Isola San Giulio – Isola San Giulio, Italy - Atlas Obscura

Isola San Giulio

Isola San Giulio, Italy

A fairytale island floats in the middle of Italy's little-known Lake Orta. 


On this enchanting crop of land within Lago di Orta, a sublime lake somehow missed by many of Italy’s tourists, buildings perched along the island’s edge greet visitors who decide to go ashore. A cluster of religious structures and houses stands behind them, some of which are more than 1,000 years old.

A small chapel was built on the island in the 5th century, most likely in honor of Saint Julius. According to legend, the island had been infested with writhing hordes of snakes and other reptilian monsters until the saint arrived on its shores in the fourth century and banished them. He was buried on the island, and his remains are still there to this day.

In the 12th century, the little island became the grounds for a basilica. Even today, centuries later, the basilica is the crown jewel of the picturesque patch of land. A new seminary was built in the 19th century, which unfortunately saw some of the island’s older buildings demolished in its wake. It’s now a Benedictine monastery, which is still in use today. A smattering of quaint houses dot the island, which were once home to members of the clergy.

It’s easy to spend an afternoon meandering around the island. The pedestrian-friendly roads wind by the historic buildings, giving visitors ample opportunities to visit the medieval and newer structures that crown the soil. Every year, classical music concerts take place in one the island’s oldest buildings, letting locals and tourists alike indulge in evenings of beautiful sounds that enhance the island’s allure.

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