The Western Lakes: Part 1 Lago d’Orta and Lago Maggiore

Published on:  | Last updated: 25 December 2019

Lago Maggiore from Carmine Superiore (Piemonte)

Lago Maggiore from Carmine Superiore (Piemonte)

A short, relaxed ride taking in three lakes, there’s lots to see along the way so it’s worth taking your time.

The Lago d’Orta is one of the smaller and less well-known lakes but it’s defin­itely worth a morning. The town of Orta is lovely and a short boat trip takes you to Isola di San Giulio with its striking frescoed chapel. Above the town is the Sacro Monte one of a group of UNESCO-listed monuments in Piemonte and Lombardia. It consists of a series of chapels with scenes depicting the life of St Francis of Assisi. The chapels involve a mix of frescoes and life-sized models. The realism and dynamism of the scenes is aston­ishing, and there are some striking details - in one scene two oblivious children play with a wooden go-kart as an aged and ill St Francis returning to Assisi. The Sacromonte also has a belvedere from where you can enjoy the view over the lake and over the monastery.

Sacro Monte d'Orta

Sacro Monte d’Orta - St Francis meeting with the Pope - click to enlarge and to see more images

From Orta to the lake at Mergozzo, another lovely Piemonte village. As you ride along the road keep your eye out for the pink granite stone that marks the border of what was the repub­blica parti­giana dell’Ossola an area between here and the border with Switzerland, which, for a brief period in September 1944, was a liberated free zone. Sadly, as the allied advance ground to a halt in the Apennines, the republic was crushed. Further down the road at the junction with the main road there’s the Casa della Resistenza with its memorials to partisans from who died in the Guerra della Liberazione, as well as jewish people who were murdered in and around the lake.

Map and altitude profile

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Orta San Giulio to Mergozzo 22 kms
Mergozzo to Cannobio 34 kms

If you are heading eastwards the one-way system in Verbania means you need to take the road through San Bernardino rather than the lakeside road.

At Verbania the route follows the lakeside to Cannobio - one of the nicest towns on the lake.

Between here and Cannobio there are a couple of other sights you might want to see. The first is the Sacro Monte above Ghiffa. It’s a stiff climb, but the place is beautiful and there’s a nice restaurant. However, if you had to pick one Sacro Monte to visit I’d choose the one at Orta. The other place that’s well worth a visit is Carmine Superiore a village and church perched high on the hillside above the lake. You’ll need to leave your bikes and take the path up the hill, but this place is exceptional.


From Cannobio you could continue along the lakeside into Ascona and Locarno and from there pick up the Swiss national cycle network.

The bicitalia route 15 Svizzera-Mare (Switzerland to the sea) passes through Megozzo and Omegna. It’s a good option if you want to continue through Piemonte, however, going north of Mergozzo, between Domodossola and Santa Maria Maggiore, there is a 1.5km tunnel with a 9 percent gradient. The tunnel is pretty well lit and there isn’t much traffic so this isn’t such an issue if you are coming from Switzerland, but if you are planning on heading to Switzerland, it’s a pain. Personally, I would take the road from Cannobio to Santa Maria Maggiore - or follow the lakeside road to Ascona and then Locarno (taking care to avoid the tunnel at Ascona).

Lago d'Orta

Lago d’Orta - Isola San Giulio

More information

Places to stay

Hotels and B&Bs

Find and book places to stay with

About these links

If you use these links to book accom­mod­ation will pay me a small part of their commission. This helps support the costs of producing this site.

I use to find and book places to stay when there are no campsites in the area. The large majority of hotels and many hostels are now on ‘Booking’. I like it because it means that I can get almost-instant confirm­ation. The rating system is also a reliable guide to the quality of the accommodation.

I’ve never had a problem finding places to keep my bike —even if it’s a cupboard or store room. I always use the ‘special requests’ field on the booking form to tell the hotel that I’m travelling with a bike, which gives them the oppor­tunity to let me know if there’s a problem.

Many properties offer free cancel­lation but it’s a good idea to check the condi­tions as these vary from property to property.


There’s a hostel in Verbania (the Ostello Verbania) with an online booking facility.


There are lots of campsites at Orta, around the Lago di Mergozzo, and Cannobio. Most of the lakeside campsites at Cannobio look pretty much of a muchness - my recom­mend­ation would be to head out of town to the Valle Romantica campsite, which is one of the nicest campsites I’ve come across in Italy.

  Campsites map:  WL-campsites-map-show map in overlay    |    WL-campsites-map-show map in new window 

Transport and services

Train and boat services

There are train stations at Locarno, Baveno and Stresa and ferry services from Verbania-Intra to Laveno-Mombella as well as boat services from Cannobio and other places.

Articles in this series

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