48 hours in lake Orta

Described by Honoré de Balzac as “a pearl, enclosed by the green treasure chest of the Piemontese hills”, Orta is one of the smallest of the Italian lakes, and the only one to lie entirely in Piedmont. The main attractions, apart from the beautiful scenery, are the medieval village of Orta San Giulio and the island of San Giulio, which sits just opposite it. I had been inspired to visit Orta after reading a novel set there and, as I made my way down towards the village, it was certainly living up to my expectations.

As soon as I had unpacked I headed off towards the main square, Piazza Motta, where, after a long day’s travelling, I sat and relaxed over a large glass of red wine and a delicious risotto made from saffron, rabbit and balsamic vinegar, whilst watching the sun go down over the island. Piazza Motta, which is known as the salotto, or drawing room, of Orta, is surrounded on three sides by ancient porticoed palazzos, some covered in frescoes, whilst the fourth side looks out towards the island. Behind a row of horse chestnut trees boats are moored, waiting to ferry you over to the island.

The most important building in the square is the Palazzotto, which was the old council chamber. Covered in frescoes, it has a loggia underneath it and is now used periodically for exhibitions. Now replete from both the food and the view I wandered back to my hotel, thankful that cars are not allowed into the narrow medieval streets.