Legend tells of a little island on lake Orta once dominated by a powerful snake and terrible monsters. In 390 A.D., San Giulio supposedly crossed the lake’s stormy waters, floating on his cloak as if by magic. After chasing away all evil creatures, tired and old, the Saint decided to remain on the island, where he founded a church dedicated to the Holy Apostles.
A clear symbol of the Church wiping out Evil and pagan practices, this is the story that describes the birth of the Island of San Giulio as we see it today.
In fact, San Giulio island is still an important religious centre; the present day Basilica dates back to the 12th Century and was designed using the same model as that for the cathedral in Novara. More recently an important convent was established on the island, the Mater Ecclesiae Abbey, a cloistered convent where about 80 nuns live with their Abbess.
Curiosity: the abbey is not only an important religious institution for the study and translation of ancient documents but also a renowned centre for the restoration of antique fabrics and tapestries.
The Island has a small road running round it called the Way of Silence which runs past ancient villas, walled gardens and little alleys.
If you take this lovely walk around the cobble pavement and read all the wall-mounted plaques, you will see how each one has a different message about what silence brings to life.
The most ancient house you will find is 18th-century Villa Tallone, famous for the yearly festival of antique music and other concerts which take place in its elegant Sala Eleonora Tallone.
This island, a little gem in the middle of the lake, is just a short ferry ride from the town of Orta and is largely pedestrian-only. It has a small tourist shop and a restaurant where you can enjoy a glass of wine on the lovely terrace by the water. Local guides are available for guided tours in different languages.
Located in the middle of Miasino, a splendid village on the east shore of Lake Orta, we find one of the finest aristocratic country houses in the area; Villa Nigra. Miasino boasts many 18th century baroque buildings, 19th century villas and churches, among which Villa Nigra is second to none.
Villa Nigra consists of three main sections from the 16th, the 17th and the 18th centuries, which combined together make a harmonious and elegant whole.
The original section, which faces Piazza Beltrami, was enlarged between 1681 and 1725. A new wing was added along with the loggias and the porticos in the courtyard, which were built in granite columns with round and segmental arches, ribbed vaults and architraves. Today, the villa is mainly a three storey-building with a small bell tower or campanile overlooking a section with four storeys.
It used to be called Villa Martelli, but when it was purchased by the Nigra family, wealthy land-owners from Sartirana Lomellina, in the middle of the 19th century, the elegant complex was named Villa Nigra. It was the architect Carlo Nigra who oversaw the renovation of the estate, having had experience with other important renovations, such as those concerning the Castello del Valentino in Turin, the church of Miasino and the bell tower in San Giulio.
The 17th century section is characterized by a five-aisle loggia with frescoed walls overlooking the courtyard, creating magnificent and unusual optical illusions. The sloping garden protrudes towards the south.
At present, it is possible to visit the garden, admire the marvellous outside frescoes and dine in the Villa’s restaurant, while the Villa itself only opens its doors on special occasions.Any suggestions?
Only 45 km from Novara, the village of Orta San Giulio is a unique and evocative place drenched in nature and art. 294 meters above sea level, the village is also known as ‘Lake Orta’s Jewel’, and boasts a wonderful position amid the unspoilt vegetation of the Monte Sacro peninsula, just opposite the dreamy island of San Giulio.
Built on a promontory which juts out from the eastern bank of Lake Orta, Orta San Giulio is cited among the Borghi più belli d’Italia (the most beautiful villages and towns of Italy), and rightly so.
The perfect place to spend a peaceful and romantic weekend, the village also offers spectacular hiking and biking trails, as well as the possibility to do some sailing, rowing or fishing on Lake Orta.
The westernmost Italian pre-alpine lake, Lake Orta is 13 km long and 2,5 km wide at its widest point, and is also one of the smallest, but most picturesque, basins in Italy.
If you are passionate about music, we suggest to visit Orta in June, when the Ancient Music Festival is on. Instead, April is the right time of the year if you love flowers and plants: the OrtaFiori exhibition has been taking place in Orta for over thirty years and unfolds along the village streets, while music and other events liven up the atmosphere.
To be fair, Orta San Giulio is so beautiful that any time of the year makes a perfect visit. Take a leisurely walk and get lost in the ancient, winding streets - you won't regret the stroll in a fairytale.Any suggestions?
Gianni Rodari is considered the most influential and inspiring twentieth-century Italian children's literature writer. His extremely popular stories are read in schools and loved by children and adults alike. Rodari was born in 1920 in Omegna from a family of bakers.
He soon developed interest in poetry and music but decided to become a school teacher, as his family did not have enough money to pay for musical studies.
During World War II he joined the anti-Fascist resistance movement and the Communist Party. In 1947 Rodari began writing children's literature and he remained committed to guaranteeing a better future without Fascism and the violence of war, now reflected in his writing. As a writer and a journalist he strived to promote tolerance, peace and freedom.
In 1970 Rodari was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen prize. This award was established in 1956 and is given every two years to one author and one illustrator in recognition of a published work.
Throughout his career Rodari considered fairy tales as a way of teaching children about the world by mixing traditional fairy tale topics with modern concepts and values. His stories are "pedagogical" and contain social criticism conveyed in a compelling and fascinating manner. His writing style is appealing to children and his stories, often illustrated, are extremely colourful and entertaining.
He believed that children should have fun reading, while smiling and laughing together.
In his book "The Grammar of Fantasy - An Introduction to the Art of Inventing Stories" Rodari encourages teachers to use fairy tales and folk tales for cognitive development and creative writing. The book contains one of Rodari's most famous quotations: "There is only one mind. Its creativity must be nurtured in all directions".
Another famous sentence summarises Rodari's philosophy: "Fairy tales are the places of all hypotheses - they can give us the keys and help us find new ways to reality; they can help the child learn about the world and give him the ability to evaluate it".
Rodari's books were translated in many languages including English. English editions can be found for the following works:
In Italy Gianni Rodari is so popular that many schools, libraries and playgrounds bear his name. In his native Omegna, every year the Gianni Rodari Prize is awarded to writers of children's books and plays.
Also, the Parco della Fantasia Gianni Rodari is a "literary park" which organises various activities for schools and families, literary summer camps and events focussing on literature and fantasy. The main purpose of the park is to offer children educational activities in a fun and entertaining environment.
Again, the stress is on fun and laughing because, to say it with Rodari's own words:
"There is nothing more beautiful in the world than a child's smile. And if one day all the children in the world could laugh together, all of them, with no exceptions, then that would be a great day - let it come!"Any suggestions?
Toma del Mottarone cheese takes its name after the mountain peak of Mottarone, located between Lake Orta and Lake Maggiore. Considered to be one of the absolute best mountain cheeses in the Region of Piedmont, the production of this Toma is traditional and dates back at least to the Middle Ages.
Production is closely linked to the alpine area and in particularly to those mountain pastures easily reached during the summer period. Depending on the place and the technique of production, the flavour of this toma can go from sharp to intense.
The Mottarone milk has a high percentage of vitamin A. Once collected, in order to produce the local cheese, it is not subject to pasteurisation. It is coagulated at 36° Celsius and then left to stand. Subsequently, the curd is heated up to 42°, deposited in forms with brine and left there for 24 hours.
The resulting toma is then left to mature in various mountain pastures surrounding the Mottarone, for a period of 2 to 3 months.
Once matured, the cheese is straw-coloured and can be purchased directly from the cooperatives or from the local markets: on Saturday in Armeno or on Tuesday mornings in Gignese.
Tip: if you’re looking for stunning views over Lake Orta and Maggiore, a trip up the Mottarone is worth both the cheese and the view!
Situated on a hill facing the southern side of Lake Orta, of which one has a spectacular view, the Torre di Buccione (Tower of Buccione) was once part of a large military outpost of which almost nothing remains today.
The first official document mentioning the Castello di Buccione, as it is also called, dates back to the 13th century, but as to its foundation, which probably took place sometime between the 10th and the 12th century, there is little evidence.
The tower is 23 metres tall and originally served as watchtower. A bell would sound the alarm in case of an imminent danger, in fact the latest example of such a bell (from the 17th century) can be seen in the gardens of Orta’s town hall. On the inside, the tower is divided into 4 wooden mezzanines, joined together by simple ladders. The vault of the top ceiling is ribbed and lies directly underneath the tower’s lookout.
The present 19th century entrance is to be found downstairs, while the original entrance used to be about 7 metres higher. The second and third mezzanines were home to the garrison, whereas the fourth was used to defend the entrance of the tower with the throwing of stones.
Surrounding this ancient military outpost, one can find the remains of a rectangular stone rampart and what is left of a small guard-house.
The Torre di Buccione is situated in the midst of the Riserva Naturale Speciale, established in 1993 by the Regione Piemonte in order to protect the area’s environmental and historical heritage. The Reserve is accessible from Gozzano and Orta San Giulio, where a 10-15 minutes’ walk will take you to the Tower. The hill country is covered with chestnut and oak trees, and cracks from past porphyry extractions can still be seen.Any suggestions?
For centuries, the inhabitants of Quarna Sotto have lived off alpine agriculture and livestock. The men were usually cobblers, weavers and more recently construction workers and shop-keepers. However, in the first half of the 19th century, the production of musical wind instruments took off and the business quickly caught on.
To this tradition is dedicated part of the local museum, which is divided on two separate floors, the top one home to the permanent exhibition on musical wind instruments.
This exhibition is quite rare, as it displays mainly old manufacturing methods and helps the visitor to a better understanding of symphonic and band music, old and modern.
The first part of the exhibition presents short introductions to the craftsmanship of Quarna Sotto along with photographs of instrument-makers and illustrations of various instruments belonging to a band.Further sections are an assembly of instruments with similar manufacturing characteristics. Fairly common specimens as well as historical ones are on display, along with mechanical and tuning models and prototypes, hand-made tools and equipment.
The initial section is dedicated to the clarinet, but also includes the oboe and the bassoon as well as the wooden models used to manufacture them.
The second section with the saxophone also includes the rarer sarrusophone and saxorusofono, followed by a section dedicated to the flute and another to the vast range of brass instruments, such as the trumpet, the trombone, the horn, the cornet and the flugelhorn. Finally, the last section offers modern manufactured instruments along with more particular ones.
Downstairs we find another permanent exhibition of Quarna Sotto’s rural alpine history.
Reconstructions of an old local kitchen (casón), a bed chamber (suér) and a milk storage room (casaet) along with a turning room with a pedal lathe and a carpenter’s work table can be visited and each space is furnished with antique everyday objects. Among other interesting artefacts on display we find a loom with various spinning and weaving accessories, reconstructions of old pressing machines and a local mill, a cobbler’s work bench and some tools for farming and foresting.
Curiosity: antique photographs and family trees of local folks are also on display, among them the ancestry of the great bicycle champion Fausto Coppi.Any suggestions?
Pella is a delightful, tranquil village on the western bank of Lake Orta, directly facing Orta San Giulio. Visiting Pella means listening to the sound of the waves rolling in. Strolling along its quaint alleyways, peaceful and serene vistas will fill your soul whilst you contemplate on the shores of this romantic lake.
The earliest testimony of human presence in Pella dates back to the period between the IV and I century BC, and its first documentation goes back to 1039 AD. Like all the other villages on the lake, Pella, too, was owned by the Bishop from the X century up to 1767, though it changed several owners over the centuries.
A tower in Piazza Motta is all that’s left of its medieval past, and is set on the waterfront. The Saint Filiberto Church, on the shores of the lake, is the earliest example of Romanesque art in the area, with the apsis set towards east. Its bell tower, separated from the main church, traces back to the XI century.
The hamlet Alzo houses Villa Durio, a XVI century two-storey mansion, later restored, with marvellous frescoed porches.
Encircled by a splendid lake and charming mountains, Pella will bestow its allure upon you, so much so that a visit to lake Orta would not be complete without stopping in this fascinating hamlet.
Tip: if the romance of a beautiful panorama isn’t enough to appease your soul, you can always settle your belly. On Pella’s main square, just in front of the lake, is the delicious Gelateria Antica Torre, renowned for making one of the best ice-creams of the lake Orta.Any suggestions?
Nonio is a small village on the west shore of Lake Orta, some 500 metres above sea level in a green and lush area. It includes the two small hamlets of Oira and Brolo which are situated right on the lake.
Nonio's first settlers were of Celtic origins but its name derives from the Latin Nonium and might come from Nonius, the name of a notable patrician family during imperial Roman times. Although there is no proof of such origin archaeological finds testify that the area was inhabited by Celts and Romans.
The old town sits in a raised position above the lake and has narrow streets with closely huddled houses.
A series of interesting buildings can be found including the parish church of St Biagio, with its beautiful stone portal, clearly the most important religious building in the village. The church dates back to the 14th century and was restructured during the 16th and 17th centuries. Other sights include the 1639 Oratory of St. Rocco, the gateway of Vicolo Tavola, the 17th century Postal Office (which was originally the Community Hall) and the old hospital, today a library and medical centre.
But perhaps what makes Nonio stand out the most is its peculiar relationship with the sun. Called the village of the two sunsets, Nonio is the protagonist of a rare and interesting phenomenon: every day during the winter, the sun sets behind Mount Castello to appear again a few minutes later and disappear for good in a picturesque double sunset.
As mentioned, below Nonio are the two small hamlets of Oira and Brolo, each worth a visit for different reasons.
Oira is a small and peaceful village, once important because of its serpentine mines. It is called the hamlet of the three "villas" (villa for village or plot of land) being the upper, the middle and the lower villas. On the shore is a small, picturesque square with its lakeside beach.
Brolo, also known as village of the cats, has a little more than 300 inhabitants but a clear love for felines. Ceramic tiles or paintings featuring cats decorate most houses in the village and a statue of a cat was erected in 2006 on the main road leading to the village centre.
The Parish Church of Sant'Antonio Abate in Brolo, built in the early 16th century and embellished in 1751, is an interesting sight and so is the beautiful Villa Tarsis, which dates back to the 17th century and features an elegant Italian garden and a façade decorated with frescoes.
The surrounding area is of immense beauty so don't forget: a visit to Nonio will reward you with three villages and two sunsets!Any suggestions?
Imagine strolling around a village and contemplating images of famous films on the walls of the houses. Wouldn’t that be an enchanting sight?
Legro, in the district of Orta San Giulio, is a painted hamlet. In 1998, the local council embarked on a plan to set their village, counting four hundred inhabitants, on the map again. “Cinema against the Wall” is a programme whereby local and foreign artists painted scenes of renowned films on the outside walls of houses.
Forty-five splendid, colourful frescoes decorate the historic centre of Legro and allowed it to be part of the Painted Hamlets scheme.
Created in 1994, this association encompasses 127 municipalities across the entire country, promoting their land by enhancing their ancient and modern pictorial legacies.
Curiosity: the first painted hamlet was Arcumeggia, close to Varese, and Legro swiftly followed its example.
Inspiration did not merely stem from films set in the area, such as “Il balordo”, “L’amante segreta”, “Una spina nel cuore”, “La stanza del vescovo” and “La voglia di vincere”, but also from the local writer and poet Gianni Rodari, famous for children’s books. Walking through the streets of Legro implies re-enacting modern history, a proper living theatre, adding charm to the ethereal beauty surrounding Lake Orta.
Ph. Credits: birgitofAny suggestions?
A land of beauty can only disguise little gems: such is Lake Orta, also known as Cusio, its ancient Roman name. Set in the northwest Lakes region of Italy, also including Lake Maggiore and Lake Como, this marvellous, scenic lake is unmatched in its quaintness and timeless charm.
The lake was off the tourist tracks for a long period, thus its allure remained intact over the centuries. The magnificent blend of lakes and mountains has inspired poets and painters over the centuries.
Close to the border with Switzerland, the villages set on the lake hide fascinating legends and stories. The Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso, in Boleto, on the western bank of the lake, is one such place.
Set on a granite cliff, it is well known for its breath-taking vista.The Church was finished in 1748 and the bell tower in 1760. The Sanctuary was consecrated in 1771. It is said that a cross and a chapel in honour of Our Lady of Sorrows once stood where the church was later built: it had been placed as a memorial for a lady from Pella, a nearby village, who had perished there.
The legend has it that, in the XVI century, a marital feud led a husband, enraged because of an alleged betrayal, to throw his wife down the cliff.
She miraculously held on to a tree without falling in the void, but when her repentant husband went back to save her, she was so frightened to see him that she let herself go. A sad story indeed, which renders the surroundings even more mesmerising.
The church was built in a baroque style, with a Greek-cross plan and a single nave. It houses several paintings, among which an oil on canvas by Lorenzo Peracino, representing The Death of Saint Joseph, and The Deposition of Christ by Fermo Stella da Caravaggio.
The forecourt, the so-called Terrace on the Cusio, was once named the “canvas meadow”, for local women were said to go there to bleach their sheets when the weather allowed it. These days, it offers a delightful and charming view on the lake and the surrounding mountains, making this the ideal spot to fall in love with the beauty of the Bel Paese.Any suggestions?
In the heart of the small and picturesque village of Orta San Giulio is one building that stands as a special witness of the region's rich history.
Built in 1582, the Palazzo della Comunità della Riviera or Broletto is a typical mediaeval municipal palazzo with its portico on the ground floor and a large hall on the upper floor. An external staircase connects the two floors.
The small palace, also known as Palazzo Motta from the square where it is located, was the place where the general council met and exercised legislative and executive power during the 700 years of the Community of the Riviera.
Between the XII and the beginning of the XIX century the area was under the rule of the Bishop of Novara and enjoyed a certain degree of independence.
Unlike other areas among the fiefs of the Bishop of Novara, from 1345 to 1753 Orta San Giulio was permitted to have its own by-laws, as a sort of tiny autonomous state. Its Council was made up of members elected by the various villages and they ruled in a relatively democratic way.
The walls of the "Palazzotto", another name for the building, are decorated with sundials and frescoes. On the side facing the square there is a coat of arms with a snake, a naked child and a bishop’s hat.
Other frescoes depict a woman representing Justice, with two angels at her side, and there are further coats of arms. The writing “Hortus Conclusus” (enclosed garden) on one of the coats of arms seems to point to the Riviera’s secluded geographic location as well as its autonomy.
Enjoy the exterior of the palace from one of the cafes on the main square or check the local website for information on exhibitions and special opening times.Any suggestions?
Lavish Villa Crespi was built in 1879 by rich cotton merchant Cristoforo Benigno Crespi for his wife Pia. In fact, the villa originally took its name from the merchant’s wife and was initially named Villa Pia.
Fascinated by the architecture of Baghdad, Crespi decided to bring some of its charm to his homeland and appointed fashionable architect Angelo Colla to manage the project of recreating Middle Eastern atmosphere on the Italian lake. The resulting building is a mix of Moorish and Italian style, with stuccoes and arabesque carvings, marble columns and even a tower in the shape of a minaret. The interior has magnificent mosaics while the gardens, even though now reduced in size, are still a haven of peace and beauty.
The palace was sold by the Crespi family and then had various owners before becoming a luxury hotel and restaurant in 1990. The resort became part of the Relais & Châteaux network in 2012, a prestigious association of fine hotels with excellent restaurants.
Today the 4-star hotel is managed by celebrity chef Antonino Cannavacciuolo (famous to the wider public for hosting the Italian version of Hell's Kitchen and being a MasterChef judge) and his wife Cinzia.
Luxury and charm make a stay at the resort "a journey of the senses" in a unique fairy tale atmosphere. Various packages are offered, including gourmet week ends, romantic getaways, spa treatments and even cooking classes.
Good to know: for those looking for an Italian fairytale wedding, Villa Crespi is also available as a location for weddings.
With its eclectic style it is undoubtedly an interesting, if unusual sight and deserves a visit.Any suggestions?
The Sacred Mount of Orta lies on a hill above Orta San Giulio and is dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi. It was built as a devotional complex at the end of the 16th century by initiative of wealthy Abbot Amico Canobio, who undertook the expense of building the first chapel on his own.
Other patrons followed and construction went on for almost two centuries, resulting in different architectural styles being represented: from late Renaissance to Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical.
Twenty chapels, following each other in a spiral itinerary, reflect different stages of the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. They house 376 terracotta statues dating back to the 18th century and wall and ceiling frescoes that narrate episodes of the life of the Saint. Painted signposts showing fingers protruding from a monk’s habit point the way, guiding you from chapel to chapel, while information explaining the different chapels is provided in three different languages.
The path ends at the Church of Saint Nicolao, a proto-Romanic building completely remodelled in the seventeenth century after the Lower Basilica of Assisi.
Two convents are also part of the complex; a larger one, now privately owned and a small one, home to a small community of Franciscan friars who manage the Sanctuary and welcome pilgrims.
Set in a peaceful environment of beauty and harmony in a protected natural reserve, this unique complex was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2003. The views over the lake are breath-taking and well worth the 20 minutes pleasant yet steep climb.
The site also has a garden, a visitor centre and two picnic areas. Entrance is completely free (although donations are welcome and help the upkeep of the site!) and you may wander in and out of the chapels at your own pace.
There is a parking lot if you prefer to drive but we strongly recommend the walk up.
Make sure you don’t miss this amazing hilltop sanctuary of peace and tranquillity while in the Orta area.Any suggestions?
The lovely town of Omegna lies at the northern end of Lake Orta. When looking out, in one direction there are wonderful views over the lake and in the other direction over beautiful mountains.
The village, founded by the Romans, already existed in the 4th century AD. At that time it was surrounded by walls and had five gates, of which only one, the Porta della Valle, survives.
In the Middle Ages Omegna belonged to the Visconti family for a long period before changing hands several times and finally becoming part of the Kingdom of Savoy and subsequently the Kingdom of Italy.
In the 19th and early 20th century it was well-known for its kitchenware industry and attracted immigrants from other regions, especially Southern Italy. The first industrial complex was the Cobianchi iron factory, closed down in the 80's. Today the former industrial site hosts a cultural centre, the Forum Omegna Foundation, which organises cultural events and displays a permanent collection of the kitchenware articles produced locally by famous brands such as Alessi and Lagostina. Factory outlets for these prestigious names can be found in the neighbourhood.
Walking along the pedestrian promenade, which stretches from one end of the lakefront to the other, you can see the typical small porticoes and other centuries-old features such as doorways, stone and stucco ornaments and wrought iron gates.
Some of the more modern buildings on the waterfront can be unimpressive but the attractive old town, the most beautiful part of Omegna, is a bustling area with nice cafes and restaurants, especially in Piazza Solera, and some interesting historical buildings.
The imposing Collegiate Church of Sant’Ambrogio, founded in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 13th, has beautiful frescoes and is worth visiting.
Of interest is also the River Nigoglia, which is the only watercourse that flows towards north running out of a pre-Alpine lake. It offers pleasant strolls along its banks and flows into the River Strona, just outside town, where the fifteenth century Ponte Antico (ancient Bridge) can be found.
If you're looking for events: Omega is a very popular destination during the celebrations of San Vito, on the last week end of August, with a charity lottery, cultural shows and amazing musical fireworks on the lake.
If you are visiting with children do not miss the Parco della Fantasia (Fantasy Park), dedicated to children's writer Gianni Rodari who was born in Omegna.Any suggestions?
Alessi, the famous Italian design homeware company, was founded by Giovanni Alessi in 1921. Originally, it was simply a foundry and workshop producing mainly brass and silver objects.
In 1932 Giovanni’s eldest son, Carlo, joined the company. He designed most of the objects produced between the mid-1930s and 1945 until he became general manager of the company at the end of the 1940s. He was president of the company until his death in 2009. Famous objects designed by Carlo include the "bombé" and the "ottagonale" tea sets.
His vision and innovative designs together with the technical skills of his brother Ettore made Alessi famous. However, it wasn't until the late 1950s, with the gradual introduction of stainless steel and the collaboration of external designers that Alessi became what it is today: the "design factory" or, as many describe it, the "dream factory".
Mass production and a change in consumers' taste helped establish Alessi as the leading company for fashionable and trendy designer objects. Soon most Italian households, followed by consumers worldwide, could boast having at least one of the many iconic items produced.
No wedding registry list in Italy could exist without the famous Alessi kettle or coffeemaker, the steel baskets or various salt & pepper or oil & vinegar sets.
Working with external designers was further expanded in the Seventies and continues today, including world renowned names such as Franco Sargiani, Ettore Sottsass, Richard Sapper, Achille Castiglioni, Alessandro Mendini, Aldo Rossi, Michael Graves, Philippe Starck, Mario Botta and more recently David Chipperfield, Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas, Eero Aarnio and Naoto Fukasawa.
In 1990 the Alessi Study Centre (CSA) was created with the aim of promoting innovative design achieved by running seminars and cooperating with design schools and universities.
Also in the Nineties was the decision to use materials other than steel, which was an important turn for the company. Plastic and wood were introduced, followed by glass, porcelain and then ceramics in 1992.
Alessi products can be found in any quality homeware shop in Italy and elsewhere but if you wish to learn about the history of this amazing company and see all of their products under one roof you shouldn't miss the Alessi Museum at the Crusinallo site in Omegna. This impressive museum opened in 1998 and boasts a collection of 25,000 objects, 19,000 designs and 20,000 photos with works by no less than 1,000 designers. A real must for all design devotees!Any suggestions?
Dividing Lake Maggiore and Lake Orta, the Mottarone mountain (1491 m.) offers breath-taking views on the lakes. Picture a 360-degree vista encompassing the Maritime Alps, the Ligurian Apennines as far as the Monte Rosa massif, the Po Plain and an astonishing seven lakes (Orta, Maggiore, Mergozzo, Biandronno, Varese, Monate and Comabbio): this is a feast for the eyes.
This mountain can be reached by car from either Lake Orta, via Armeno, or Stresa on Lake Maggiore and Gignese via a toll road. Alternatively, a cable car can swiftly take you up to the top directly from Stresa.
Recent redevelopment works improved the area on top of the mountain, with the setting up of a 13-km cycle and footpath, granting captivating vistas, a restaurant and a suspension bridge.
When opened, this bridge promises to become a world-renowned and bold attraction: made of steel, it is designed to be a 200-metre long Tibetan suspension bridge, created to stir emotions and sighs on tourists. This attraction will enrich the already existing Alpyland park, an incredible bobsleigh track, used in winter and summer, offering thrilling descents – conducted in safety – whilst overlooking the beautiful lakes. Ideal for kids and adults alike, Alpyland is a fun and unconventional way to admire the breath-taking surroundings.
You can also enjoy the area with the numerous hiking paths, walking through fir, pine, larch, beech and chestnut woods, and also ancient mountain pastures.
Climbing is also possible, with several routes on granite slabs. Skiing is undertaken in winter, with a variety of runs, restaurant facilities and equipment hire.
The Borromeo family, which owns a considerable amount of land, some lifts, the toll road and commercial enterprises in the area, took a strong interest in promoting the district, and is working with local councils to make Mottarone the ideal family resort, an all-seasons attraction to suit all tastes.Any suggestions?
The story of one of the most famous symbols of Italian lifestyle began in 1919 when Alfonso Bialetti opened a workshop for the production of semi-finished aluminium products in Crusinallo, between Lake Orta and Verbania. Bialetti, born in 1888, was an engineer who had acquired experience by working in the aluminium business in France for over ten years. His workshop was a lively centre for the design and production of new objects.
It was here that, in 1933, the moka express coffee-maker was created by Luigi De Ponti: this would change the culture coffee-making at home forever.
What we know today as the Italian "caffettiera", and an item found in so many households all over the world, allowed the company to expand and affirm its presence in the kitchenware market. With its octagonal body and slim waist the moka remains virtually unchanged after almost 100 years.
In the 1950's Bialetti became the leading manufacturer of coffee machines also thanks to a very popular advertising campaign based on the image of a little man with a moustache - still the logo of the company.
Looking at a picture of this popular character one can't help noticing a certain resemblance between the little man and Renato Bialetti, Alfonso's son - the man who led the company from 1946 to 1986. Designed to represent the animated version of a coffee connoisseur, the little man wears an elegant black suit and bow tie with a hat.
With an oval nose and black moustache, the character was created to teach viewers how making a good coffee might seem easy - but it's not!
In more recent years Bialetti was sold by the family and became a public company. Through a series of acquisitions the activity expanded to other sectors including the production of pots and pans, baking accessories and electric coffee machines. There is also a line of small electric appliances and home textiles and a coffee brand.
Today the company has shops all over Italy as well as France and Spain and can be found in the major high-end outlet complexes. Although the Bialetti family is no longer involved in the management of the company, their name will be forever linked to this iconic brand.
Curiosity: when Renato Bialetti died in 2016, his ashes were kept in a giant moka during the funeral, a tribute to his role in promoting the factory's products and contributing to the everlasting popularity of the little man and his coffee machine.
Will the competition by electric coffee makers ever manage to replace the iconic object of every Italian kitchen? We hope not - in the meantime, why not have a cup of moka coffee?Any suggestions?
Serpentine is a rock which can be processed in many different ways and can be used for various purposes both in architecture and for smaller objects including kitchen worktops and kitchenware. It comes in different natural colours and shades and is appreciated for its hardness and resistance.
Serpentine has been extracted in the area around Oira on Lake Orta since the Middle Ages, and initially people collected the stone by digging in the rock by hand and with rudimentary tools.
Modern technologies introduced at the beginning of the 20th century made extraction easier and increased production. Nonetheless, mining remained difficult as there was no road to Oira.
Prior to the end of WWII the large blocks of rock were rolled down to the lake using logs and ropes and then shipped by boat to Omegna, from where they could be transported by road.
Eventually a direct road to Oira was built. Besides the main mine there were two smaller sites known as the Ardizzi and Tabozzi mines, now closed. The serpentine vein was exhausted by the 1960's and now the main quarry is used to extract other stone, e.g. serizzo marble, beola marble or granite. However, the long history of serpentine extraction lives on as seen through the many surviving buildings from the past.
While walking through some of the villages around Lake Orta it is possible to spot objects made with serpentine.
The stone can also be seen in important buildings, like for example the façade of the parish church San Rocco in Miasino or the portal of the Santa Maria Assunta church in Orta. The oldest artefact of all, however, is the 12th century green serpentine ambon (a sort of pulpit) of the Basilica di San Giulio in Orta San Giulio.
Curiosity: outside the Orta region we can find serpentine objects and buildings in 1580 Colonna del Verziere in Milan, in the imposing Pavia Charterhouse and in the St. Andrea Basilica in Vercelli, just to name a few.
Quarries, both abandoned and working, can be hazardous and should not be visited unaccompanied. Seek assistance if you are interested in guided hikes to any of the sites.
Ph. Credits: AccendiAmo la MemoriaAny suggestions?
The Riserva naturale speciale del Monte Mesma owes its name to Mount Mesma, protagonist of the Reserve, and occupies about 52 hectares. Mount Mesma is approximately 576 metres AMSL and is covered with chestnut and oak forests, underneath which run the Membra and the Agogna. The area is the property of the towns of Ameno and Orta San Giulio.
At the top of Mount Mesma, a castle was built by the town of Novara at the beginning of the 12th century. The castle remained in the hands of the town of Novara, but in 1358 it was destroyed by the inhabitants of Lortallo and Ameno, who reacted violently to the town’s exploitation of their rights to pasture.
In 1619, when the disagreements had been forgotten, the building of the present convent took place. The church was completed in 1625 and features a tiered or so-called Romanesque façade and a single central nave. Above the alter hangs an impressive cross made by the Milanese Lentignani.
From the churchyard stands a centuries-old lime tree, from where an astonishing view of Lake Orta and Monte Rosa unfolds before you.
The conventual buildings lie around two 17th-century cloisters with arches supported by stone pillars, and ceilings made of wooden trusses. One of the cloisters contains a well, which draws water from a huge underground cistern, perfectly functioning to this day. Particularly interesting is a visit to the convent’s library, which holds over 5000 rare books, including one of the first editions of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Arriving at Monte Mesma is easy enough, especially by car. But if you’re feeling adventurous, two different Via Crucis paths will take you up there in around 20 minutes on foot. Biking paths are also available, while various frescoed chapels are placed along the way to guide you, both geographically and spiritually!
Curiosity: Monte Mesma is said to have been inhabited ever since the iron age. Urns have been discovered tracing them back to the Golasecca culture.Any suggestions?
Set on a hill and enjoying stunning views over Lake Orta, San Giulio Island and Mount Mesma, the Miasino Castle was built between 1867 and 1889 by the Solaroli Family in Miasino.
The distinct architectural style combines pink granite with precious marble features and original wood-panelled ceilings, while wooden floors run throughout the edifice.
Particularly interesting are the Bertelli Hall, with the Coro degli Angeli (Choir of the Angels) painting dating from 1884, the entrance hall with a stone sculpture of Saint Sophia and the tower, accessible through a peculiar winding staircase which seems to come directly off the walls.
Most rooms have fireplaces and wide glass windows overlooking the gardens and the veranda, while the surrounding gardens offer visitors a year round experience with a colourful array of rhododendrons and azaleas, grand trees and a beautiful lawn.
In recent years, however, the Castle has been at the centre of a legal dispute, since it was confiscated from the Galasso family in 2009. Although Pasquale Galasso, a known member of the Camorra criminal organisation, lost all rights to the castle because he had acquired it using funds deriving from his illegal activities, until recently his family continued running the property as an exclusive venue for weddings and events, to the dismay of anti-mafia organisations and the local residents.
Today, the castle stands as a victory of legality and the beauty of this stunning building has not suffered from its period of illicitness, and today its doors are open for exclusive visits upon request.Any suggestions?
Founded in Omegna on the 1st August 1901 by Carlo Lagostina and his son Emilio, Lagostina soon became a leading manufacturing company for tin cookware. Stainless steel plate was first used by the company after the 1929 Milan Trade Fair and quickly replaced tin because of its remarkably higher qualities and cooking performance.
Lagostina's first stainless steel cookware collection, called “Casa Mia”, was launched in 1934 and was so popular that the iconic pots are still exhibited at the MOMA in New York.
The company plant was converted to military production with the onset of WWII but innovative technologies and materials introduced in the post-war years helped Lagostina return to the original "mission" of the company, the creation of products expressing Italian culture as a "celebration of food, life, family and friends". Later developments include the production of pressure cookers, the strengthening of existing export relationships and the opening of new markets in America and Asia.
As for the domestic market, Lagostina implanted lasting memories and a place in the heart for every Italian when they decided to use "The Line" for their advertising campaign in 1969.
La Linea is a famous cartoon created by Osvaldo Cavandoli consisting of a white line drawn on screen and animated through the movements of the pencil. The line takes the shape of a grumpy man in search for something he can't find while different objects appear from the same line making his life difficult. At the end of the ad a voice in the background asks what he is looking for and a famous jingle reveals that he is actually searching for nothing else than Lagostina, the famous pot and, with its logo depicting a house, a metaphor for the home!
Curiosity: the cartoon episodes were created for the famous tv-show Carosello, the first Italian show to ever air commercials, which had to be creative and entertaining in order to be part of the programme.
Another important symbol of Italian culinary culture was the “Pastaiola”, a pot designed for both cooking and draining pasta which became very popular and was copied by several producers worldwide.
Today Lagostina products can be found in many households and shops in Italy and internationally. The brand, now owned by a French group, is also famous for kitchen utensils, coffeemakers, silverware and all sorts of cookware.
The company is now looking towards the future, they have changed their logo and become ready for the challenges of the new global markets: but if you are feeling nostalgic do watch an episode of The Line, you won't regret it.