Sacro Monte di Orta

July 13, 2015
Sacro Monte di Orta

I must be absolutely insane to long for the days of employment.

Leaving my career behind when I got married and moved to Italy was an easy decision at the time: I had met my other half, the Angel to my Buffy, the Darcy to my Elizabeth, so what was a little sacrifice?

But it hasn’t been easy. Even now, being in Italy for almost two years, my mind is still trying to force itself into the career-minded mold it lived and thrived in for so long. You must have a career, you’re not contributing to the success of your family unless you’re making money, who are you without a job?! In the U.S. we have this little habit of viewing ourselves as our careers. When we meet someone for the first time the first question we typically ask them is “Oh, what do you do?”.

It is simply not like that in Italy. I’ve had an hour long conversation with someone where work didn’t come up once. My mind is slowly adjusting, and in order to break out of the cycles of worthless doom (can you tell I’m a bit dramatic?) I get trapped in from time to time, I focus on the positives of not having a traditional 9-5. Among them, I get to volunteer, I can work on my voice, I’m on the board of an Expat organization, I have time to write this blog (hey, that’s pretty awesome!), and I get to travel with my Italian when he goes away on business. Major bonus there.

Since business travel doesn’t necessarily cater to the tourist, I get to experience things that I never even knew existed. It’s my own little slice of heaven, and there’s a certain magic to doing it on my own. I can’t rely on my Italian, who is in meetings all day, for directions, translations, or itineraries. It’s all on me…and it makes it all that much better.

One of the treats I recently discovered was Sacro Monte di Orta, a beautiful walking path and garden carved into the side of the mountain overlooking lake Orta and the island of San Giulio. Along this wooded path are twenty chapels full of magnificently carved figures and intricate frescoes that depict, and celebrate, the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.







Sacro Monte di Orta, literally translated as Sacred Mountain of Orta, is one of the nine Sacri Monti (Sacred Mountains) of Piedmont and Lombardy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Each of the twenty chapels portray a different event in the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, a life that is considered by some as being similar to that of Jesus. At the end of the devotional path, you will find the Church of Saint Nicolao, which was reconditioned in the seventeenth century to resemble the Lower Basilica of Assisi.


This site is unique in relation to its Sacri Monti counterparts because it is the only one dedicated to a saint, and not to the life of Christ or the Madonna. Architecturally, the chapels represent many crucial and influential periods. Built between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, you will see aspects of the Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococò periods. The spiral formation of the chapels, as well as the realism with which the figures were created add to the particularity and majesty of Sacro Monte di Orta.













Travel Smart Tips for Sacro Monte di Orta

If you are able, visit Sacro Monte di Orta on a weekday and arrive by 9:00 am. This way you will beat the crowd. Trust me when I say that my visit was that much more inspiring because I was by myself. I had time to sit and meditate and really linger. I sat on every bench and took in every second. By the time I reached the end, around 11:30 am, tour buses were starting to pour in and I was not alone (most chapels have very little standing room). It made me grateful for the early morning time I did have.

Make sure to park to the left, going down the hill and use the restrooms at the parking lot level. They are clean and have actual toilets with seats (this really is a luxury while traveling through Italy for those of you reading and wondering why in the heck I’m telling you to go to the bathroom). A donation is asked to help keep them clean by the nuns that live in Sacro Monte di Orta. (The bathrooms above, near the church and the end of your path, are Turkish toilets. If you are OK standing up going number 1 and 2, by all means. If not, you’ll be grateful for my advice).

Captain Obvious here, but wear sneakers or sandals specifically made for hiking. It’s not a mountain trail by any means, but there are some slippery stone slopes and loose pebbles. There is a small parking lot at the top of the hill for those that need assistance in moving around.

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  • Reply Aunt Desi July 13, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    Absolutely fabulous Em!!! Keep them coming please. Its like we are there with you!

  • Reply Holly September 9, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    Beautiful captures. The fact that it implements different periods also boasts the beauty of it all.

    • Reply Emily September 13, 2015 at 3:10 pm

      I totally agree, Holly!

  • Reply Tami September 9, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    Exploring one place at a time in full detail — that’s the best way to do it! Lucky that you get to live in Italy and explore at a slower rate. By the way, your photos are beautiful…some of them amazingly so!
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    • Reply Emily September 13, 2015 at 3:10 pm

      Tami, I feel very lucky to be able to do that (and honestly, it’s how I prefer to travel)! Thank you for your kind words about my photos!

  • Reply Els Mahieu September 9, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    Great pics! The western world in general is indeed very “career orientated”. Good to read that Italy seems to enjoy the slow life and the dolce far niente a lot more!
    Els Mahieu recently posted…Copenhagen beyond the mermaidMy Profile

    • Reply Emily September 13, 2015 at 3:09 pm

      Thank you! Italy very much enjoys la dolce vita and I’m trying my best to fit in. Speaking of which, I think it’s time for a glass of wine! 🙂

  • Reply Conor (The Continental Drifters) September 10, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    I can definitely imagine those figures coming alive at night…definitely wouldn’t visit after sundown!! But the murals on the ceilings are stunning.
    Thanks for sharing, and delighted to see you found clean toilets, always a bonus when travelling 🙂
    Conor (The Continental Drifters) recently posted…48 Hours in Kiev, UkraineMy Profile

    • Reply Emily September 13, 2015 at 3:08 pm

      Yea, didn’t think about that until just now. Thanks, Conor! Haha! During the day they weren’t super creepy, but I can see at night it could be for sure! Yes, clean toilets are like the holy grail of traveling.

  • Reply Heather Simon September 12, 2015 at 8:47 am

    I never knew about this before. Looks beautiful, your photography is great.
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    • Reply Emily September 13, 2015 at 2:24 pm

      Thanks, Heather! I’m getting better with my photography skills trip by trip. Hmm, guess I should take more trips! Haha.

  • Reply Lucy September 15, 2015 at 12:26 am

    Wonderful photos!!!
    I’ve never heard of this place but Italy is a big country))
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    • Reply Emily September 16, 2015 at 4:50 pm

      Thank you, Lucy! Italy is a big country and there is so much history. I’m enjoying finding all of its little hidden gems.

  • Reply Damien September 16, 2015 at 11:05 pm

    Looks like a beautiful place. Great photos too!

    • Reply Emily October 29, 2015 at 3:53 pm

      Thank you!

  • Reply Tami September 17, 2015 at 12:25 am

    Back again! Just had to add that exploring the old churches in Italy was really my favorite thing to do while I was there. There is so much beautiful art, and the devotion of those who built the church and adorned it is so apparent. It is so inspiring!
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    • Reply Emily October 29, 2015 at 3:53 pm

      It’s one of my favorite things too, Tami! And it’s mostly free!!

  • Reply Elena September 17, 2015 at 10:55 am

    There are so many lesser known, but so interesting places in Italy. This is not just a generic statement as I am learning it firsthand in Sicily now. Literally, step to the left or to the right, and there is another historical jewel. However, you wonderful photos and the story make me wonder about the road trip up north (well, everything is north from this tip of Italy).
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    • Reply Emily October 29, 2015 at 3:42 pm

      Exactly! Around every turn there is something to discover. Even the ruins in the Ikea parking garage! Ah, Italy.

  • Reply Tim September 18, 2015 at 1:51 am

    Other countries definitely have it right with the work life balance thing. You will definitely get used to it but coming back will then be difficult…if you do.
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    • Reply Emily October 29, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      I haven’t even thought about going back! Thanks, Tim! 🙂

  • Reply Erica September 19, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    SO SO WONDERFUL. I love the details! I’m sure it was even more captivating in person.
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    • Reply Emily October 29, 2015 at 3:29 pm

      I was in awe the whole time.

  • Reply Michela December 22, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    I didn’t know about Sacro Monte di Orta, this place looks fabulous with such heritage. I would like to visit but I haven’t understood where it is located in Lombardy, close to which city, town? Great photos!
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