In this food filled itinerary, the lake I like to call Lago d’Orta was not part of it initially. But guess what Mrs Z found out when she first Googled Piedmont and looked at the first images that came up. Text conversation:
Mrs Z: hey r we going to lake orta
Mrz Z: really?
Me: Thanks for ruining the surprise. Of course we r
As they say “Happy Wife, Happy Ziggy”
We enjoyed a full day after landing at MXP around 9 am with the lake only 45 minutes away. Picking up the car from Hertz was a breeze, waiting for the GPS to find a signal was not. How the Software Developer inner Ziggy did not think about restarting the unit is something only the Bill Gates gods can figure out. Either way, Google maps to the rescue. The car this time by the way was rather filthy. And I dont mean in a cool slang sort of way. We got a dirty car. One of those Fiats that turns off at traffic lights and requires sweet talk to move up a hill. But we made it in no time, and what we witnessed was something way better than what any of these images (and Google’s) capture
But there was another surprising aspect that contributed to this little one nighter even more than the lake itself. Food! As in the fairly new Agriturismo il Cucchiaio di Legno where we also spent the night. The Agriturismo is not on the lake so no lake views, although the lake is a short 5 minute drive. I imagined that once I pass by the lake side hotels of Orta San Giulio I would have hotel envy, but that did not materialize. I was very happy with this choice and can not recommend it highly enough. And if you are staying elsewhere and enjoy good food you should at the very least make it for dinner. Sure you can have a nice meal at the 2 Michelim Villa Crespi or at Locanda di Orta which just got a star a few weeks ago, but for something more “homey” and casual it doesnt get much better than this Cucchiaio.
My type of menu here. the absent kind. You eat what they prepare that day, and boy did they prepare plenty. We indulged in a fine plate of Salumi, delectable little salmon bites, and an only in Piedmont shocking Syrian soup. Then came the “Welcome to Italy” green Risotto, and a homemade Fusilli with pork shoulder that served as another reminder that big flavors can come out from these unassuming simple dishes. A juicier than juice hen with potatoes, and an even juicier veal cheek sealed the deal before we heard those magic words we’ve never heard in a restaurant before. “Would you like some more” A 10 course feast for a mere 25 Euros. Considering how delicious everything was, it was like a bank robbery. We reminisced about a meal in Coimbra, Portugal as perhaps the only one that beat this value.
They also provided a very nice picnic basket for us for lunch that we used on the picnic tables of the Sacred Mount of Orta overlooking the lake. Just the two sandwiches in there worth the 10 € per person tag, but there was so much more. The hotel room was very spacious and modern, with a loft in case we have guests (you never know) or Mrs Ziggy gets mad at me for packing only shoes with holes (like I’m supposed to inspect carefully before packing). You also get a nice patio facing the back yard. The whole place is so serene during the day you can hear a lung collapse. I was surprised to see it run by 3 young girls, and the cook responsible for that wonderful feast, Luigi, is 28 years old. There must be a law that all young chefs in the lakes region must be called Luigi (ie Luigi of Salice Blu in Bellagio) and when they reach puberty they need to change names. Makes no sense if you ask me.
What else did we do besides eat and inspect shoes. We Spent some time in the Sacred Mount. Quite a stunning setting overlooking the lake, surrounded by it pretty much. Its a series of chapels depicting the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, from chasing goats as a child, to chasing goats as an adult. I like goats as well but in a different way. He apparently loved animals according to my friend. The place was nearly empty, and extremely quiet. If someone plays Doodle Jump down in Orta San Giulio you would hear the doodling. The lake views from here is what you mostly see on Google images. There are picnic tables by the parking lot, and I cant imagine a better setting for a picnic.
The town itself Orta San Giulio was so much more pleasant than I thought, that we didn’t feel like taking a boat to the island and instead just wandered all over town. We spent more time than Mrs Z liked in one particular deli with a chatty French owner where we sampled some salami and over 25 year old balsamic vinegar before we bought “Rafi”, the little truffle we carried with us the rest of the trip. Rafi was a good sport, vacuumed wrapped in rice and all. Update: Rafi is dead. Unless the guy made a switcheroo on us at the last minute, the truffle just did not have it by the time I used it a week later. The much anticipated dinner with our truffle at home turned out to be a simple Linguini with butter.
In short, Lake Orta is another gem that most Americans never heard of. And on this day at least I was happy that that was the case