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Orta San Giulio
Orta San Giulio is a small, car-free, lakeside town is on the shore Lake Orta, Italy. The city is built on a small peninsula that juts into the lake which makes for some amazing views. It’s a small, quiet village with cobblestone lanes and decorated with moss and ivy. From the piazza in Orta San Giulio you can see the small island of San Giulio rising out of the lake.
We visited on a cool, foggy day which seemed to add a sort of enchantment or fairytale aspect to our visit. We visited in October, so it wasn’t crowded, but not sure how many visitors it receives in peak season. It’s the kind of place that would probably be overlooked in favour of some of the larger lakes. But this is really a gem and the fact that you can roam freely without having to worry about cars is great.
This little village is made for strolling. But, when you are ready to eat, Piazza Motta has several restaurants to choose from and we definitely ate well while we were there.
Just outside the town is Sacro Monte di Orta which is a religious site dedicated to the life of St. Francis of Assisi. There is free parking on site or you can walk there from the Orta, but it can be a bit steep. There are 20 chapels and over 300 life-size statues. Here’s a map. It’s a unique place to visit and it’s free. As it’s up on a hill, there are also great views over the lake.
Getting to Orta San Giulio
If you are staying nearby in Lago Maggiore then it’s about a half an hour drive away. We went by car and parked in the city underground parking just outside town. No cars are allowed in the town which is a blessing because you would definitely not want to drive down such narrow lanes.
San Giulio Island
San Giulio island from afar looks like a magical tiny village, however, it is home to a monastery made up of nuns who have taken an oath of silence. In fact, the entire island is dedicated to silence and meditation and it has signs with quotes posted around the pathway in four languages. It is amazingly quiet and peaceful.
There is also a church that has the remains of St. Julius (San Giulio). If you do go in the church, be forewarned that St. Julius is in a glass coffin and may not be something you want the children to see, but easily avoidable. There was one tourist shop and one restaurant but the restaurant was closed during our visit. I think in high season it would have been open.
The one-way path that circles around the island is rocky and has lots of steps. There are buildings everywhere, but the only people you see are the ones that came with you on the boat.
The trip around the island doesn’t take long (20 minutes or so) and there is not much else to do there except enjoy the views of Orta San Giulio and your lovely little ones. I would bring some snacks for the kids to munch on while you wait for the return boat.
Getting to the Island
You can reach the island by the public boats that leave frequently from the piazza in Orta San Giulio. The ride over offers great views of the lake and the island. Before you get off the boat, make sure you have confirmed the return time, so you don’t miss it and have to wait.
Orta San Giulio is a great place for a low-key day out with the family. Here are a few other places you might be interested in.
Lago Maggiore with Kids
If you love the idea of visiting Lake Orta, then you’ll definitely want to check out the lovely islands in nearby Lake Maggiore. >Read more here
The Romantic Road with Kids Germany
The Romantic Road is popular for tourists visiting Bavaria in Southern Germany. It's small towns are great places to wander with kids. >Read More here
Visit the Verdon Gorge with Kids
This beautiful canyon in southern France is a sparkly feast for the eyes. You might think photos of its turquoise waters are not real until you see it for yourself- it's really this stunning. >Read More here