Italy is one of the best places on the planet. From the food to the wine to the architecture and history, it's beauty is unparalleled. I sometimes forget that there's an entire country beyond the village where my grandparents grew up. Despite the many summers I spent roaming the Sicilian countryside with my cousins, I've only made it to the mainland once before, so when an invitation to a family wedding on of the lakes arrived, it was more than welcome (and also my mum was maid of honour and my cousin was a bridesmaid). Situated about an hours drive from Milan and 45 minutes from the Swiss boarder lies Lago d'Orta San Giulio (Lake Orta in English). It's easy to see why so may in love with the lakes of north Italy, set to a backdrop of the snow tipped Alps, the town is post card pretty.
Exploring the town didn't take long, but you could easily spend days hopping from restaurant to restaurant, eating and drinking. Favourites included Ristorante Venus situated right on the water front. The tables outside are glorious in the sunshine and a bottle of prosecco comes in at a whopping €17. As well as the wedding, whilst away we also celebrated my mum's 50th and completely took over a little restaurant a short walk from the main square called Pizzeria La Campagna. The food is amazing. Large pizzas, flavourful pasta dishes and plenty of seafood made this place so good, we went twice. The staff are also unbelievably friendly, and didn't mind too much when we returned a pepper grinder that had 'accidentally' left the restaurant with us...
The lake even boasts a Michelin star restaurant that, although we didn't make it to, everyone raves about. Well worth checking out if you're in town for a special occasion (even if that occasion is simply that you are not in the office).
The wedding reception was held at the beautiful Hotel San Rocco. Views of the lake, killer espresso martinis and bridal suit like nothing I've ever seen (I'm 22 and single, it's the only bridal suit I've ever seen) made it a dream wedding location. The staff also couldn't be faulted and the menu for the dinner was mouth watering... And that's coming from a vegetarian at an Italian wedding. For a little luxury, this is the place to stay. In the summer months the pool overlooking the lake would completely clog my Instagram feed and I'd live in the little outdoor garden.
We stayed closer to the main square in a quirky hotel called Hotel Aracoeli. The rooms were kitsch, with open plan shower/bedroom and little bathrooms with a toilet and sink for more privacy. Admittedly, this wasn't so great. I was sharing a room with my brother and cousin, so we were relegated to the balcony or bathroom whenever one of the others wanted to shower, but in the grand scheme of things it wasn't a huge issue. The rooms themselves were spacious, the beds were extremely comfortable and the balconies over look the square which is perfect if, like me, you love people watching. Breakfast at the Aracoeli is a foodie dream come true. Cakes, strudels, cheeses, yogurts, cereals, Italian coffee, eggs, meats, breads and fruits were available fresh every single morning. Porridge at my desk in my London office will simply never be able to compete!
In terms of things to do besides eat and drink, there isn't a lot. Walks around the lake are strongly recommended, but there isn't a lot in the means of nightlife (although I would make an educated guess that in the summer, the bars are open much later). You can get a boat over to Isla San Guilio or further afield to a smaller town about an hour across the lake. Similarly, hiring a car at the airport is easy and Milan is only an hours drive away. The town does offer plenty of cute antique and clothes shops you can browse through and visiting Luca at 'Il Buongastio' is a must. This authentic food and drink shops sells everything from cheese and meats to 100 year old balsamic vinegar (the 15 year old one is bomb) to Italian liquors. Pop in for tasters of parmigiano, drops if balsamic goodness and shots of grappa and hazelnut liquor, leave with gifts for people who don't even need presents (or a couple of treats for yourself).
As a long weekend getaway or a week long stint in the summer, Lake Orta is offically a Hayley Approved* place to visit. Since it isn't as well known as some of the other lakes *cough* Como *cough* being there won't cost you an arm and leg.
PS: Hugest congratulations to the lovely Pav and Paul who tied the knot. Thank you so, so much for allowing me to be a part of your special day. It was beautiful.