Black Book Travels: Lago d'Orta, Italy
In a world that never stops talking, silence is more sophisticated than words. It’s full of the answers, has so much to say; its sound is sweet, a soothing respite for the soul. But to hear what it has to say, you too must be silent. So come, and listen. It’s speaking to you now. Let the silence tell you about the secrets of the universe.
Like Lake Orta, the Italian Lake District’s hidden gem, and the majestic @mandali_retreats sitting high on a hilltop that overlooks it. These are places where profound beauty is deafening, where serenity and simplicity is the only language. These are where you’ll hear the loudest answers… if you listen with the heart.
While the names on everybody’s lips in the region and beyond, have long been the famed locations of Como and Maggiore, the subtlety of Orta’s splendour has truly slipped into the silence. Deafened by the grandiose and the fantastical of luxury hotels, restaurants, and celebrity residents of the sister lakes, Orta is a destination of which precious few have heard, for it’s one about which a word is barely ever spoken. But a word need not be said; the lake - the smallest in the area – speaks for itself. It’s picture-perfect from every angle; not clogged with buildings but mostly embraced by greenery and the odd smattering of houses, meaning its vast expanse of blue feels idyllic.
There are no coach parties here, nor back-packers or conference hotels, and in the main lakeside town of Orta San Giulio, there aren’t even any cars. Instead, in the main square, Piazza Motta, there are a small harbour of boats that ferry to and from Isola San Giulio, the island in the centre of the lake, and a collection of ice-cream parlours, chic restaurants and cafés.
Like the best box in the most prestigious of theatres, the piazza is positioned so all seats command a view of the Isola; the perfect place for a spot of lunch and people-watching. Faded buildings painted in salmon and ochre hues, with small balconies and weathered shutters flank the noble promenade, while winding streets snake off, decorated with ivy-wrapped villas, wrought iron gates and intermittent snapshots of the water, peeking through the gaps in the alleyways.
But the silence doesn’t stop speaking there; indeed, it has plenty more to say. Listen more closely with your heart, mind and soul as you imagine being lured into a dream by a cacophony of singing birds and trickling water. Scents of verdant greenery and fresh air wrap around you, as does the familiar warmth of daylight, as you climb the hairpin bends of your mountain setting into somewhere between the water and the heavens into a completely unique version of Italian relaxation and sweet idleness. You finally open your eyes to see a luxury spiritual eco-retreat by the name of @mandali_retreats .
“Just let go”. You close your eyes again. This time, in a candle-lit temple, wrapped in blankets. The middle of a meditation. In a place designed to help you awaken the mind, to reconnect, as you disconnect from the everyday, from technology and from the worries of the world. The setting is breathtaking: room, even have verandas that open up onto the lawn literally perched on the edge of the mountain. With views out to the tree-clad mountains and the lake below, the word majestic comes to mind. The whole place is built to resemble an old Italian village with cobbled streets and bell tower, stone walkways and arches for shade. Interiors are of the standard of a world-class retreat, with brass bathtubs and rattan furniture, marble and wood details and a jacuzzi worth melting into.
Activities include silence sessions, yoga classes, Tai Chi or Chi Kung workshops, swims and socialising, sitting alone, reading a book in the library, or treating yourself to an incredible massage in the body wellness centre. Each day, a three-course vegetarian buffet is served, carefully-designed to include food based on nutritional quality with ingredients grown in private gardens. This is a place where silence pervades. Healing silence, energizing silence, deep and mindful silence. One that restores wellbeing, one that retunes the mind to focus within. One that can relight your shine. One where silence is the noise. Silence is the experience.