Isola San Giulio

Orta San Giulio

Anchored barely 500m in front of Piazza Mario Motta is Isola San Giulio. The island is dominated by the 12th-century Basilica di San Giulio, full of vibrant frescoes that alone make a trip to the island worthwhile. The frescoes mostly depict saints (and sometimes their moment of martyrdom – St Laurence seems supremely indifferent to his roasting on a grate). Step inside after mass, when the air is thick with incense and the frescoes seem to take on a whole new power.

The church, island and mainland town are named after a Greek evangelist, Giulio, who’s said to have rid the island of snakes, dragons and assorted monsters in the late 4th century. His remains lie in the crypt of the Basilica di San Giulio.

The footpath encircling the island (about the length of an athletics track) makes for a peaceful stroll, hence its popular name of Via del Silenzio. Indeed, a series of aphorisms on the wonders of silence (all very fine when screaming school groups have the run of the place) have been placed along the way. You can walk the so-called Via della Meditazione in either direction, with multilingual signs to inspire you on your search for inner peace.

Regular ferries (return €3.15) run from Orta San Giulio’s waterfront. More-expensive private launches (return €9) also run, departing when there are sufficient passengers to warrant the five-minute crossing.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Orta San Giulio attractions

1. Basilica di San Giulio

0.07 MILES

This atmospheric church is the main attraction on the tiny Isola San Giulio and was built over various periods dating back to the 9th century. Its bell…

2. Orta San Giulio


Overlooking the forest-lined banks of the shimmering Lake Orta, this shore-hugging village has abundant allure. It occupies a kidney-shaped peninsula with…

3. Piazza Mario Motta

0.31 MILES

Here's a picture of how life really should be lived: rise early and head for a coffee on Piazza Mario Motta, gazing across at the sun-struck Isola San…

4. Chiesa dell'Assunta

0.39 MILES

A short walk uphill from the Piazza Mario Motta on the waterfront, this church dates back to the 15th century, though it was rebuilt in the 1700s. It has…

5. Sacro Monte di San Francesco


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…

6. Monte Mottarone

6.47 MILES

The cable-car trip up Monte Mottarone (1492m) from the northwestern end of Stresa offers pretty views over Lake Maggiore, including Isola Bella and Isola…

7. Museo dell’Ombrello e del Parasole

6.99 MILES

Those driving to Mottarone or Orta San Giulio (for Lake Orta) from Stresa could stop in Gignese (8km from Stresa) for the intriguing Museo dell’Ombrello e…

8. Sacro Monte di Varallo

7.12 MILES

Situated 66km northwest of Vercelli in northern Piedmont, Varallo guards the Sacro Monte di Varallo, the oldest of Italy's nine Sacri Monti (Sacred…