Beyond the lush gardens and residences that mark the hill rising behind Orta is a kind of parallel ‘town’ – the sacro monte, where 20 small chapels dedicated to St Francis of Assisi dot the hillside. The views down to the lake are captivating, and meandering from chapel to chapel is a wonderfully tranquil way to pass a few hours.
From Piazza Mario Motta, Salita della Motta leads up a cobbled hill between centuries-old houses to the baroque-fronted Chiesa dell’Assunta and then bends right (south) to the cemetery and back right up the sacred mountain. The 20 chapels are scattered about, each dedicated to recounting a part of St Francis' life. Some boast wonderful frescoes while others are more modest affairs. If you're driving, a road also leads up from near the tourist office.