Along the A26 Lake Orta - Monferrato
Along the A26… from Lakes Orta & Maggiore to the vineyards and hill towns of the Monferrato & Astigiano

Never in their wildest dreams could the Del Carretto family, who controlled several important mountain passes to the Mediterranean from the 12th-16th centuries, have imagined the A26 highway, a virtual straight shot from the foot of the Simplon Pass near Switzerland to the sea at Genoa. On our tour, we will take advantage of this “engineering marvel” to visit Lake Orta and Lake Maggiore, and their most famous sites, as well as to do some exploring ‘off road.’ We’ll then cross the Po River plain, where the world’s best risotto rice is grown, and spend several days walking in the rural villages of the Monferrato, a largely undiscovered region of vineyard-covered hills and beautiful panoramas. We’ll appreciate the Monferrato’s marvelous cuisine and wines, and conclude our sojourn in sweet, bubbly fashion, with a spumante wine tasting in the Asti region.

Day 1

Arrival - Lake Orta

A short drive from Malpensa Airport in Milan will bring us to Lake Orta, set at the foot of the Western Alps. After settling in at our lakeside hotel, we’ll walk along the shore and explore the medieval lanes of Orta San Giulio, following paths that will lead us above the town to the Sacro Monte (Sacred Mount), a series of illustrated chapels dedicated to the life of Saint Francis. In the evening, we’ll stop at a typical locale for an aperitivo before dinner.

Day 2

Lake Maggiore: From Island-Palace to Wilderness Expanse

Not far from Lake Orta is much-grander Lake Maggiore: long before the construction of the A26 or the numerous, impressive tunnels through the Alps, this body of water formed an important thoroughfare connecting Central Europe and the Po River plain. Part of this lake has for centuries belonged to the Borromeo family, whose members include St. Charles Borromeo, one of the great 16th century reformers of the Catholic Church and supporter of the Sacri Monti. We will travel by boat to the Borromeo’s sumptuous island-palace on Isola Bella, where we’ll tour its magnificent gardens.

Afterwards, we’ll head up to the nearby Val Grande national park for lunch at a rifugio, or mountain lodge, followed by a short walk and introduction to one of the most extensive wilderness areas in Europe.

Day 3

Island-Basilica & Beyond

This morning we’ll take a private boat across to the island of San Giulio for a tour of its splendid 12th century basilica. Afterwards, we’ll be ferried to the other side of the lake, where our van will be waiting to take us up a secluded valley, whose residents have tenaciously maintained their ancient traditions and costumes. We’ll enjoy a typical lunch in a village here, learning about life in this valley from our hosts, and afterwards walk through centuries-old chestnut groves.

Day 4

Into the Monferrato

Today, we’ll be on the road again, traveling for about an hour and a half down the A26 through the risotto-rice growing Po River plain, and leaving the 15,000 foot Monte Rosa of the Alps looming behind us. As we cross the Po river, we enter the realm of the Monferrato. Once a powerful independent state in its own right, this region is now known for its Barbera and Grignolino wine production, superb cuisine and serene countryside. Our destination is a village in a little-known corner of this region, where we’ll enjoy a lunch of typical monferrino specialties before walking to our very scenic hilltop village-vineyard-restaurant-home for the next three nights.

Day 5

Casale Monferrato & Surroundings

In the morning we’ll tour Casale Monferrato, Renaissance capital of the Monferrato and visit its Baroque synagogue, learning more about the historic Jewish presence in this region from a member of the community. Then we’ll head to a farmhouse for a wonderful lunch of homegrown delicacies, and afterwards stroll through the farm’s vineyards up to the neighboring hill town for an interesting subterranean exploration… underneath the buildings themselves, where a series of wine cellars have been creatively excavated from the rock.

Day 6


Today we’ll drive into the territory of the medieval city-state of Asti, passing through the tiny Ruchè production area on our way to our tour and tasting at an Asti spumante and Moscato producer. This evening we’ll return to our home in the Monferrato.

Day 7


It is an easy drive to Malpensa Airport. We are also happy to bring you to another nearby destination, such as Milan, Turin or Genoa.
Walking Level
1+, good trail-running/walking shoes recommended

Group minimum 6, maximum 12; includes accommodations (4-star lakeside hotel on Lake Orta, wonderful country inn in the Monferrato), all cultural visits, 2 dinners, transportation, guide and driver costs.

On request, spring & fall recommended

Lakes Orta/Maggiore(3 days): Itinerary the same as Days 1-3 above, please contact us for price and dates.

Monferrato/Asti (4 days): Itinerary the same as Days 4-7 above, please contact us for price and dates.

Tour Notes
This tour is recommended from April to July and September to November. If desired, day 2 could include a longer walk in the national park; in this case, the visit to the Island-Palace could be scheduled either on day 1 or on the morning of day 4. The Lakes Orta & Maggiore days could be substituted, for example, with a stay on Lake Como (see Lago di Como tour description). The Astigiano day, meanwhile, could be replaced with a Barolo wine tour in the Langhe region - or an extra day could be added for a visit to this area.

A logical continuation of this tour would be to the Santa Margherita - Portofino coast, about a 1.5 hour drive from the Monferrato. Recommended cities to visit would include Milan or Turin before the tour, Genoa afterward. Cooking classes can also be arranged upon request in all regions of travel.