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Orta San Giulio

Listed under Historic Towns and Villages in Italy.

Photo of Orta San Giulio
Photo by Donna Hull
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Cobblestone streets, a 1580′s era town hall with a frescoed facade, outdoor cafes on a plaza bordering a mountain lake, a fairy tale looking island in the middle of that lake – atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere. This is exactly what Alan and I hoped to find on our baby boomer adventure in Northern Italy.

When we told Claudio Fontana of A La Carte Italy about our  desire to experience Italy off-the-beaten-path, Claudio delivered. And then some. He introduced us to Orta San Giulio on Lake Orta just west of Lake Maggiore in northern Italy.

Accompanied by art historian guide, Elena Rame, we walked the pedestrian friendly streets of the small village that has inspired the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche, Honoré de Balzac and Robert Browning. On this trip, it was the parish priest, dressed in a brown friar’s robe, who held court with local citizens.

Turning left for the uphill walk along Salita della Motta, we stopped to take photos of the pale yellow church that sits at the top of the cobblestone path. But our journey uphill wasn’t over. We trekked up another steep, but paved, lane to the beginning of the Sacro Monte di Orta, where a park-like setting plays host to twenty chapels dedicated to the life of St. Francis of Assisi. The Sacro Monte was declared an Italian national park, or Riserva, in 1980 and added to the World Heritage List in 2003.

Built over a period of 200 years, starting in the late 1500′s, the chapels reflect a variety of architectural styles beginning with Renaissance influences then moving on to Baroque and Rocco. The scenes housed inside were intended to teach illiterate peasants, who couldn’t understand the Latin sermons they heard at mass, the virtues of religion through the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

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Written by  Donna Hull.

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