Since our last year’s visit to the beautiful Lake Garda and Lake Como, I have set a goal to visit more Italian lakes. I had the opportunity for this trip to re-route my itinerary due to my pregnancy so I decided to visit the other less known lakes in the Italian Lake District – Lake Orta and Lake Maggiore. Those are located near the route that we have to travel to get to Annecy, France so it worked out very well. After some research, I planned to stay in the little town of Orta San Giulio with the best view of the island (Isola San Giulio) in Lake Orta as the base instead of Lake Maggiore because it’s even less touristy so we can enjoy the local charm.
The drive from San Marino to Lake Orta took 4.5 hours, through 3 toll booths and cost €27.60 in tolls. At the last toll booth before reaching Lake Orta, we made a wrong decision to go in the toll that takes credit card only. We have been paying tolls with our credit card (without 4-digit pin) at the last two toll booths without any issue. This time, it didn’t take our credit card, I even tried with my 4-digit pin credit card and didn’t work either! We were stuck!!! We backed out our car to another booth that takes credit card and cash but guess what, we don’t have our toll ticket anymore 🙁
I pressed the help button to speak to a remote operator who barely speaks English, I explained the situation but didn’t get much help. The screen popped up with a charge of €80+, urg!!! I walked to the office but it was locked so I walked around to see if I can find anyone to help. Luckily, a lady came out of the office and she speaks some English to get what I am saying. She asked me to insert a bill, I had a €5 bill and then she printed the receipt. She instructed me to email this email address to explain what happened so I won’t get charged extra. She manually lift the poll so we can get through, thank you very much! A side note, I emailed to the email address provided to explain the situation and attach the receipt and got a response in 2 days that I will not be responsible for the extra charge so situation settled, phew! Lesson learned, always go to a toll booth that accepts credit card and cash just in case!!! Better yet, go to one with a human operator there!
After the hassle, we reached Orta San Giulio and parked at the multi-level parking lot just outside the center of town. Note that many towns in Italy implemented ZTL, Zona Traffico Limitato, meaning limited traffic zone that prohibits car to access at certain time except for resident. Pay attention to those ZTL because it’ll result in heavy fines and they are enforced by surveillance cameras so even if you accidentally drove in, you are out of luck! Parking in Orta San Giulio is expensive, we parked overnight for €20!
I was prepared for this so I repacked only the things we need for the next two days in the small luggage so we just need to roll one small luggage through the cobblestone narrow walkways to the town center. Thankfully I did that because it was a long flight of stair to get down to the town! Our hotel was Hotel Leon D’Oro located right on the main square, Piazza Motta. We got there at around 1 PM so as soon as we checked in, dropped our luggage, we went out immediately to have lunch. Our baby was super hungry!
I picked La Motta because it is located just around the corner but we were disappointed by their menu. Although TripAdvisor classifies it as a seafood restaurant, there’s no mussel, no seafood spaghetti, urg! Nothing in their menu sounded interesting so we ended up getting burgers…the burgers were okay but I wasn’t expecting to eat burgers at an Italian restaurant!!! Lunch cost €35,50.
After lunch, we explored the little town of Orta San Giulio. Right up the hill is the church, Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta. We saw a local drove his car up there, woahhh!
Jason went in to take some photos of its interior, I stayed outside because I didn’t have anything to cover my shoulders to be respectful. This is how the interior of the church looks like:
A lot of buildings looked old and need some repair like this one.
We walked back down to Piazza Motta with this beautifully painted building, Palazzo della Comunità (Community Palace) right in the middle of the square.
A row of colorful buildings at the square where mostly are restaurants facing the lake with the view of the island in the lake.
That building on the background is the hotel we stayed in – Hotel Leon D’Oro.
There’s a pier where you can take a ferry to the island, Isola di San Giulio, right in the middle of the lake.
Back to Piazza Motta and its beautiful Community Palace.
We then walked in the side streets to see if there are more shops. Most shops sell truffles and local products, not much souvenir types of shops.
I really like this street filled with bright orange and pink shaded houses.
Orta San Giulio is very small, there’s only one main street with restaurants and shops and mostly residential area. You probably can walk around the main square and streets within 10 minutes. On a hot summer day, what’s better than to have the famous Italian gelato? We found a very high rating gelato shop: Pan Vino, that’s right on Piazza Motta. We picked mango, coconut, and peach, 3 big scoops for only €3.50! My first bite of mango, OMG, it reminded me of the awesome mango juice we had in French Polynesia! The coconut is super good as well, very creamy, smooth, and full of coconut flavor. Pan Vino is one of the best gelato shops we had in Italy along with the one in Manarola and Alberobello!!! If you have a chance to visit Lake Orta, don’t forget to have gelato at Pan Vino!!!
We explored more of the little town:
We found the community garden by accident, you can easily miss that as you walk down the main street because the entrance looked like a gate entering someone’s mansion. You will see this beautiful lamp and that’s the entrance.
We walked in and there’s an open area where there’s a little but beautiful garden for locals to hang out. There’s a row of wisteria at bloom 🙂
A little deck with this tree providing shades.
A cute little garden isn’t it?
We walked all the way to Villa Motta and then turned back to our hotel to rest. Our unexciting room, it was super small and with no wifi!!! The room just barely fit the bed with almost no room left. They even have a small TV up that shelf lol.
The antique style closer looked very nice though.
The small bathroom and that antique-looking showerhead….
For two nights, I paid $259 booked through Booking.com. We took a quick nap before heading out for dinner. More photos of the town before our dinner. We walked around restaurants to check out their menu first and then make a decision so we don’t end up like our lunch without anything we like to eat.
We picked Venus, right next to our hotel and with the view of the island and the lake. I am so sorry to say, bad choice again! I ordered the duck breast and although it looked good in the picture, the texture is disgusting! The texture was like the meat has been sitting there for ages 🙁 Jason ordered a fried seafood plate and it was okay; the ingredients weren’t that fresh. I am surprised to see that there’s not much fresh seafood beside the lake fishes in Lake Orta! I remembered having great seafood spaghetti at Lake Garda and Lake Como!
The dinner cost €64 and not good so avoid Venus, it’s a tourist trap!
We found a bench along the pier and waited for the sun to set. The sunset was nice although not super colorful. Slowly, the lights on Isola di San Giulio turned on.
We waited till the blue hour for some photos then we went to the square and side streets for some night photos of the quiet town.
The Community Palace and Piazza Motta looked charming at night.
Then, we walked to the orange-pink shaded street to see how it looks like at night. Much more quiet, perfect for photos!
Lastly, Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta at night:
Lake Orta and Orta San Giulio are definitely not as busy as Lake Garda, although small, but it was a good base for a night or so to explore the area. The only downside is no good seafood restaurants that fit our budget and tastebud. There are two Michelin starred restaurants in Orta San Giulio if you want to splurge. After a few Michelin starred restaurants we visited, we determined that those are not for us – expensive and not filling. Good experience to try it once but not something we chase for 😉