Lake Orta Travel Guide: 12 Best Things to Do

Lake Orta, also known as Lago d’Orta, is a hidden gem in the picturesque region of Piedmont in northern Italy. Although not as famous as its neighboring lakes Como and Lago Maggiore, northern Italy’s smallest lake offers charming retreat for travelers seeking peace and natural beauty. It’s the most underrated lake in Italy and (still) a real insider tip!

What are the Best Things to Do at Lake Orta in Italy?

Lake Orta is located in the province of Novara in the Piedmont region, about 80 kilometers northwest of Milan. With an area of around 18 square kilometers, it is the smallest lake in northern Italy. Surrounded by lush greenery and the imposing Alps, the lake’s landscape is truly magical.

1. Discover the romantic streets of Orta San Guilio

The charming town of Orta San Guilio on the eastern shore of the lake is the main destination. The narrow streets, medieval buildings and romantic atmosphere make it a magnet for travelers.

2. Piazza Motta

Piazza Motta is the main square in the heart of Orta San Giulio. It is the center of the town and offers a hub of activity, historical sights and a breathtaking view of the surrounding scenery. The square is surrounded by lovely cafés, restaurants and gelaterias where you can enjoy delicious Italian cuisine and drinks while soaking up the lively atmosphere of the piazza.

3. Public Garden of the Townhall

The public garden of the townhall (Giardini Pubblici del Municipio) in Orta San Giulio is a lovely place in the heart of this charming town. With its picturesque view of Lago d’Orta and Isola San Giulio it offers locals and visitors alike a relaxing retreat. The entrance is free and it’s open during the daylight hours.

4. Chiesa Santa Maria Assunta

The historic church Chiesa Santa Maria Assunta in the heart of Orta San Giulio is known for its stunning Romanesque architecture and beautiful paintings portraying biblical scenes. The Chiessa Santa Maria Assunta serves as a year-round venue for religious ceremonies, cultural events and musical performances..

Tip: Dress respectfully as this is a religious building.

5. Sacro Monte di Orta (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

The Sacro Monte di Orta should not be missed on the list of the best things to do on Lake Orta. The Unesco World Heritage Site is located above Orta San Giulio and can be reached on foot via a steep path. It’s about 20 minutes from Orta San Giulio. If you find the route too exhausting, you can also travel by car or public transport.

The complex consists of 20 chapels, each of which portrays scenes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi with elaborate frescoes, sculptures and reliefs. On the summit of the Sacro Monte di Orta is a grande Basilica, that forms the center of the complex. The chapels are connected by a scenic path that winds through the forest and offers breathtaking views of Lake Orta and the surrounding countryside. The chapels are open from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm daily.

6. Boat ride to Isola San Giulio

A short boat trip from Orta San Giulio takes you to this small beautiful island. Characterized by Renaissance and Baroque art, you can discover imposing villas and magnificent gardens on the island. The island’s main best thing to do is the Romanesque basilica. A road called the “path of silence and meditation” (via del silezio e della meditazione) leads you across the entire island offering breathtaking views.

The best way to get to Isola San Giulio is the public ferry service for 3.20 EUR per Person. Private Motorboats also depart for the small island every 15 minutes for 4.90 EUR per person. There are also guided excursions to Isola San Giulio, allowing travelers to learn about the island’s history and significance while enjoying the scenic beauty of Lake Orta. The journey only takes a few minutes.

7. Swimming in Lake Orta

Lake Orta has been one of the ten best bathing lakes in Europe and is, above all, the cleanest lake in Europe. It has several beaches and bathing spots where you can jump into the water on hot summer days. The lake also offers water sports activities such as stand up paddle, kayaking and more.

8. Visit Pella

Another highlight on Lake Orta is the village of Pella. It is characterized by its charming narrow streets, colourful buildings and historic churches. One of the landmarks is the church of San Filiberto, a Romanesque church from the 11th century with a striking bell tower and beautiful frescoes.

Pella is about 20 minutes by car from Orta San Giulio. There is also a public ferry from Orta San Giulio via Isola San Giulio to Pella on the opposite side.

9. Shop souvenirs in Omegna

Omegna is located at the northern end of Lake Orta. Nestled between the lake and the surrounding mountains, it’s a perfect destination all year round. Omegna is known for its bustling weekly market every Saturday morning. The market provides a glimpse into daily life in the town and is a great place to pick up souvenirs and local delicacies.

In addition to that, Omegna has a rich artisanal heritage, particularly in the production of kitchenware and household goods. The town is home to the historic Alessi factory, renowned for its high-quality design and craftsmanship. You can explore the Alessi factory store and learn about the company’s history and iconic designs.

10. Zipline in Omegna

Also in Omegna there is a zipline for all adventurers. At an altitude of 60 meters, a 450-meter-long rope crosses the Lake Orta. You can fly in pairs or on your own and enjoy the breathtaking views. Depending on your age, the price per person ranges from 16 to 22.50 EUR (17-24 USD).

11. Hike Monte Mottarone

Monte Mottarone is an impressive mountain near Lake Orta. At an altitude of around 1,491 meters, it offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding lakes, valleys and snow-capped peaks of the Alps. On clear days, you can even see as far as the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa.

For anyone looking for a thrilling adventure, Alpyland is a must on Monte Mottarone. It is a unique alpine roller coaster that winds its way down the mountainside and offers a high-speed ride with breathtaking views. The roller coaster is suitable for both children and adults, making it fun for the whole family. Another highlight on the summit of Monte Mottarone is the Giardino Botanico Alpinia, which was created in the 1930s. Hundreds of alpine plants thrive at an altitude of 800 meters, which you can admire.

Unfortunately, Monte Mottarone is currently only accessible by car via a toll road. After a tragic cable car accident in 2021, the cable car has been closed ever since.

12. Visit Lago Maggiore

The famous Lago Maggiore is also located in the immediate vicinity. The lake is known for its breathtaking beauty and charming lakeside towns. It stretches across the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding Alps and lush Mediterranean vegetation. Boat trips, hikes and exploring picturesque lakeside villages are just some of the best things to do that await travelers on the enchanting shores of Lago Maggiore.

How to get to Lake Orta in Italy?

There are different transportation options to Lake Orta depending on your starting point.

By car: If you have a car, traveling by car is one of the most convenient ways to reach Lake Orta. From Milan in Italy, for example, Lake Orta is only 1 1/2 hours away.

By train/bus: If you prefer public transportation, you can take a train to the nearby towns of Novara or Arona and then change to a bus that will take you to Lake Orta. From Novara you can take a train to Gozzano and then a bus to Orta San Giulio. From Arona you can take a bus directly to Orta San Giulio.

By plane: If you’re coming from further away or internationally, the closest major airports to Lake Orta are Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) and Milan Linate Airport (LIN). From the airport, you can rent a car and drive to Lake Orta, or you can take a combination of trains and buses to reach the lake.

Lago d'Orta on a italy map

Best Time to Visit

Lake Orta is a perfect destination for all year round. Depending on your interests, you can choose the perfect time for yourself.

Summer (June to August) is the main tourist season with warm temperatures and lots of sunshine. It’s the perfect time for swimming, sunbathing and water activities. There are also many cultural events and festivals in summer.

In spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November), temperatures tend to be milder and it’s ideal for outdoor activities such as exploring the surrounding towns or hiking in the mountains. It’s perfect weather at Lake Orta to discover everything in a more relaxed atmosphere.

In winter (December to February) is the calmest time with cool temperatures and sometimes snow. Nevertheless, it’s a good time if you want enjoy the winter landscape in the middle of the Alps.

How many days should you stay at Lake Orta?

Depending on your interests and budget, Lake Orta is ideal for a day trip as well as for several days. The perfect length to explore Lake Orta and its surroundings is, in our opinion, 2 to 3 days.

Where to stay at Lake Orta?

When choosing where to stay at Lake Orta in Italy, there are several options to consider, such as charming lakeside hotels, cozy bed and breakfasts and vacation rentals.

Orta San Giulio is the main town at Lake Orta and offers several accommodation options, including boutique hotels, historic guesthouses and charming bed and breakfasts.

Pella – on the oposite side of the lake – offers a more tranquil setting. You can find lakeside hotels and guesthouses with beautiful views of the lake.

Another bustling town is Omegna in the northern part of Lake Orta. Accommodation in Omegna ranges from hotels to vacation rentals.

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