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.

Lake Orta Orta San Guilio
Orta San Guilio

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.

Lake Orta - Walking Waymarks
Lake Orta Walking Waymarks - Pettenasco to Orta San Guilio via Legro
Lake Orta Walking Map
Lake Orta Walking Map
Lake Orta Walking Map

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.

Lake Orta Legro Painted Village
Lake Orta Legro Painted Village
Lake Orta Legro Painted Village
Lake Orta Legro Painted Village

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.

Lake Orta Villa Crespi
Lake Orta Villa Crespi

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.

Lake Orta - Isola di San Guilio

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.

Lake Orta - Orta San Guilio
Lake Orta - Orta San Guilio

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.

Foodie Firsts

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?!

Lake Orta - Barolo Wine
Lake Orta - Barolo Wine

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?

Lake Orta - Foccacia Italiano
Foccacia Italiano
Lake Orta Italian Flag
Lake Orta Skipper Bar Pettanesco
Lake Orta Skipper Bar Pettanesco

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. 


  1. Buon Giorno (Good Morning)
  2. Gracie (Thank You)
  3. Prego (You’re Welcome)
  4. Spaghetti
  5. Ravioli
  6. Gelato (Ice Cream)
  7. Linguini
  8. Tratorria
  9. Ferrari
  10. Prosecco
  11. Capuccino
  12. Chianti
  13. Valpolicella
  14. Bellisimo
  15. Lamborghini


  1. Ciao (Hi)
  2. Per Favore (Please)
  3. Piccolo (Small)
  4. Grande (Large)
  5. Due (Two)
  6. Toilette (Toilet)
  7. Signore (Gentleman)
  8. Signora (Lady)
  9. Perfetto (Perfect)
  10. Barolo
  11. Gusto (Taste)
  12. Passione (Passion)
  13. Tigella (Like a Panini)
  14. Birra (Beer)
  15. 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.

Lake Orta Hotel Giardinetto View of Lake Orta Room 123
Hotel - Giardinetto - View of Lake Orta from Room 123
Lake Orta Hotel Giardinetto Room 123
Hotel Giardinetto Room 123
Lake Orta Hotel Giardinetto Rooftop Terrace
Hotel Giardinetto Rooftop Terrace

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.

Lake Orta Hotel Giardinetto Tasting Menu
Hotel Giardinetto Tasting Menu
Lake Orta Hotel Giardinetto Tasting Menu
Lake Orta Hotel Giardinetto Tasting Menu
  • Post category:Europe / Italy