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Plan on 2-3 nights at the minimum, and a week if you can. The Piedmont region in northern Italy is a veritable foodie’s paradise in Autumn when mushroom season sees some of the world’s finest truffles pop up everywhere. Orta San Giulio is where the philosopher Frederick Nietzsche is said to have fallen in love and it’s easy to see why romance flourished in this romantic lakeside village. The lake has always been popular with writers. In the 19th century, Friedrich Nietzsche, Samuel Butler, Lord Byron, Honoré de Balzac and Robert Browning all came here.

Summer is excellent: warm water, not incredibly crowded. April and September were wonderful as well. Most hotels close November-March. The lake is clean and quite warm by July.

To See:

Where to stay:

The good news is that because Orta is far less developed than other lakes, there are relatively affordable places to stay. VisitLakeOrta.com is a good local source for direct house rentals.

More options:

  • ***Hotel Ristorante Giardinetto: we were extremely happy here. It’s definitely a budget option, but the lakeside access is perfect, it’s very relaxing, cheerful vibe. Less than $100/night in Aug 2020. Also has a much higher end restaurant with great views and excellent food.
  • *Hotel San Rocco: we stayed here and wouldn’t recommend it. Pretty dingy. On the positive side, it has a pool and lake access and is conveniently located.
  • [haven’t been] Villa Crespi (Via G Fava 18, +39 0322 911902, hotelvillacrespi.it), a lavish, four-star, Turkish-inspired castle-hotel, which, if you’re feeling flush, has to be worth the indulgence.

Where to eat:

Omegna

  • **Siamo Fritti Omegna, at the north end of the lake, is an easy casual dining option. They just do burgers (maybe 30 different kinds), the patio overlooks a busy intersection. I wouldn’t call it a destination restaurant, but we liked it.

Orta San Giulio

  • (Haven’t been): Ai Due Santi: the nicest restaurant on the main square, recommended. 
  • (Haven’t been): Al Boeuch (Via Bersani 28, +39 339 5840039), a cosy candlelit old taverna on one of the back streets where Andreas serves too many delicious wines and too many tasty cheeses and platters of prosciutto and hot bruschetta. 
  • **Il Cucchiao de Legno, Via Prisciola n. 10. This was good, random location (though easy to walk to), feels like a find. Food was very good. My only complaint is the other guests – this is popular with big Italian families and the kid scene/noise can get a little out of hand.
  • ***La Darbia: love this place! An elegant evening at the restaurant is a must. The setting is spectacular.
  • **La Motta is a nicer option in the old town. No views, but good for a change of scene. http://www.lamottarestaurant.it/ 
  • **L’Ustaria Cà dal Rat is a hidden find – it’s right on the main road, but the restaurant is hiding on the lake side and surprisingly large. Food is excellent, warm service.
  • (On the island, the only restaurant, reserve in advance): ***Ristorante San Giulio (Via Basilica 4, +30 0322 90234, ristorantesangiulio.it), in an 18th-century building with ceiling frescoes and a vine-covered lakeside terrace. Good enough (not bad) and worth it for the setting.
  • **Venus: right on the water, excellent food. There are two restaurants in one: a pizza place, and a fine dining option.
  • [haven’t been] Villa Crespi (Via G Fava 18, +39 0322 911902, hotelvillacrespi.it), a lavish, four-star, Turkish-inspired castle-hotel, which, if you’re feeling flush, has to be worth the indulgence. Has a two Michelin star restaurant. (This is over the top, not the best location, but worth checking out for the food.)

Pettenasco / Crabbia

  • **Berimbao Pizzeria is a local spot on the hill – very cheap compared to everything else, friendly staff, good views. Good casual option.
  • **Hotel Ristorante Giardinetto: The restaurant is much higher end than you’d expect from the location, architecture – good food, lovely waterside patio. 
  • **Ristorante Osteria San Martino is tucked away in narrow side streets, and quite charming, with excellent local food. Fairly formal service, setting.

Farther Afield

  • ***Al Sorriso: two Michelin stars (at one point had three and was considered the best restaurant in Italy). Very worth it for a top 10 of all time meal. We had a very intimate lunch (we were the only guests) with a lot of attention from the owners. Known for an epic wine list. Town itself isn’t particularly notable except for the charming **Ristorante Laghetto della Gelata, where we stumbled into a wedding and were given free champagne and snacks.
  • **Da Venanzio is an obscure but somewhat charming find. It’s not the easiest to get to, in a neighborhood accessed by one-lane roads. It has a great view directly on the water, feels like eating in someone’s kitchen. Not fancy, but the foot is elaborate and well done. 
  • ***La Zucca: while at times hard to get a table, La Zucca is very special, fancy and perched high in the hills. We were told that ‘mama is still in the kitchen,’ running the show.
  • ***Villa Pizzini: a bit of an adventurous drive, but worth it. Truly excellent food, small and intimate. There are five comfy rooms and the forested setting overlooking Maggiore is spectacular, but it’s the cuisine – using produce from their own gardens and local farmers – that people come for. That night we devour velvety pumpkin and chestnut soup, beetroot pasta with goats’ cheese, and mushroom mille foglie with delicious Piedmont wine (the extensive list features 100 from this region alone). It’s an intimate space with just 28 covers, and with a four-course tasting menu for €40 (or €52 for six courses), it’s good value too. 

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