Leaving the shores of Lake Maggiore after a fun 3 days on the peaceful Camping La Sierra, we were relieved to have a destination that was just 45 minutes drive away at the nearby Lake Orta to the south west. Having been on the road for just under a month since leaving the Hague and we were starting to feel the after effects of having been in 'holiday mode' since then, trying to make the most of every day. Waking up, immediately planning what to do, where to hike, what to see when we got back from our hike. We both felt ready to take it a little easier for a few days. Also, with the rest of the ACSI campings in our guide ending their discounted rates for the high season, we knew that we would have a more nomadic month period of from mid-July to September staying on Aires, which tend to allow 48 hour stays at most, with the majority being 24 hours.
We plotted our course to Camping Royal, nestled in the wooded hills above Pettenasco on the shores of LakeOrta, that was offering ACSI discount for another 5 nights. Despite some more SatNav fun that ended with me reversing our 2.3m wide motorhome out of a 2.35m road with backed up traffic looking on, we eventually made it safely to the impressive Camping Royal shortly after lunchtime on Sunday, in the middle of a downpour, to be greeted by the very friendly Paulo. The site itself seemed to be mostly full of long term caravans with just a few touring pitches and we picked out our own little spot right next door to the swimming pool!
Despite the heavy rain, from the front of our motorhome we could see straight through the few trees on the campsite down to the surface of Lake Orta just a few kilometres away, surrounding by forested hillsides and dotted with little boats cruising between the shores. Lake Orta is much, much smaller than Lake Maggiore which we had left behind, but the area has the same tranquil atmosphere we had enjoyed since arriving in Italy. We immediately felt very at home and decided to stay put until the ACSI rate ended later in the week.
Our plan of resting up and taking things a little easier during our stay was also helped by the frequent heavy rain and thunderstorms that settled on the area for the first 3 days of our time here. Sunday and Monday night in particular were spectacular with lightening flashing across the sky and illuminating the inside of the motorhome followed by some ear splitting thunderclaps. Most of our days in the early part of the week followed a simple routine of getting up, doing some exercise, a quick shower and back to the motorhome to read and relax until mid-afternoon when we'd take a short stroll (between rain showers) down the steep hill into Pettenasco to sit or wander along the shores of Lake Orta and listen to the waves lapping on the small stony beaches.
Watching other campers come and go, we enjoyed our slower pace of life. We did consider taking a longer stroll into the surrounding hills, with some 1400m peaks within hiking distance. However, by the time the rain showers started to lift in the afternoons we weren't sure if we'd have time. Besides, we were quite enjoying putting our feet up.
The sunshine returned to the area on Wednesday, so after our morning exercise and a peaceful hour lounging by the pool (don't be fooled by the pictures, that water was very cold!) we set off on a longer stroll. Our aim was to reach the SacroMonte at Orta San Giulia a few kilometres along the lake. The Sacro Monte is a complex of 21 chapels, each depicting a different scene from the life of St. Francis of Assisi, gathered on a hilltop that juts out into the lake. The pretty route which climbs out of Pettenasco through the woods was even livened up further when we saw our first snake! (Esther later had us googling snakes in Italy! There are some poisonous vipers in Italy, but this wasn't one of them). Unfortunately, just an hour into a walk we saw the now familiar storm clouds gathering on the far bank and heard the rumble of thunder so we decided we'd have to head back. Somewhat frustratingly the storm clouds cleared later in the afternoon and the evening bought back the bright sunshine again, although we overcame the frustration somewhat by lounging by the pool some more.
On Thursday we did eventually make it to the Sacro Monte, this time taking our bikes for a spin along the lakeside road. The complex of chapels, mostly built in the 1600s and decorated with hundreds of colourful frescoes and statues depicting scenes of the St. Francis's life, was very impressive. It has been declared a UNESCO World Hertiage of Humanity site and the wood hilltop around has been made into a nature reserve. We followed the 'devotional route' around the wooded hilltop (which is also home to millions of midges) visiting each chapel in order before heading down the hill into the beautiful little town of Orta San Giulia itself and wandered through the narrow alleyways and ancient houses, before taking some time sitting by the square and watching to boats come and go to the Island of San Giulia.
Which brings us to Friday and after a lovely week putting our feet up it's time to hit the road again, although we haven't made our minds up where to yet.........