The old city of Bergamo called the Città Alta or High City sits high on the hill overlooking the modern city. The medieval streets and buildings and 17th century walls surrounding it are stunning and a perfect place for a peaceful stroll and a meal. While we were in driving from Lake Garda to Milan during our Northern Italy road trip, we stopped in Bergamo one rainy yet beautiful fall afternoon. Beautiful Bergamo is just under 50 minutes one-way from Milan on the train or car.
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What to see in Beautiful Bergamo
The streets of Bergamo, retain the look of a Medieval village, enclosed by its strong walls built by the Venetians in the 16th Century when the the most Serene Republic was at the height of its power – more than three centuries of prosperity and economic development have left their mark in the monuments, institutions and the character of its people. There are well-preserved palaces, churches and public squares, like the Piazza Vecchia (the old public square), Palazzo della Ragione, the Duomo, the Colleoni Chapel and the Baptistery. Walk and slowly meander up to the main square – the Piazza Vecchia stopping to check out all the shops run by individuals, they have everything – lots of bakeries, icecream stores, a greengrocer, a real butcher, stores that sell truffles, cheeses, coffee, liquor, and there are even fashion boutiques that are run by local women. The Galleria dell’Accademia Carrara, located just outside the city walls, houses a staggering collection of Renaissance masterpieces, including works by Bellini, Botticelli and Raphael. Bergamo is the birthplace of Donizetti, one of the world’s five greatest opera composers – you can trace the life of this XIX Century musician starting from his native house in Upper Bergamo, admiring his mementos at the Museo Donizettiano, at his grave in the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica and at the city theatre, which was named after him. Every season Donizetti’s greatest successes are performed at the opera house Teatro Donizetti.
What to eat
Bergamo is a place that boasts a varied and tasty range of gastronomic products – from cheeses and desserts to cured pork meats to polenta, there are culinary delights to satisfy every palate.
The classic Bergamo starters or antipasti are Casonsèi de la bergamasca and Scarpinocc de Par, prepared with fresh pasta; they are genuine delicacies for those who love fine dining. You have to try some polenta while in Bergamo which is usually served with game or stew.
We found plenty of desserts and bakeries that will tempt even the non-sweettooths. The kids had fun peeking through the window displays to find cookies and desserts to try. Bergamo is famous for polenta e Osèi de la Bergamasca which is made with sponge cake and butter cream, chocolate and nuts. It came in dizzying sizes that we opted to try the mini ones.
Where we ate
We did some quick research on TripAdvisor to find a place for lunch that is authentic and serves typical Northern Italy cuisine and found Vineria Cozzi. The place was charming with nice bar and busy cooks with aprons walking in and out of the fresh smelling kitchen area. Most of the staff didn’t speak English, but the young girl who took our order spoke enough English for us to ask about their specials. She suggested the homemade Casoncelli ravioli with bacon, butter and sage and the seasonal risotto made with Piedmont hazelnuts and truffles. You can also order a picnic to enjoy on grassy areas near the walls that surround Upper Bergamo, which will be delivered in one of the pretty baskets that were hanging in the restaurant – may be next time. D the big Tiramisu fan couldn’t just stop at just one of their Coffee Tiramisu with dark chocolate drops, we ordered one to go. We then walked along the narrow cobblestone streets, admiring the storefronts and walls with paintwork distressed by time and sunshine, till we found some Polenta e Osei.
The beautiful assembly of patrician houses and the Palazzo della Ragione (city hall) frame Piazza Vecchia square at the heart of the old town. In the center stands the Contarini Fountain, decorated by lions. The 12th-century Palazzo della Ragione’s stone staircase and loggia of three Gothic arches forms the piazza’s upper side, adjoining the tall tower, Torre del Comune.
Through the archway at the top of Piazza Vecchia is Piazza del Duomo (cathedral square), and together they contain some of Bergamo’s most impressive architectural treasures. The church of Santa Maria Maggiore.
Casoncelli ravioli with bacon, butter and sage
Seasonal risotto made with Piedmont hazelnuts and truffles
The beautiful fresco covered walls of Bergamo
Checking out the dessert display
Polenta e Osèi, a Bergamo speciality
Bergamo is in the centre of Lombardy is just under 50 minutes one-way from Milan on the train, and then you can take the number 1 bus from the train station to the Città Alta or walk to the funicular at the base of the hill and ride that to the top. Bergamo railway station is directly connected to Milan, Lecco and Brescia with connections for Lake Garda, Verona, and Venice. We didn’t stay at Bergamo but stayed in Milan at Hotel Principi, you can find hotels and car deals using our Travel Resources page. We loved visiting Northern Italy during Autumn when the streets were a little quieter and the trees were ablaze in shades of yellow and crimson. Vineria Cozzi, the restaurant we ate at is in the Old town at Via Bartolomeo Colleoni 22, Bergamo Alta, 24129 Bergamo, Italy