Many, many years ago, there was an island which was inhabited by dragons and snakes. The local fishermen were unable to go there and lived in fear of the creatures. Guilio, a Christian preacher, arrived in the village of Orta and decided to help. Using his cloak as a sail and his staff as a rudder, he travelled to the island and peacefully requested all the creatures to leave.
Today the island can be visited by boat from the medieval village of Orta San Guilio and the remains of Saint Guilio can be found in the crypt of the basilica, whose tower dominates the tiny island. It doesn’t take long to walk around the single, cobbled lane which is lined with signs of meditative thought to spiritually guide you. In order to find peace from the Italian primary school party and the German tourist group, I’m guided to the only restaurant where I can gaze out over the lake with a glass of steaming latte.
Back on the mainland, it’s a slow, uphill trek to the Sacro Monte where a gravel path leads me to 20 varying chapels, adorned with frescoes and life-sized terracotta statues telling the story of St Francis. The light has faded dramatically and there is no illumination in the chapels, so peering in at the lifelike models is a bit spooky. It’s a true act of faith that these beautiful 17th century chapels remain in such good condition, given that they are left open to the elements of nature and the maliciousness of man.