August 31, 2014

Up in the hills of Piedmont

In one eventfull week we hiked to the hills above lake Maggiore, walked along lake Orta, visited Milan and car toured the mountains above the Aosta valley. All from our base in Orta San Giulio.

Orta San Giulio, where we rented an apartment for a week in mid July, is an old historic town ritht on lake Orta.
Here, our favorite time was spent people-watching on the wide, lake-facing piazza Motta, sipping prosecchi, while enjoying the beautifull landscape,  the lake, the boats, the boardwalk, the sunsets...

View to isola (island) San Giulio from the dock of Orta San Giulio.
Orta San Giulio is situated at a conveniant 45 minutes by car from the Milan Malpensa airport.With its narrow cobbled streets, the town has a traffic limitation and cars must be parked outside town. (The white-marked parking spaces are free of charge.)

We rented an apartment through Airbnb. We weren't too happy with it so I'm not sharing any details. When we go to Orta San Giulio again, though, we will choose an apartment or a hotel which has: access to a garden and to the lake, and is in walking distance to Orta San Giulio.

Unfortunately, as is the case in a lot of attractive areas in Italy, almost every little piece of lakeshore is privately owned, which prohibits you from sunbathing on the shore, or sometimes even getting close to the lake. Moreover, people protect their properties by high walls and gates, as well as unfriendly signs that says "privado", no trespassing and be aware of the dog. 

That said, in Orta San Giulio there is, fortunately, a public stone laid path along the lakeshore. It starts from the eastern side of Orta San Giulio, and is a beautifull walk along the lake:

Don't miss the stone laid path along the lakeshore starting from the eastern side of Orta San Giulio. It is such a beautifull walk along the lake.
The light blue ring

Around lake Orta, there is a walking route called Anello Azzurro (the light blue ring), marked by signs. See also:  and  

We did two walks along this route. Day one, we walked north-west from the train station of Orta-Miasino, right above Orta San Giulio, through Miasino and Carcegna, to the lake shore town of Pettenasco (north of Orta San Giulio).

Route: From the station turn onto the road, via Vecchia Stazione and continue to the left towards Miasino - after the crossroads, turn right following the signs to "passegiata" along via Vecchia Miasino, than follow signs towards Pettenasco. When in Legno - check out the murals on the walls of the houses - inspired by Italian movies.

The walk is described in the book Trekking sul lago d'Orta, page 27, route no 03.
When in Pettenasco, there is also a lake front walking path, signed Passegiata a lago - it's very nice.
We had paninis for lunch at Dolphins bar in Pettenasco. 

Then, we took the ferry back to Orta San Giulio, with a stop over at island of San Giulio (Isola San Giulio). The ferry only services Pettenasco a few times a day, so make sure you get a timetable from the tourist office in Orta San Giulio - also, bring the phone number for a taxi, just in case.


Our next itinerary along Anello Azzurro (the light blue ring) was again from the train station of Orta-Miasino, but this time we walked towars the east, then north, to Pella, a town right across the lake from Orta San Giulio.

Walk straight on the road passing the station, untill you reach a dirt track. Reach Corconio. Follow the path that goes along the railway line. After a while you get to an asphalt road. Follow signs towards Torre di Buccione, then follow the road towards the lake. Keep left when you walk down the road towards the lake; on the road which turns into a path. This path eventually follows the lake shore. Keep waking along the lake untill you reach Pella. This is a really nice and peacefull walk along the lake. We brought paninis and beer with us for lunch, and enjoyed it on the pier, sticking out from a public beach. 

From Pella there are frequent ferries taking you back to Orta San Giulio.
When in Pella, have an ice cream or a crepe at the little cafe in town. The crepes are delicious! 
When in Pella, have an ice cream or a crepe at the little cafe in town. The crepes are delicious!

Above the lakes - in Parco della Val Grande
Two walks took us high above lake Maggiore. Both were easy walks, on good paths, which we had almost entirely to ourselves, and with spectacular views.

First, a hike in Parco Val Grande - the Val Grande National Park - the largest wilderness area in Italy:
We drove to Alpe Fina, above Alpe Pala, which is high above Verbania. We started to walk at 1100 m, and walked up to Pizzo Pernice at 1500 m. Then returned on a different path back to Alpe Fina. The walk takes three to four hours.

A great mountain ridge walk in the Val Grande national park

This is a great mountain ridge walk, whith no difficult climbs. Get the full route in Sunflower guides: Italian Lakes, car tours and walks. Walk 5, page 44.

 We brought paninis, pastries, fruits an beer for a well deserved lunch, which we ate while enjoying the amazing mountain view.

Lunchtime in Parco Val Grande, after having walked the mountain ridge up to Pizzo Pernice, where we were greeted by some goats.

The next high altitude walk, in Parco Nazionale Val Grande as well, to the summit of Monte Spalavera. The walk follows in the footsteps of WWI soldiers. On our way to the summit of Monte Spalavera, following the foot path of WWI soldiers.

The walk starts at the car park at Il Colle. The drive to the starting point is an adventure in itself, and quiet spectacular, on steep winding roads. Get the full route in Sunflower guides: Italian Lakes, car tours and walks. Walk 4, page 42.  
On Monte Spalavera there is an excellent viewpoint indicator that details the northern skyline from Luino in the east to Monte Zeda in the west. Further, when you look to the southwest, you can see the peak of Monte Rosa, and to the east, Monte Generoso on the Italian-Swiss boarder. The walk here is easy on very sturdy tracks and paths. Bring food and drinks, and enjoy!  

On our way to the summit of Monte Spalavera, following the foot path of WWI soldiers.

On Monte Spalavera there is an excellent viewpoint indicator.

A drive in the Aosta valley 
The Aosta Valley is a mountainous region in Piedmont, in the North west of Italy. The region boarders to France and Switzerland, and includes the Italian slopes of Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco  (4,810 m),  Cervino or Matterhorn (4,478 m) and Monte Rosa (4,634 m).
We left the highway (A5) that runs through the valley, and drove up in the mountains towards Champoluc, which is the town furthest into the Valle d'Ayas. Champoluc is a well-known ski resort, part of the Monterosa Ski area. We stopped shortly, only enough to get a glimps of the town center, which seemed like a charming alpine village, where I would like to return during the winter.
From Champoluc we drove towards Saint-Vincent, passing Colle di Joux. This is a spectacular drive through a mountain pass. After the pass, the road drops down in hairpins towards the bottom of the valley and Saint-Vincent and highway (A5).

The drive from Colle di Joux to Saint-Vincent was spectacular.
We had a quick stop in Saint-Vincent, where the whole town was filled with music, coming from speakers along the pedestrian main street of town.
Saturday afternoon in downtown Saint-Vincent was filled with people and music.

Good places to eat 

Although a small town, Orta San Giulio has some very nice restaurants.

- We especially love La Locanda del Buon Riso where we have dined on previous trips. 
Cafe des Arts has good food and nice atmosphere.

- Venus Restaurant is also nice. The food is not memorable, but its location right on the lake shore and on the main piazza of Orta San Giulio, is unbeatable. Venus is devided into a restaurant and a pizzeria.

La Locanda del Buon Riso is a delight.

Venus restaurant in Orta San Giulio - get a table right by the lake.
Breakfast and people watching at piazza Motta in Orta San Giulio

A day-trip to Milan

We also took a day trip to Milan. To avoid driving into the center, we parked at the S. Leonardo metro-station which has a big public parking space.