The area around Lake Orta has long been a favorite tourists, thanks to the quiet beauty of the landscape, its fascinating history and its wealth of artistic treasures – principally Romanesque and Baroque architecture.
Lake Orta lies to the west of Lake Maggiore, in the northern Italy. It is a minor star in the costellation of the subalpine lakes, but all the fascination and the history of the larger lakes seem to be concentrated in this short space.
Orta San Giulio
Snuggled into the lakeward side of the Sacro Monte promontory is the main town of Orta S. Giulio. This town takes its quaintness quite seriously—they even make you park a five-minute walk from the historic center’s pebble-paved paths and stone-shingled roofs. From the main lakeside Piazza Motta, with its modest cafes and notable Palazetto della Comunità (a lovely little 16th century town hall), small boats head to the postcard Isola S. Giulio, home to a basilica founded by San Giulio himself, a saint with a quite colorful history.
The island of San Giulio
The legend goes that this island, at 400 meters from the shore of Orta, was once a rock inhabited by snakes and terrible monsters (probably symbol of the presence of heretic Arians) till 390, when Saint Giulio set foot on it: walking the lake waters on his cloak and guided by his staff through the storm, the Saint founded a church, where he was later to be buried, and transformed the island into the evangelization centre of the entire region.
Sacro Monte (the holy hill)
The Sacro Monte of Orta is located within a historical parc, nowadays a nature reserve, of 13 hectares and comprises 21 votive chapels dating back to the end of the XVIth and the XVIIIth centuries with frescoes and sculptures of terra cotta narrating the life of San Francesco of Assisi. Sacro Monte d’Orta is in the World Heritage List safeguarded by UNESCO
His remains lie in the crypt of the Basilica di San Giulio. The footpath encircling the island makes for a peaceful stroll, hence its popular name of Via del Silenzio . Indeed, a series of aphorisms on the wonders of silence (all very fine when screaming school groups have the run of the place) have been placed along the way. If you walk it clockwise, they now call it the Via della Meditazione, with a whole load of other multilingual signs to inspire you on your search for inner peace
Lake Orta (Italian: Lago d’Orta) is a lake in northern Italy west of Lake Maggiore. It has been so named since the 16th century, but was previously called the Lago di San Giulio, after Saint Julius (4th century), the patron saint of the region; Cusio is a merely poetical name. Its scenery is characteristically Italian, while the San Giulio island has some very picturesque buildings, and takes its name from the local saint, Julius of Novara, who lived in the 4th century. Located around the lake are Orta San Giulio, built on a peninsula projecting from the east shore of the lake, Omegna at its northern extremity, Pettenasco to the east, and Pella to the west. It is supposed that the lake is the remnant of a much larger sheet of water by which originally the waters of the Toce flowed south towards Novara. As the glaciers retreated the waters flowing from them sank, and were gradually diverted into Lake Maggiore.