medieval village in the province of Novara. Among the period elements you will see houses with carved stone gates.

The best preserved is known as Casa Medioevale, it is located in Piazza Unità d’Italia and houses the Pro Loco Pettenasco Nostra, as well as rooms used for exhibitions and events.

Admire also what remains of the Church of San Audenzio, a Romanesque bell tower dating back to the 1200s, now attached to the Parish Church of Saints Audenzio and Caterina.

The latter, built in 1778, houses paintings such as Cesare Procaccini’s Adoration of the Shepherds. Pettenasco also maintains numerous mills that were used to grind flour, many of which were converted into hydraulic lathe shops used by wood turners, the “gratagamul”, to create handicrafts for sale.

One of the oldest cheese shops has been converted into a Carpentry Art Museum, where machines and tools of the trade are exhibited. You can visit it for free by contacting

the Eco-Museum of Lake Orta and Mottarone of which it is a part. Then walking along the lakeside promenade you will find the various beaches where you can relax on hot days.

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