Why Orta San Giulio

  • To complete the visit, visit Orta San Giulio
  • To go in search of the traces of San Giulio
  • To admire a small island and its architectural beauties
  • To see the view towards the mainland
  • Because this is a place of silence and contemplation
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Lake Orta, a small body of water in the province of Novara and known since the Middle Ages as Lake San Giulio, is linked to the arrival of the Saint, but also to one of the most important Italian writers: Gianni Rodari, who was born here in 1920.

Lake Orta

Lake Orta

The current name of the lake dates back to the 17th century and takes its name from the main locality: Orta San Giulio. (here is the link to the dedicated post).

A lake, a legend

The legend that hovers over Lake Orta and that takes us back to the 4th century is curious, more precisely to the arrival on the shores of two brothers originally from the Greek island of Aegina: Giulio and Giuliano who here, with the backing of the emperor Theodosius I dedicated themselves to the demolition of pagan temples.


Island of San Giulio

Island of San Giulio

Tradition has it that San Giulio, having left his brother Giuliano alone in the construction of the ninety-ninth church, in Gozzano, sought by himself the place to build the hundredth: he decided to do it on the islet a few steps from Orta. A noble idea, but no one wanted to transport it to that strip of land that rises from the lake because it was rumored that the islet was infested with ferocious beasts.

Undaunted, St. Julius went alone to the island. He put his cloak on the water and began to walk on it until he reached the strip of land that emerged from the lake. Then the legend put his own. It is said that the saint defeated dragons and snakes that infested the place, according to ancient pagan beliefs, chasing them away forever and that later he laid the foundations for the church that was built on the spot where today we see the basilica of San Giulio.

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The Island today

Around the Island of San Giulio

Around the Island of San

Reached the island by boat, the landing is at the height of the basilica which stands on the site of the primitive church founded by San Giulio. Today only the main apse remains of the original building. At the beginning of the 10th century, there was a fortified structure on the island which was demolished in 1842 to make way for what is now the seminary.

Once you have visited the basilica, you can take a complete tour of this islet following an annular circuit known as the path of silence and meditation. In rigorous silence, we walk those few hundred meters that bring us back to the starting point, between walls that exude humidity and fantastic views of the lake. Step by step you reach the nineteenth-century Palazzo dei Vescovi and the Benedictine abbey Mater Ecclesiae, a convent for women, while the other buildings on the island are private homes.

How to reach the island of San Giulio

The island of San Giulio can be reached from Orta San Giulio by sailing boats or by private motorboats moored on the pier in Piazza Motta. The island can also be reached from other locations overlooking the lake.

 Island of San Giulio, street

Island of San Giulio, street

A very ancient human presence on the lake

The human presence on Lake Orta dates back to the Neolithic period. In the Middle Ages, the lake was known as Lake San Giulio, while the name of Cusius (Cusio) would have come from the misreading of the Tabula Peutingeriana where a “lacus Clisius” of uncertain identification appears. The name Cusio was initially used as an administrative element while today it simply indicates the lake.

Gianni Rodari

The writer Gianni Rodari is a native of these places. In fact, he was born on 23 October 192.0 in Omegna, which is located on the northern tip of the lake. The man of letters mentions Lake Orta in his works: “There was twice the Baron Lamberto” which has the island of San Giulio as its setting and “The accountant-fish of Cusio”.


Today in the municipality of Omegna you can visit the park dedicated to the writer.

 Island of San Giulio

Island of San Giulio

How do I get to Orta San Giulio?

Orta San Giulio can be reached by car following the A26 motorway (Genova Voltri -Gravellona Toce) exit Gravellona Toce, then direction Omegna along the Regional Road 229, while for those coming from the A8 / A26 highways (Milano Laghi-Gravellona Toce) Arona exit, then towards Borgomanero.

Orta San Giulio can also be reached by train. The closest railway station is the Orta-Miasino station, in the Legro district on the Domodossola – Borgomanero – Novara section. The alternative is the Arona station, on the Milan-Domodossola line, then you can continue with the Comazzi bus service – here the link http://www.comazzibus.com )

The closest airport is Milan Malpensa which is about 40 km from Orta San Giulio

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