Lake Orta

Or like enjoying an arthouse lm at a theater with perfect programming: all-time classics alternated with productions à la Sundance Festival. A little gem is nestled in the mountains of Piedmont, Lake Orta is a destination for connoisseurs. It’s like talking about a boutique hotel as compared to a big hotel.

A favorite of artists for its peacefulness as a buen retiro, but also among those who want a place that’s easy to reach, Lake Orta is far removed from more mainstream destinations. Gianni Rodari was born here, and this is where he set one of his most famous stories: on the Island of San Giulio, which sits like a tiny pearl in the middle of the shell of the lake. Nevertheless, there are many writers whose names have been linked with this little dot on the map.

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One of the most famous episodes involved Nietzsche, who met Lou Andreas- Salomè here and after being turned down by her, started to write some of his most famous works. The lake and some of the towns on its shores also appear in the works of illustrious literati, from Honoré de Balzac to Robert Browning.
Cultural aspects aside, the landscape is the rst thing that strikes you. We are west of Lake Maggiore, between the provinces of Novara and Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, and this little body of water is the westernmost of the lakes in the foothills of the Alps. There are mountains behind that rise to 4,200 feet and the lake is encircled by small towns, some of which have very ancient monuments. Here’s your must-see list.

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Orta San Giulio. It is part of the “most beautiful towns of Italy” circuit and is on the eastern shore of the lake, after which it is named. The Island of San Giulio, which is about 1,300 feet away from the shore and faces the town, is also part of this municipality. The center of town is a warren of very narrow streets, some of which climb up to the Sacro Monte, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In your wanderings around town, it is impossible not to end up in Piazza Motta, where it becomes clear why the square has been dubbed “the drawing room overlooking the lake.” Enclosed by arcades on three sides, it is dominated by a palazzo built in the late 1500s, and it is from here that ferries and boats leave for the island. There’s one address in particular that’s a must.

Villa Crespi (Via Fava 18, tel. +39 0322 911902) This four-star luxury hotel on the lake merits a stay for a number of reasons. Here are a couple of them.

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First of all, the palazzo—constructed in 1879 in a Moorish style, in accordance with the wishes of the industrialist who had it built—has a fairy-tale atmosphere worthy of the Thousand and One Nights. Secondly, the hotel boasts chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo’s restaurant, with two Michelin stars.

Island of San Giulio. It captures your eye as soon as you reach the lake: a strip of land, set in the middle of the water, that is just 900 feet long and about half as wide, covered with buildings. The most important is the abbey of Mater Ecclesiae, a center for studies on ancient texts. The rest are clusters of houses (many with magni cent courtyards and gardens) that host the weekends and vacations of their fortunate owners. In fact, very few people live on the island permanently. But a gourmet break in this surreal silence is unquestionably in order.

Ristorante San Giulio (Via Basilica 4, tel. +39 0322 90234) has a rather ordinary name, but it offers traditional dishes in an 18th-century dining room or on a terrace right on the water.

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