In its location facing Lake Orta, the small town of Orta San Giulio is a one of the top destinations for tourists visiting the Verbano Cusio Ossola province.
A favourite place for romantic souls, the village is a maze of picturesque streets and narrow cobbled lanes, flanked by old stone walls with doorways topped with triangular architraves.
The little squares, reminiscent of the campielli of Venice, are enlivened by the presence of craft boutiques, antique shops and lively cafés.
There is a splendid view of Lake Orta from the 15th century Church of Maria Assunta, a favourite for weddings, from where a flight of broad granite steps leads to Piazza Motta, the main square of the village. You walk down between two rows of houses frescoed in the 16th century to arrive in the square with the 16th century Palazzo della Comunità (Town Hall), from which two side streets go off leading to Moccarolo and Villa.
The Moccarolo district in the southern part of the village has an elegant row of villas and townhouses, all with their little flower-filled gardens overlooking the lake. The houses in the Villa area are period townhouses embellished with pretty little wrought iron balconies; see them to best advantage along the narrow, picturesque Via Olina.
The finest view in the area is to be had from the Sacro Monte of Orta, a complex of chapels built between the late 16th and early 17th centuries, in the woodland setting of the Sacro Monte Special Nature Reserve. You can reach the complex via a path from Piazza Motta.
The medieval atmosphere of Orta is enhanced every June with the Cusio Festival of Ancient Music, when a series of concerts are given in the 18th century Casa Tallone, on San Giulio Island, by internationally famous musicians playing ancient instruments.
But the atmosphere of Orta is not only medieval: the village is also the setting for up-to-date, lively cultural events like the annual Ortissima, an art exhibition with permanent displays in Palazzo Pinotti Umbertini as well as temporary installations at sites throughout the village streets. And don’t miss Orta in fiore, a Flower Show-Market held in spring in Piazza della Motta, which becomes awash with the colours of local and exotic species of flowers.