Just over an hour’s drive from Milan, in the province of Novara Italy, there is a small and beautiful village, placed on the official list of the most beautiful villages in Italy and awarded with the orange flag of the Touring Club Italiano: Orta San Giulio.
Getting there is very simple and it’s ideal for a day trip from Milan. In fact, the little village offers in addition to monuments or interesting architectures, an atmosphere of serenity, the memory of a time when towns were smaller and everything was hand made locally.
Located on the shores of Lake Orta, this small village has maintained its medieval shape, formed simply by a square with brooks and narrow lanes stretching from the shore for just over a hundred meters inland. You cannot enter the town with the car which you can leave in the large car parking that you will find near by. The town’s streets are made with pebbles and you will not find a drop of asphalt that could contaminate the original roads. All the streets lead to the central square, from where you can take small boats (at about € 4) that will take you to the small isle of San Giulio in the middle of the lake a few minutes away. A true gem of untouched medieval architecture. You will find a monastery, a few homes and just a small restaurant with a terrace overlooking the lake called: Ristorante San Giulio. Needless to say you must make reservations if you want to eat there.
The island has been a key place in the area for centuries, not only for its strategic location but also for it’s spiritual value. Many of the legends, still handed down, speak of the creatures of the island and the fundamental role the church (built in 390 AD) had to keep them away.
Throughout the Middle Ages, there were military camps and castles on the island, up to the modern and contemporary age, when the last remains of the last medieval castle were demolished to make room for a monastery and a bishop’s seminary that today occupies much of the island. The Mater Ecclesiae abbey which is a cloistered women’s Benedictine monastery.
The best means of transportation is undoubtedly the car, thanks to a very handy parking right at the beginning of the village, try to avoid those at the top of the hill because they are too distant, even if provided with shuttles. If you have the chance, I recommend the restaurant that is on the island of San Giulio, not so much for the food, at the level of a good trattoria, but for the pleasure of having lunch on the terrace overlooking the water, from which you can see the shores of the lake.
The alternative, if you have not made reservations, are the little restaurants in the village square, which are just as good in prices and quality of food.
When you visit this small town, take your time, enjoy the little streets and explore it because, now more than ever, it is necessary to find the value of time spent well and, in Orta San Giulio this feeling of peace is almost guaranteed.