Day 1: Arrival in Orta, city tour to discover its huge hidden trees such as the hundred-year-old glycines in the center and in the city hall garden. Orta San Giulio overlooks the lake and belongs to the network of the most beautiful Burgs in Italy. It has been awarded the orange flag by Italian Touring Club. The center is a pedestrian area and it is characterized by picturesque small laneways. The suburb Legro has been re-named “The painted village” because in 1998 the walls of its houses were decorated with frescoes by artists from all over Italy and Europe. These wall paintings refer to movies set and filmed at Lake Orta and to the tales written by the poet Gianni Rodari. The city hall is located at Villa Bossi which has a beautiful garden overlooking the lake. On the sides of the uphill road to Sacro Monte there are typical ancient houses and some historical palaces among which Palazzo Gemelli dating back to XVI century.
Visit to San Giulio island. It is the only island of Lake Orta, about 400 meters from the shore. It is dominated by a building erected in 1844 on the ruins of a castle and used as a seminary. Today it is a cloistered convent that hosts Benedictine nuns. San Giulio Cathedral is also located on the island, it is the most important Romanesque monument in the province of Novara.
Lunch in the restaurant on the island.
Dinner: not included in the package
Day 2: visit to Sacro Monte in Orta and to its Chapels. Educational tour in the park to learn about its marvelous trees. The Sacro Monte of Orta belongs to the group of nine pre-alpine Sacred Mounts in Piemonte and Lombardia that were declared UNESCO Human Heritage in 2003. This site is dedicated to San Francesco d’Assisi and was built in three stages starting from 1590-1630 under Mannerism then followed by Baroque style until 1600. The third stage, which went on until the end of 1700, shows more freedom in style. Along the way there are 21 chapels, each one more evocative than the last, the ancient Ospizio di San Francesco, a monumental door and a fountain. The garden on top has an amazing view of the lake and it is wonderful.
Lunch in a restaurant in Pettenasco (3 km from Orta). Late in the afternoon transfer to Varese to overnight.
Day 3: visit to Sacro Monte in Varese and to its trees. It is one of the nine Sacri Monti Prealpini in Piemonte and Lombardia and this too was declared UNESCO Human Heritage in 2003. It counts fourteen chapels dedicated to the mysteries of the Holy Rosary which lead to the sanctuary of Santa Maria del Monte, a pilgrimage destination since the Middle Ages, where there is a neo-classical organ built in 1831. The building of this site was much faster than the other Sacri Monti: 13 of the designed 14 chapels were finished by 1623. Like the mysteries of the Holy Rosary the chapels are divided in groups of five and are separated by triumphal arcs and fountains to refresh pilgrims.
Lunch at the restaurant “Le Colonne” in Sacro Monte.
In the afternoon: walk in the center of Varese to discover hundred-year-old trees hidden in public and private gardens, among which cedars of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) and oriental planes (Planus orientalis) in the gardens of Villa Mirabello. This villa was built in 1700 and extensively modified in 1839 when a stable was added. It has been owned by the local government since 1948 and now hosts The Civic Archeological Museum. It is situated within the gardens of Palazzo Estense which also dates back to the XVIII century. The park is shaped to resemble the one in Schonbrunn imperial palace and combines features of romantic and French gardens with lots of parterres. The main attraction is a nymphaeum placed on a hill and made of three niches covered in tuff concretions and statues. A part of the park was turned into bird snare with oaks, elms and chestnut trees to facilitate hunting. In the XIX century the family Robbioni took the ownership and introduced a lot of conifers: the magnificent cedar of Lebanon, some magnolias, camellias and white cedars.
Dinner: not included in the package
Day 4: return to Malpensa or Milan in the morning.
Related activities: tree-climbing on one or several trees