Orta San Giulio. A promontory that hosts a corner of history and beauty at its edge. The Sacro Monte dedicated to the story of Saint Francis where to go on a devotional and cognitive itinerary. Then you go down, in the intimate village till the historic square.

view of Orta San Giulio
“San Giulio island” by seligr is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

A church, that seems it is balancing on the top of the hill, accompanies you towards the descent. Here a triumphal staircase leads to ancient renovated shops, made of images and perfumes. And then you get to the coast, ready to reach the homonymous island. Orta San Giulio tells it all.

Orta San Giulio and its Sacro Monte

Nietzsche called it “one of the most charming places in the world”. For those who have already had the opportunity to visit it, these words affirm a truth. Planning a journey to discover Orta San Giulio, the Sacro Monte is certainly an excellent starting point. A long walk among the many chapels designed at the end of the 16th century and dedicated to St. Francis. Let yourself be guided by the devotional stages and stop to enjoy the art that characterizes them. But not only. The real beauty here is given by the ability of telling a story. A story that moves through visual representation, made of the large sculptures that animate the sacred buildings.

Interior of one of the chapels of the SacroMonte
Chapel of Sacro Monte, Orta San Giulio – ph: Diego Bonacina, CC BY-SA 4.0

There are 376 terracotta statues which, alongside the frescoes of important authors, such as Morazzone, occupy the twenty chapels along the way. Spaces full of a crowd of characters who narrate the events of the Saint. It seems to be there, inside the scene to share an experience. Everything fits into a naturalistic setting that conveys the idea of a slowed down time. In the quiet paths surrounded by green beech, lime and pine trees. To carve out a moment “out of the clutter of everyday life”.

orta san giulio
“Today we visit the village of Orta San Giulio on Lake Orta” by ViaggioRoutard is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Going down

An finally, stop on the panoramic terrace overlooking the landscape. The lake, with that precious sparkle, is the home of the tiny and nearby island born just 400 meters from the shore. And now the descent towards the village begins. But without forgetting to stop at the picnic area, equipped with stone benches and tables. Get the energy back by munching a meal and then ready to go. The slope begins again accompanied by suggestive views. Like the one that can be admired among the intertwining of the gate of a sumptuous private villa.

The historic village of Orta San Giulio

A few more steps and you arrive in the heart of Orta San Giulio. But just before we get there, a last “effort” awaits us. Take the wide stone staircase beside the square. You pass in front of the parish church. Dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, it contains several fifteenth and seventeenth-century masterpieces. Like the Procession of Carlo Borromeo in Milan, by Giulio Cesare Procaccini.

Church of Santa Maria Assunta in Orta San Giulio
Church of Santa Maria Assunta, Orta San Giulio – ph: Geobia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Leaving the sacred building behind, continue towards the historic Piazza Motta. Small shops liven up the journey. Its ancient signs, in ancient font, recall taste of the decoration typical of past eras. Taverns and shops where you can rediscover tradition. Like the laboratory that sells lavender soaps. A display of products heralds the entrance, interspersed with advertising posters in full retro style. Before reaching the lake, you can go through the streets of the village and enjoy a walk. Here too the parade of inns and shops continues.

Shops framed by vegetable decorations
Shops in Orta San Giulio – Foto di Marco Trovò, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

From simple ice cream parlors to fabric stores capable of creating a strong attractive power thanks to curated displays. Like that mannequin exhibited outside in the hot season who wears a dress made of buttons. A real unexpected work of art! On the other side there are sophisticated gourmet restaurants which can be accessed through intimate entrances. They appear almost hidden under woody tendrils that descend from the balcony above. And now, the lake awaits us. What we saw before from above. The walkway on which many tourists, French and German, meet, and who see the place as a reason for vacation. The boats that lead to the islet of Orta San Giulio leave from here.


A small island, so named in memory of San Giulio. According to legend he was the one who came here to fight dragons and snakes that gripped the place. Perhaps an expression of evil, perhaps a symbolic reference to a previous pagan site. San Giulio won the battle and established his own church here. His patronal feast takes place precisely in this period. January 31 with liturgical celebration and a procession with the saint’s relics. In addition to the basilica, there were once buildings exclusively of a religious nature. An example is the Palazzo del Vescovo di Novara, a former nineteenth-century seminary. Today it is the home of the only inhabitants of the island. The Benedictine Cloistered Sisters. Orta San Giulio is all this. A path that tells stories and does it with that pleasant discretion that unknowingly allows us to bring home a baggage of curiosity and knowledge.

Orta San Giulio: “One of the most charming places in the world” ultima modifica: 2020-01-24T11:08:54+01:00 da Sabrina Cernuschi