It could be, as Honoré de Balzac wrote, thanks to “a poetic and melodious charm that surround and awakens unusual ideas.” Or because, as Montale wrote, in those neighborhood parts, “the willows really weep .” The fact is that Orta lake , just over 18 square kilometers (12 times smaller than Lake Maggiore), is a fascinating synthesis of romance and mystery. “There is something for the soul, as well as for the eyes,” as Edward Docx wrote, one of the most acclaimed contemporary novelists, in a report appeared three years ago on the first page of the British newspaper “The Guardian”.
“Here, a walk, is a lovely meditative experience,” added a few months later Bonnie Tsui, one of the most popular travel writers, in a correspondence published on the New York Times.
The land that border the lake, inhabited since Neolithic times, are full of stories and legends. The island of Saint Giulio, the gem that rises between the two shores, is easy to reach with a few minute ride with the motorboats and the boats that depart from Piazza Motta, the parlor of the medieval village of Orta that is exactly on the opposite side, less than half a mile away. It is said that the same stretch, sixteen centuries ago, had been covered by Saint Giulio by slipping his cloak on the water to get rid of the dragons that infested the island. To give credence to this story, in the sacristy of the church that bears the name of the saint, it is preserved a large fossil spinal ring that would have belonged to the skeleton of one of those monstrous creatures.
The “Sacro Monte” of Orta, the complex built on the hill overlooking the village, proclaimed by UNESCO World Heritage Site, is linked instead to an episode that shocked the life of Friedrich Nietzsche: his biographers still wonder if something happened between the German philosopher and a young and handsome Russian lady, Lou Salome, in front of a breathtaking view. Certainly there was at least a moment of tenderness from which Nietzsche came out madly in love. He died eighteen years later, consumed by madness. Among the most dear things he still kept a picture taken with Lou next to Orta.
Finally about the “unusual ideas” – to quote Balzac – : the British lawyer Peter Benenson, while admiring one of those sunsets that burns the sky when the sun goes hiding behind the Mount Rosa, decided to found “Amnesty International”. For thirty years , Benenson had always spent a vacation in Pettenasco, the small city close to Orta San Giulio. It was 1960 when walking on the edge of the lake, he found himself thinking about a story read in a newspaper found in the London Underground that particularly upset him : the sentence of seven- year imprisonment for two Portuguese students, whose only fault was a toast for freedom, under the regime of Salazar. The city of Pettenasco titled to Benenson, who died in 2005, the charming and relaxing promenade that runs along the lake.
There are 24 municipalities that gravitate on the basin of Lake Orta, with a total of over 4000 beds for overnight. But Pettenasco, Benenson’s favorite destination , rivals Orta San Giulio in the preferences of tourists for a week’s holiday or a weekend. Thanks certainly to an enviable central position, absolutely privileged, makes of Pettenasco an ideal base. But it may also depends on the magic of the landscapes, the glamorous and romantic atmosphere of candlelight dinners in rooms and terraces that overlook the lake. The Hotel Restaurant “L’Approdo” and the Hotel Restaurant “ Il Giardinetto”, the two top structures, lay directly on the water that it seems they reflect inside. From the lake they absorb all the light and all the colors that change with the passing of the hours. When you walk on the path at the edge of the lake, which starts right from the Hotel L’Approdo, it comes almost spontaneous to sit on one of the benches you come across. To indulge in pure pleasure, in this sort of paradise on earth, is enough to give a simple look around.