Special Nature Reserves
The Reserves are situated on hills that tower above the east bank of Lake Orta. There are three protected areas: the Holy Mountain of Orta San Giulio, Mount Mesma, and the Buccione Tower, established by the Piedmont Region to protect, conserve, and enhance the historical, artistic estate and the environment and nature within the region. The Reserves are in woody zones and are important because they are home to well-known important and charming historical buildings.
Sacro Monte di Orta San Giulio (Holy Mountain of Saint Julius of Orta)
The Reserve of the Holy Mountain, established in 1980, extends 13 hectares (32 acres) out and approximately 400 meters (1/4 mile) up to the cape of the mountain, from where you can look out over all of Lake Orta.
The Holy Mountain includes a devotional path that consists of twenty frescoed shrines complimented by groups of terracotta life-size statues that illustrate the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. In 2003, the complex joined the group of UNESCO World Heritage Sites; it represents a successful integration of architecture and decorative art in a beautiful landscape.
Monte Mesma (Mount Mesma)
The Mount Mesma reserve, established in 1993, extends 50 hectares (125 acres) out and 600 meters (1/3 mile) up within the town of Ameno. A seventeenth century church and convent sit on top of the hill and open up to the panoramic parvis from which you can enjoy a striking view of Lake Orta and, in the distance, the Monte Rosa range.
The complex of convent buildings is grouped around the two cloisters. The first building that we see upon entering the complex served at one time as a place of refuge for pilgrims and other wayfarers; in the second one in the center we find the well, which was once where the convent stored its water supply. From this cloister you will reach the “stufone room”, a small cozy space where a large black stone stove from 1727 Oira is preserved.
Torre di Buccione (Buccione Tower)
The reserve, established in 1993, extends 51 hectares (125 acres) and sits atop a hill that overlooks the southern part of Lake Orta, in the territory between Gozzano and Corconio. The first document that mentions the Buccione “Castle” dates back to 1200; the Buccione tower, in fact, was part of a huge military outpost of which only traces remain.
The great 23-meter (75-foot) tower used to serve as a signaling tower, internally divided into three wooden decks that provided dwelling places for the garrison. The bell used to signal danger hung at the top of the tower. This type of warning bell was last cast in 1610.