Off The Beaten Path in Bergamo, Italy

Aug 1, 2014

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TPG contributor Lori Zaino takes us on a tour of Bergamo, Italy, a city with a double identity. It has both a Medieval Città Alta (high city) and a modern Città Bassa (low city). Set at the base of the Italian Alps about 25 miles northeast of Milan, Bergamo is filled with warm Italian locals, mouthwatering cuisine and  vast architecture with a long history dating back to 49 BC. 

The Citta Alta (High City) of Bergamo. Image courtesy of  Karol Kozlowski via Shutterstock
The Città Alta (High City) of Bergamo. Image courtesy of Karol Kozlowski via Shutterstock

If beaches aren’t your thing, but you’d still like to escape the sweltering summer city temps of nearby Milan, Bergamo is the place to be. Relatively undiscovered by foreign tourism, this city is a stunning Medieval haven where you can enjoy yourself no matter what your interests may be. Foodies will love the Northern Italian cuisine, history buffs will bask in the rich antiquity of the city and those who simply love to see beautiful things will enjoy the quaint streets and stunning views of the Italian Alps.

Get to the high city by funicular
Get to the high city by funicular

Città Alta and Città Bassa are separated by 17th century Venetian walls. You can access the high city by a funicolare (a cable car on tracks), walking trail or a drive along modern roads. Parking is tight, so the best and most interesting way to get in is the funicolare. You can purchase tickets in the Città  Bassa at the Funicolare Station on Viale Vittorio Emanuele.

The Torre Civica in Bergamo. Image courtesy of Shutterstock
The Torre Civica in Bergamo. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Although the best way to enjoy the city is to simply wander, it’s imperative that you see some of Bergamo’s most historical sights. Start in the Piazza Vecchia and check out the Torre Civica (the old bell tower). Visions of Renaissance art are in abundance around the high city, some lying outside of the typical art museum experience.The interior of the La Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore houses several beautiful Baroque tapestries and the church itself dates back to 1137.

Many galleries throughout the city, such as the Accademia Carrara, also have beautiful collections of Renaissance paintings. If you prefer more modern or contemporary art, GAMeC is your spot.

Pay a visit to the La Cappella Colleoni, the chapel that contains the tomb of Bartolomeo Colleoni, Italian military leader from the 15th century. Of course, no visit to any Italian city is complete without seeing its Duomo and Cathedral. La Rocca Castle and the Gombito Tower are other sites not to be missed.

If you can manage to head back to the Piazza Vecchia at 10 p.m., the bell tolls 100 times (every day of the year without fail) in remembrance of the town’s ancient curfew. The gates of Bergamo’s defensive walls were once locked at night to keep citizens safe and intruders out. Of course, these days the gates don’t close, so don’t worry if you plan on entering or exiting the walls after the curfew bell.

The walled high city of Bergamo. Image courtesy of Shutterstock
The walled high city of Bergamo. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Walking around atop Bergamo’s Venetian walls (Le Mura Vente) is a pleasant afternoon activity. Not only do you have breathtaking views of the Città  Bassa and the Italian countryside, it’s a quiet place with a lot of greenery that will allow you to relax and ponder the fact that this is one of the few Italian cities whose old city is still completely walled (many Italian cities are walled, but the walls are either in ruins or no longer fully intact). 

Let’s get to it–my favorite part about Italy in general is the food. Bergamo is located in the Lombardy region, which is known for traditional and simple dishes like polenta (corn meal) and Casoncelli all a bergamasca, which is a type of stuffed pasta, similar to ravioli, usually stuffed with some kind of meat, but this can vary. A butter and sage sauce often completes the dish. If you are dying to sample this delectable dish, try Il Circolino, and if the weather permits, enjoy sunshine on the terrace outside while you relish in your Italian flavors.

La Pizza
Ristorante Pizzeria Da Mimmo is a hot spot for pizza in Bergamo

Although the northern regions of Italy aren’t known for pizza, there are still a few great pizza spots to visit in Bergamo. My favorite is the Ristorante Pizzeria Da Mimmo and Da Franco Pizzeria is a close second. If you are looking for a strong cocktail after dinner, visit stylish Bar H.

Gelato, anyone?
Gelato, anyone?

If you are hoping for a forte espresso, a pastry or gelatoLa Marianna is just the right spot. You can people watch as you slowly savor your macchiato. Not to mention, the original owner of La Marianna is credited with creating the stracciatella flavor of gelato back in 1961. What would the world be without creamy white gelato with chocolate shavings? Make sure to to sample it with your coffee.

If you decide to spend most of your time in the Città Alta, wear comfortable shoes. The roads are heavily cobblestoned, and although Italian women are born with the ability to jog down cobblestone streets in 6-inch stilettos, I think a good pair of comfortable walking shoes might work best if your aim is tourism.

Wear comfy shoes--most Bergamo streets in the high city look like this!
Wear comfy shoes–most Bergamo streets in the high city look like this!

If you decide to head to the modern Città Bassa where the locals live, work and play, you can always shop to your heart’s content at shopping mall Oriocenter. Here, you’ll find the typical chain stores like Diesal and Guess, but if you’re looking for the latest Prada, D&G or Gucci, it’s best to head to Milan. Natives frequent the traditional Ol Giopi e la Margi restaurant for regional cuisine and La Pasqualina for gelato.

How To Get There: Getting to Bergamo is relatively easy. You can fly into Bergamo Orio al Serio airport from many cities in Europe (Ryanair has a large base there). Another option is to fly into one of the Milan Airports like Malpensa or Linate and either rent a car or take a train or bus.

Where To Stay: Stay and sleep at the Hotel Excelsior San Marco (summer rates start at 85 Euros/$115 per night), or if you prefer just to have a cocktail there, the roof garden is an excellent spot for an Aperol Spritz. The Petronilla hotel is a trendier spot with summer rates starting at 180 Euros/$250 per night.

Have you had the pleasure of visiting the lovely city of Bergamo? If so, share your tips below.

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