One of the Lakes District's most romantic spots is also its least known -the lovely Lake Orta. Secluded but not isolated, it is separated from Lake Maggiore by Monte Mottarone, and set off from the crowds and hype, ensuring a more tranquil experience. The lake is only 13 kilometers long and 2.5 kilometers wide, but is draped in beautiful scenery. The magical isle of San Giulio glitters in the sun and twinkles with lights in the evening, adding to its allure.
The main towns are pretty Pettenasco and lively Orta San Giulio, with its cobbled streets outlined with pastel buildings. On the north side of the lake is Omegna, home to stylish housewares design manufactures like Alessi, Bialetti and Lagostina. Ferries ply the waters to help you traverse the lake, though the drive along the state highway that hugs the eastern shoreline is a scenic one. The sub-alpine lake has mountains surrounding it, but its relatively mild climate allows a profusion of blooms to add color.
Orta San Giulio, usually referred to simply as "Orta", is the centerpiece of Lake Orta, perched on a promontory that juts into the lake. The enchanting town offers Old World charm, decorative wrought iron balconies, sidewalk cafes and nice atmosphere. It sits in front of the magical isle of San Giulio, where window boxes display flowers and the Renaissance-styled Benedictine Abbey dominates the knoll. Take a boat over to stroll among the villas of this intimate spot. ( Strong swimmers willing to dodge the boats can make it over on their own steam, as well.) There are many trails for hiking in the hills, and bicycling is popular in this area, too. A walk along the lake or in the hills just begs to bring a picnic along to enjoy the views.
One of the biggest attractions at Lake Orta is the Sacro Monte, a series of devotional chapels built in the hills above the lake. A phenomenon in the northern lakes in the 1700 and 1800s, there are a series of these devotional parks that comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are some other nature preserves rimming the lake, as well. Thrill seekers will enjoy Alpyland, located in the mountains between Lake Orta and Lake Maggiore, that gives you a bobsled experience in winter and an alpine roller coaster ride in summer.
While Lake Orta offers stately villas and lush gardens surrounded by mountains, it is less flashy and less crowded than the other lakes in the area, making it a great find for travelers who want a more 'authentic' experience.
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