Visit This Mesmerizing Lake For A Luxurious Italian Vacation Without The Crowds Of Como

There's no denying that lake destinations are all the rage, even when you're on another continent. In the case of Italy, the spectacular Lake Como gets more than its fair share of attention, but there are other nearby destinations that deliver mesmerizing beauty without the crowds. If that sounds like the experience you seek, look no further than Lake Orta.


Located in the northwest portion of Italy, this stunning lake is about a two-hour drive west of the ever-popular Lake Como, and a short hop from the also-popular Lake Maggiore. Just over an hour from Milan, Lake Orta is an easy day trip destination, however, once you arrive you may not want to return to the hustle and bustle of the city tempo. Instead, you can slow down in a small medieval village, take in the surrounding green hills, and even explore an island. This region of Piedmont, home to the Slow Food movement, honors the food culture of Italy while adding its own local charms. Plus, it's an area that embraces nature, so you can easily fill your days with water activities and relaxing hikes. Like most of the country, Lake Orta offers mild weather in spring and fall, which is when famed European travel expert Rick Steves recommends you visit Italy.


Peaceful Italian Culture

Although the tiny town of Orta San Giulio only hosts a population of around 1,100 people, it has a surprising number of attractions to explore. First up is the quaint streets of town, with its terra cotta architecture, small alleyways, and stone, car-free avenues. Unlike many of the great islands Italy has to offer, few people have heard of the island in the middle of Lake Orta, but you'll have a perfect view while sampling gelato or tasting pasta from the town square. You might find yourself at a small cafe in the Piazza Motta, the heart of the community where locals gather for market on Wednesday mornings, and each day in between, to take in the rising light or setting sun as it reflects off the water and the surrounding hillsides.


For a higher perspective, walk up to the pilgrimage site of Sacro Monte di Orta, a campus of 20 chapels dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi. Located above the town, you can enjoy expansive views while you explore the frescoes and sculptures that tell the story of Saint Francis' life. Enjoy the serene, slower pace as you explore, with no long queues or issues with parking, especially after the day-trippers leave for the evening. 

The Unique Isola San Giulio

Looking out onto the water, one can't miss the striking Isola San Giulio, the small island in the middle of the lake. Ferries offer easy access to the island from Orta San Giulio and visitors are welcome to explore. Along with the rest of Orta San Giulio, the island is also focused on wellness. This is perhaps no more evident than on the charming path that leads around the island. Choose one path and you'll find yourself on the "path of meditation;" head the other way and experience the "path of silence," marked with inspirational signs posted around the path. A visit to the Basilica di San Giulio is a must, and it's not difficult to find as it towers over the few other buildings on the island. Take your time to tour each corner of the island, then hop back on the ferry for the short trip back to the mainland.


If you want to explore the area further, you can drive, bus, train, or schedule a boat tour to see other nearby villages such as Omegna, Pella, and Gozzano, or go for a hike in Val Grande National Park. Whether you visit for a day or a week, enjoy Lake Orta for what it is — a yet mostly undiscovered gem. However, if you're looking for a slightly more lively alternative to Lake Como and the other uber-popular lakes in the region, try out Lake Molveno instead.