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Der Ortasee, Bild: Amy Corti / shutterstock

Lake Orta – Between unspoiled nature and Italian towns

Lake Orta, in Italian Lago d’Orta, is located in the middle of the Piedmont region in northern Italy. At 18 square kilometers, it is the smallest of the northern Italian lakes, and the area here is sparsely populated. Possibly because of its small size and its neighbour Lake Maggiore, which puts it in the shade, Lake Orta has so far been relatively undiscovered by international tourists – wrongly! The picturesque area at the foothills of the Western Alps with the small Italian villages on the crystal-clear Lago d’Orto with its rugged shores is a successful mix of the best of Italy and the Alpine countries. Due to its low fame, you can still enjoy the original Italy and untouched nature, where the hordes of tourists have not yet arrived. After a gelato and a chappuccino in a pavement café, the cool lake invites you to swim or row, at the end of the day the rough yet gentle area can be enjoyed in the evening sun.

Lake Orta – The geographical location

Lake Orta is a deep blue glacial lake. The lake is surrounded by mountains on three sides, and in the north it merges into the Ossola Valley. The beautiful color of the lake and the surrounding mountains make for a unique panorama. High above the lake rises Monte Mottarone to the east. Since this is the highest elevation in the area at 1491 meters, you have a perfect panoramic view from here.

Attractions in the area

The center of tourist attention is the Isola San Giulio, which is located in the middle of the lake. A basilica is enthroned on it, which, according to legend, was founded by Saint Julius in the year 400. The basilica has an artistically designed pulpit, and magnificent frescoes can be seen on the dome. In the crypt, Saint Julius is said to rest in a glass coffin.

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Sacro Monte d'Orta, Lake Orta
Sacro Monte d’Orta, Image: AleMasche72 / shutterstock

Despite its low profile, Lake Orta has a UNESCO World Heritage Site to offer: the Sacro Monte d’Orta. The sacred mountain of Orta is home to a sanctuary that is one of the nine chapels of the Sacri Monti, distributed in Piedmont and Lombardy , which together form the World Heritage Site.

The charming main town of Orta San Giulio is the most popular with tourists on Lake Orta. This is mainly due to its location on a headland that juts out into the lake. But the picturesque old town with its small alleys and beautiful buildings also has its share of visitors. There are also two churches from different centuries to marvel at. From the main square, Piazza Mario Motta, boats depart for Isola San Giulio.

In the holiday resort of Omegna, which is located directly on the shore of the lake, the Italian flair, which is created by the small restaurants and shops and the beautiful villas, can be enjoyed particularly well with a gelato.

San Giulio, Lake Orta
San Giulio Island, Image: Cristian Puscasu / shutterstock

Another popular holiday resort is San Maurizio d’Opaglio, which is located a little further up the slope. Because the economy in the 20th century was mainly based on the production of bathroom taps, San Maurizio d’Opaglio was called the “capital of the tap” during this period, and since 1995 there has also been a museum of the tap. A common joke in the area is: “This lake includes water, taps and taps”.

The Torre di Buccione is a tower that is one of the remains of a castle from the 12th century. It can be reached by bike, on foot or by car. Although the tower itself cannot be climbed, from the foot of the tower there is a unique panoramic view over the entire lake.

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Take a deep breath in nature

If you visit Lake Orta, you are actually in the middle of nature, because the area is sparsely populated and the area is relatively natural. If that’s not enough, you can take a detour into the surrounding nature. Several nature reserves and national parks connect to Lake Orta. Only half an hour’s drive away, for example, the Monte Fenera National Park offers a varied flora and fauna. Val Grande Park (50 minutes) is also worth a detour, as the largest wilderness reserve in the Alps is home to almost untouched nature. If you are an experienced hiker and climb Pizzo Proman, you will have a unique view over Lake Maggiore.

The view from the highest mountain in the area around Lake Orta, Monte Mottarone, is also highly recommended. The summit can either be climbed on foot or easily reached by cable car.

Lake Orta – A destination for sports enthusiasts

Lake Orta is especially popular with kayakers and rowers. Water sports look back on a long tradition here, in 1893 the first ever World Rowing Championships took place on Lake Orta.
If you prefer to walk, you can go hiking in the area around Lake Orta, which offers a beautiful view over Lake Orta or Lake Maggiore . The view of the Dufourspitze in the Monte Rosa massif, the second highest mountain in the Alps, which is part of the Seven Second Summits, can also be enjoyed on some hikes.

Even on two wheels, you can explore the area of Lake Orta as a wonderful starting point.