The westernmost of the major Italian lakes, lying wholly within Piemonte, Lake Orta appears an afterthought, a little croissant-shaped tarn that is closer to the Matterhorn than Milan. Perhaps that’s why it is relatively quiet, seeing a fraction of the numbers who pack into Stresa on Lake Maggiore nearby.
The lake is beautiful, with its deep blue waters and green fringe of mountains, but it becomes unmissable for the town of Orta San Giulio, the single most captivating medieval village on this – or, perhaps, any – Italian lake. Part of the allure is the Isola San Giulio, an islet just offshore, once a nest of dragons, now adorned with a monastery and 11th-century church.
The romance of the place is unforgettable, with narrow, cobbled lanes running through the town, and the towers and facades of the island suspended in the foreground of a lake-and-mountains view that constantly changes in the clear, shifting sunlight.
Charm isn’t the half of it: Orta is bewitching.
[Taken from the Rough Guide to the Italian Lakes © Matthew Teller, 2016]