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Smaller companion of larger Italian lakes - Como, Maggiore and Garda- Lago d’Orta is one mile wide and seven miles long. In the medieval town of Orta, the narrow lanes go amid old stone houses and lead you on to the waterfront Piazza Motta. At one end of this square stands the Palazzo della Comunità, built in 16th-century and decorated with frescoes. Many visitors walk to Sacro Monte by a trail from Piazza Motta. The church and 20 frescoed chapels are dedicated to San Francesco d’Assisi.

The chapels in a wood of beech and pine trees have hundreds of terra cotta sculptures showing scenes of the life of the Saint. Built between 1590 and 1770, it is one of mountain shrines that are UNESCO world heritage. In the centre of the lake, the island of San Giulio is almost completely covered by palaces and villas, with the ancient Bishop Residence and wonderful more recent villas. According an old story, in the fourth century Saint Giulio expulsed snakes from the island (probably a symbol of Celtic cults) and built his church. The saint is buried in the crypt, and the church is a treasury of art from the 9th to the 12th century, including several frescoes, intricate columns and a serpentine pulpit with carved animal. From the church, the island only one street, Via del Silenzio, goes around the convent.

San Giulio  San Giulio