Lake Orta, Piedmont, Italy

Lake Locations:

Italy - Piedmont -

Also known as:  Lago d'Orta

Described by 19th century French novelist Honere Balzac as a “grey pearl in a green jewel box,” Lake Orta in the Piedmont region of Italy has been the muse of poets, writers and philosophers for hundreds of years. Inspired by the 4,482-acre lake’s beauty, Frederich Nietzsche used it as a writer’s retreat in the late 1800’s and wrote “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” looking out over the sparkling waters of what the Italians call Lago d’Orta. Today Lake Orta is a popular destination for Italians, but remains relatively unknown by the rest of the world. Tucked away in northern Italy, the lake that English poet Robert Browning wrote of as the place where “Alp meets heaven in snow,” is a gem waiting to be treasured.

Lago d’Orta is the western most glacial lake in Italy and the seventh largest by both volume and depth in the country. Running north to south, the lake is over eight miles long and a mile and a half wide with a maximum depth of 469 feet. The outlet forms the Niguglia River at the north end of the lake. Lake Orta suffered from industrial wastewater pollution during the 20th century, damaging the lake’s ecology and commercial fishery. Concerted environmental efforts are helping Lago d’Orta and the fishery to recover, but the process is slow since the water residence time in the lake is more than 10 years.

In addition to the arctic char introduced to Lake Orta in 1914 through 1916, today anglers will find populations of eel, pike, tench, perch and burbot. Motorboat tours are a great way to explore the lake, and there are also boats available for hire. Swimming, scuba diving, and sailing are all popular lake pastimes, and kayaking around San Giulio Island is a perfect way to spend the day.

San Giulio Island, or Isola di San Giulio as it’s known in Italian, is 902 feet long and 450 feet wide. According to legend, a huge serpent used to terrorize the island until the area’s patron saint, St. Giulio, chased it away. The island and the village of Orta San Giulio on the opposite shore are both named after the fourth century saint, and originally the lake was called Lago di San Giulio in Italian. It was renamed and has been Lake Orta since the 16th century. The Basilica of San Giulio is the largest building on the island, and the Romanesque church has frescoes from the 15th and 16th centuries. A narrow street winds around the island and visitors can stroll around the charming island before taking the hired boat back to the village.

The village of Orta San Giulio sits on a peninsula jutting into the lake from its eastern shore. Balconies with iron balustrades look out over the lake, and slate tiles top the roofs of many of the quaint village’s buildings. Restaurants, holiday villas and vacation rentals are all available along Lake Orta’s shores. Omegna is at the north end of the lake, and there are a few small villages dotted on the shore. Lake Orta is not as populated as nearby Lake Maggiore, however, and stays much quieter. Olive groves around the lake give way to chestnut forests and then beech trees as the elevation climbs. Mottarone, 4,544 feet tall, separates Lake Orta from Lake Maggiore and provides visitors with a variety of winter sports including skiing.

Just 44 miles from Milan, Lago d’Orta has all the charm of a rustic Italian village with accessibility to the best in sophisticated Italian culture. It shines with the beauty of a baroque pearl, better for its rough nature, and is sure to inspire visitors for centuries to come.

Things to do at Lake Orta

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Kayaking
  • Scuba Diving

Fish species found at Lake Orta

  • Burbot
  • Char
  • Eel
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Tench

Lake Orta Photo Gallery

  • Still life of the Lago d'Orta from the panorama of Quarna

Lake Orta Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 4,482 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 952 feet

Average Depth: 233 feet

Maximum Depth: 469 feet

Water Volume: 1,053,927 acre-feet

Water Residence Time: 10.7 Years

Drainage Area: 45 sq. miles

At LakeLubbers.com, we strive to keep our information as accurate and up-to-date as possible, but if you’ve found something in this article that needs updating, we’d certainly love to hear from you!
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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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