Table of Contents
Exploring Lake Orta - Italy’s Hidden Gem - Piccolo e Perfetto!
Little Lake Orta is by far the smallest of all the great Italian Lakes, which is what gives it its charm. A hidden gem of a lake – easily explored in the shortest of short breaks.
I always think that exploring on foot is the best way to really get the feel for a new place. Driving just doesn’t offer the chance to explore all the fascinating nooks and crannies.
Pettenasco to Orta San Guilio via the Painted Village of Legro
From the Hotel Giardinetto (see Accommodation Review), you can spend a lovely morning exploring the picturesque hillside villages to the east of Pettenasco by walking to Orta San Guilio. The footpath begins a short distance from the hotel – a left turn 200-300 yards up the main road leads you up into pretty Pettenasco. From there, head for the railway arches and walk under them to join footpath no 10 which takes you through the little villages of Carcegna, Miasino and Legro en route to Orta San Guilio. You can stay on forest footpaths and quiet roads for most of the way, glimpsing the clear blue of the lake on your right as you steadily close in on Orta San Guilio.
September is a really lovely time to walk in Lake Orta. Admire the gigantic spiky green chestnuts in the trees as you walk in dappled, warm sunshine.
Legro isn’t well signed, but if you peel off the main road down to the right down Vecchia Stazione, you can follow a quiet road to reach it.
The painted village of Legro is particularly interesting. Allow some extra time to admire the colourful frescoes decorating the houses there. The murals were painted artists/art students in around 1998 and were inspired by the work of the local poet and writer Gianni Rodari, and by movies made in the Lake Orta area.
You can learn a bit more about Legro and its painted murals on the short You Tube video below.
Orta San Guilio
From Legro, the footpath to Orta San Guilio is easy to find and leads you all the way down to the lake. As you enter the little town, pause to admire Villa Crespi at the entrance – just before the Tourist Office.
The villa has always been in private ownership and now belongs to Antonino Cannavacciuolo – winner of Master Chef Italia in 2015. His restaurant now has 2 Michelin rosettes and looks like a really lovely place to stay!
There is something fascinating about islands isn’t there? For some inexplicable reason we are always drawn into wantimg to visit them and satisfy our curiosity by conquering their inaccessibility. The Isola di San Guilio – bathed in early Autumn sunshine today – looked tempting, but we somehow managed to resist the reasonably priced round trip ticket.
There are plenty of options for lunch in town if you want to make a day of it and take your time to explore the picturesque cobbled streets lined with villas dating from the 16th to 18th centuries.
Or, take the 12.35 ferry back and maybe disembark at Pettenasco for lunch instead? Pizzas are very reasonably priced here! It is just a short 10 minute walk back to the Hotel Giardinetto.
The Piedmont area of Italy is famous for its red wines. Barolo is a prime example. It is one of those wines that surprises you when you taste it. Think rose petal, cherry, raspberry, cinnamon, white pepper, and, with age, licorice, leather, and chocolate. All that in one glass? It just has to be worth 9 euros?!
Also worth tasting is Focaccia Italiano. The version I had was topped with the the sweetest, reddest, freshest tomatoes that grow best of all in Bella Italia. It even looks rather like an Italian flag?
Learning the Lingo
My Italian is not very good. In fact, I confess that – before this trip – I only knew 15 words of Italian, and 2/3 of those were connected to food.
I am proud to say that my Italian vocabulary has doubled since arriving here – and now only about half are food related.
- Buon Giorno (Good Morning)
- Gracie (Thank You)
- Prego (You’re Welcome)
- Gelato (Ice Cream)
- Ciao (Hi)
- Per Favore (Please)
- Piccolo (Small)
- Grande (Large)
- Due (Two)
- Toilette (Toilet)
- Signore (Gentleman)
- Signora (Lady)
- Perfetto (Perfect)
- Gusto (Taste)
- Passione (Passion)
- Tigella (Like a Panini)
- Birra (Beer)
- Machiatto (Double Espresso with a shot of frothy milk)
I aspire to eventually progress to:
Posso avero il conto, per favore? (Can I have the bill please?) and
Posso prenotare un tavolo per cena stasera, per favore? (Do you have a table for tonight please?)
While language lessons progress though, English works embarrassingly well.
Tips for Future Travellers
Leaving Pettenasco at 9am allowed plenty of time to catch the 12.35 Ferry back. Or you could make a day of it and visit all the chapels and stop for lunch – there is a second ferry (the last!) returning at 18.10.
Or – you could spend the day doing a full round tour of Lake Orta on an all day ticket – a bargain at €9.20?
The ferry runs daily between April and September, but only on Sundays/Holidays between March and October. Come between November and February and you are going to be walking back!
Where to Stay in Lake Orta - Acommodation Reviews
Hotel Giardinetto - Pettenasco
Perched on the eastern shores of Lake Orta, just to the north of Pettenasco, this idyllically situated hotel has its own waterfront “beach”, a good sized outdoor pool and a huge lakeside terrace restaurant which has a deservedly good reputation locally.
There is ample parking available too – a real bonus in the Italian Lakes, which were not designed around the modern day car.
There is a choice of Tasting Menus at different prices, all with reasonably priced wine pairing options.
There is also a rather appealing Relax Roof Top Terrace Bar. Reached via a glass elevator, an assortment of cocktails and 30 different types of gin await you up top – along with wonderful views over the tranquil lake.