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This travellers blog is where you will find many things - latest news, the musings of our experienced staff and much more. We plan also to use it as a pictorial knowledge. Let us know if you would like "how to" instructions and we will put them here.

The Italian lakes – new final day added for 2023 Back to News

Wednesday 23rd November | Posted by On Foot Staff

Explore the lesser-known Italian lakes

In the north of Italy, where Piedmont meets the Swiss border, the lakes of Maggiore and Orta glisten in the sun between chestnut-clad mountainsides. These lakes are the focus of our walk, which will also take you to the top of Mottarone and glimpses of snowy Alpine peaks beyond.

The gentle pace of this self-guided walking holiday allows plenty of time to wander through the historic island palaces and many gardens of the area, and also the churches, chapels and monasteries along the route. This was the playground of the wealthy in earlier centuries, and while other lakes further east now attract the most glamorous visitors, the waterside towns of Maggiore and Orta have settled into a modest gentility, with a mountainous back country that remains truly rural.

Begin your holiday with two nights on the tiny Isola Pescatori (Fishermen’s Isle) of Lake Maggiore, and warm up the muscles with a walk alongside little Lake Mergozzo – or explore the island palaces and gardens instead. Then climb to the top of Mottarone via the village of Gignese (where the making of high-quality umbrellas and parasols was the key local industry). Your mountain-top stay in a pastel-coloured villa with stupendous views is a highlight – here Sabina and Ivan have created a renowned small restaurant, showcasing Piedmontese cooking and wines.

The descent to Lake Orta is through pastures and birch trees to the lakeside villages and pretty Orta San Giulio. Discover the 20 chapels of Sacro Monte di Orta, with their life-size depictions of St Francis, or take a boat to the little island to walk the pilgrimage circuit.

NEW FOR 2023 – walk to Madonna del Sasso
Our new final hike on this route is on the far side of Lake Orta, climbing to Madonna del Sasso, the cliff-top church that features in the background of all your photos across the water. From this viewpoint you can look back to Mottarone in wonder at your achievements.

Madonna del Sasso, or ‘Our Lady of the Rock’, sits on a granite rock 350m above the water. The current 18th century church replaced a smaller 16th century chapel, and houses a statue of Our Lady of the Rosary that was associated with a number of miraculous healings.

The area in front of the sanctuary, the ‘Cusio Balcony’, was previously known as ‘il prato della tela’ (the laundry green) because the local women would gather there on hot summer days to bleach their homemade fabrics. From here there are views of the lake, Mottarone, the Alps and further to the south the flatter land in the direction of Novara.

The Sanctuary is the final destination on Le Valli della Fede (Valley of Faith) pilgrim trail which links the minor churches of the central and eastern Biella area with Lake Orta.

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