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A Brief Guide to Discover One of Italy’s Most Romantic Villages

If you’ve watched Giuseppe Tornatore’s film “Correspondence” and want to take your loved one to explore the setting of the romantic “Borgo Ventoso,” read on to discover what to see in Orta San Giulio!

Orta San Giulio, a charming village in the province of Novara, overlooks the lake that shares its name. Its car-free urban center contributes to its enchanting atmosphere, earning it a place among Italy’s most beautiful villages and the Touring Club Italiano’s Orange Flag.

The village boasts a maze of narrow alleys intersecting as they follow the mountain’s contours, interrupted only by small squares and the panoramic lakeside promenade. Cobblestone lanes showcase buildings ranging from Romanesque to Baroque harmoniously. Its medieval origins as a significant Lombard center and later as a fief of the bishops of Novara are evident from its name, Hortus Conclusus.

But you may wonder: what are the must-see places in Orta San Giulio? Don’t worry; I’ll provide some recommendations.

What to see in Orta San Giulio: The Historic Center

Leave your car in the spacious parking area outside the historic center and start a delightful stroll through the village’s charming alleys. Along the lakeside just before entering the town, notice imposing 17th-19th-century residences, including Villa Motta and Villa Durio. Continuing on the same street, you’ll encounter Palazzo Bossi, now the town hall, with a splendid garden offering a beautiful view of Lake Orta.

Palaces and Broletto

Proceeding on the same street leads to Piazza Motta, a true gathering place surrounded by arcades housing the trendiest shops and restaurants. On the fourth side is the boat dock connecting various lake towns, providing a shaded area under trees to enjoy a splendid panorama.

In the square stands the Broletto, symbolizing centuries of self-governance and now hosting exhibitions and cultural events. Its Renaissance lines, frescoes, beautiful sundial, and the ground-floor arcade that once housed the market make it one of the town’s main attractions.

What to see in Orta San Giulio-Piazza Motta-Orta San Giulio-Piazza-Broletto-frescoes-sundial-arcades
Glimpse of Piazza Motta and the Broletto (Photo by ReverendMungo on CC BY-NC)

Across the square, an expansive road named “Motta” begins, the initial ascent to the Sacred Mountain. Noteworthy buildings line its sides: the House of the Dwarfs, the neo-classical De Fortis Penotti Palace, and the late Renaissance Gemelli Palace.

At the summit, you’ll find the Church of Santa Maria Assunta, featuring a splendid Oria stone portal adorned with floral motifs and animal figures.

What to see in Orta San Giulio: The Sacro Monte of Orta and the “Painted Village”

Continuing the somewhat steep ascent brings you to the Sacro Monte of Orta dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it comprises twenty frescoed chapels amidst the woods, illustrating the saint’s significant life events with 375 terracotta statues. The elevated location also provides a magnificent panorama of the lake.

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Interior of a chapel of the Sacro Monte of Orta (Photo by Pedro Nuno Caetano on CC BY)
What to see in Orta San giulio- Sacro Monte di Orta-Chapel-Statues-frescoes-St. Francis-Interior
Interior of a chapel of the Sacro Monte of Orta (Photo by Pedro Nuno Caetano on CC BY)

Returning to the village, continue the lakeside stroll along Via Olina, where beautiful 19th-century villas with blooming gardens add to the romantic atmosphere in spring and summer.

Noteworthy is the Legro hamlet, known as the “Painted Village,” where historic houses have been painted by artists from across Europe, depicting scenes from films and Rodari’s fairy tales. The mural ensemble constitutes the “Open-Air Cinema Museum.”

Don’t worry! I haven’t forgotten to tell you where the chosen location for the romantic “Borgo Ventoso” is. Keep reading, and you’ll find out!

What to see in Orta San Giulio: The Island of San Giulio, alias Borgo Ventoso

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The Island of San Giulio seen from the boat (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The chosen location for the romantic “Borgo Ventoso” is the Island of San Giulio, situated 400 meters from Orta’s shores and easily accessible by boats. Dominated by the majestic Seminary, built on the remains of the medieval castle, and the Basilica of San Giulio, the island showcases the finest example of Novara’s Romanesque church. Founded in 390 by the saint it’s named after, with a legendary connection (discussed in this article), the basilica underwent several reconstructions in subsequent centuries. As seen in the film, the island features narrow alleys, stone staircases, and colorful garden villas, creating a charming atmosphere suitable for a tranquil stroll.

Certainly, you’ll want advice on where and how to satisfy your appetite. Here are some suggestions on what to eat in Orta San Giulio.

What to eat in Orta San Giulio: Typical Dishes with a Modern Twist

Orta San Giulio, the romantic “Borgo Ventoso,” offers a wide culinary selection for all budgets. There are Three Michelin-starred restaurants like Villa Crespi by Chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo, known for innovative cuisine, as well as excellent lake fish restaurants at reasonable prices. Their menus feature traditional perch and pike dishes, blending with contemporary cuisine. If you prefer something more casual, there are also excellent taverns where you can enjoy delicious platters of local cheeses and cured meats. The standout is the “fideghina,” Orta’s typical liver mortadella, paired perfectly with a glass of Novara’s typical Boca D.O.C. wine.

Now that you know what to eat and, most importantly, what to see in Orta San Giulio, it’s time to pack your bags and enjoy a romantic weekend. 

If you’re still unsure where to stay, click here to discover the best accommodations at the best prices

Article Name
What to see in Orta San Giulio
Explore the enchanting Orta San Giulio, setting of "Correspondence." Discover what to see in Orta San Giulio for a romantic getaway!
Publisher Name
La Scimmia Viaggiatrice