Bergamo’s beautiful upper town, the Città Alta (pictured above), is a magical place well worth visiting. Use this website to help you plan your trip to Bergamo in Northern Italy and find your way to some of the other lovely towns and villages in Lombardia that are perhaps less well known to tourists.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Visit Crespi d’Adda

One of Europe’s best preserved company villages

A view over the rooftops of Crespi d'Adda
A view over the rooftops of Crespi d'Adda
Bergamo offers visitors a feast of medieval history but for those interested in experiencing history of a more recent variety, a trip to the industrial village of Crespi d’Adda, which can be found about 20km (12.5 miles) southwest of the city, is something to consider.

Crespi d’Adda is one of the best preserved company villages - that is, a community built exclusively for the employees of a single business - in the whole of Europe.

It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995.

The village was the brainchild of Cristoforo Benigno Crespi, an industrialist from the town of Busto Arsizio, a textile centre on the road from Milan to Lake Maggiore.  He was born 185 years ago today, on October 18, 1833.

The main entrance to Cristoforo Crespi's cotton mill
The main entrance to Cristoforo Crespi's cotton mill
In 1869, Crespi bought some land near the town of Capriate San Gervasio close to the convergence of the Adda and Brembo rivers on a low-lying plain that forms a peninsula known as the Isola Bergamasca  or Bergamasque Island.  He identified it as the ideal place to build a large cotton mill.

Crespi was a capitalist entrepreneur but also a firm believer in the idea that a happy workforce is a productive workforce and he decided that his factory would be at the heart of its own mini-town, with every facility their workers might need right on their doorsteps.

Therefore, after digging a canal to provide hydraulic power,  he commissioned the renowned architect Angelo Colla to build not only a factory but houses, a school, a hospital, a wash house, a church, shops for groceries and clothes, a theatre and a social club. A public swimming pool was added later.

He and his son Antonio equipped the school with pens, pencils, exercise books and every other resource needed to educate their workers’ children and paid the salaries of the teachers.

Crespi himself lived in a villa made to look like a castle
Crespi himself lived in a villa made
to look like a castle
The houses were more English-looking than Italian style, arranging in neat rows, surrounded by gardens with vegetable plots. The streets were the first in Italy to be lit by public-funded electricity.

The church was a replica of the church of Santa Maria di Busto Arsizio, in the Crespi’s home town. In the cemetery attached, Cristoforo built a pyramid-shaped family mausoleum.

The Crespi family themselves, in keeping with their role of lords of the manor, lived in some style in a huge castle-like villa on the edge of the village. Other directors of the company were also provided with villas, albeit on a lesser scale.

Under their benevolent governance, however, the factory - itself a work of art, built in neo-medieval style with an imposing entrance and chimneys that resembled obelisks - managed to avoid the strikes and unrest that affected other parts of Italy’s industrial world.

Nowadays, although the factory remains, only a small part of it is used. The Crespis sold it in 1929 after the Great Depression hit them hard and though it continued as a textile factory until the beginning of the current century, production on a significant scale ceased in 2004.

Other aspects of Crespi d’Adda remain intact, however, and many of the current residents are descended from Cristoforo Crespi’s original employees.

Cristoforo Crespi, the factory owner
Cristoforo Crespi, the factory owner
Access to the village is limited. No traffic is allowed into the village during the afternoon in summer and there is no bus service. Tourist coaches are not allowed beyond a certain point.

However, Crespi d’Adda is very close to the towns of Capriate San Gervasio and Trezzo sull’Adda and is easily accessible on foot. The walk takes no more than 15 to 20 minutes and there is a footpath along the river Adda.

There are regular buses to Capriate and Trezzo sull'Adda from Bergamo. They are operated by the Locatelli Group and depart from the main bus station (across from the railway station). Most of the services are prefixed with the letter ‘V’ and the journey takes just over an hour. More information and departure times can be found here.  

(Photo credits: View over Crespi d'Adda by Dario Crespi; Factory building by Daniel Case; Crespi's villa by Ian Spackman)

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Monday, September 3, 2018

Bergamo musician Pietro Locatelli

The violinist who astonished listeners with his ability

Pietro Locatelli was born on Bergamo in 1695
Virtuoso violinist and Baroque composer Pietro Antonio Locatelli was born in Bergamo on this day in 1695.

He showed an astonishing talent for playing the violin while he was still a young boy and began playing with the orchestra at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in the Città Alta when he was 14.

Pietro Locatelli is remembered in his native city of Bergamo by an area named after him in Longuelo, a suburb of the city.

In 1711, when he was 16 years old, Locatelli left to go to Rome and although it is not known whether he was able to study with Arcangelo Corelli before the composer’s death in 1713, he will have absorbed a lot of his influence by studying with the other eminent musicians in the city.

In 1714 Locatelli wrote to his father that he was a member of the band of household musicians working for Prince Michelangelo I Caetani, a notable political figure and scholar. While he was in Rome he made his debut as a composer, producing his XII Concerto Grossi Op I in 1721.

After 1725 his name crops up in Mantua, Venice, Munich, Berlin and Frankfurt and in every city he received rapturous acclaim for his violin performances. Many of his violin concertos were written at this time. The composer is perhaps best remembered for his L’Arte del violino, a group of 12 violin concerti for a solo violin.

The North Portal of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, with the Colleoni Chapel next door
The North Portal of the Basilica of Santa Maria
Maggiore, with the Colleoni Chapel next door
He was known to have been in Kassel in December 1728 where he was paid generously after his performance by Charles I Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. Afterwards the resident organist wrote that Locatelli had ‘astonished his listeners with hugely difficult violin passages.’

The musician moved to live in Amsterdam in 1729, where he gave music lessons, performed privately and had his own music published professionally.

Locatelli died in 1764 in his house on the Prinsengracht in the city. A plaque next to the entrance door commemorates his stay there and refers to his birthplace, Bergamo.

The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where Locatelli played as a teenager, is in Piazza Duomo in the Città Alta. The basilica, which dates back to the 12th century, is considered to be one of the finest buildings in Lombardy and has a beautiful interior, with a richly decorated cupola and fine Flemish and Florentine tapestries and works of art.

At the back of the church is an elaborate white marble monument designed by Vincenzo Vela, marking the tomb of the 18th century opera composer Gaetano Donizetti, who was born and also died in Bergamo.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Across Bergamo

 Discover the secrets of the Città Alta

There’s so much to see and be fascinated by in Bergamo’s Città Alta that even regular visitors can find they miss things as they look round.

It is a good idea to engage the services of a professional tour guide who can help you make sense of the joyous juxtaposition of medieval and Renaissance architecture in the upper town that can sometimes be too dazzling to take in.
Elisabetta with a group of visitors

A guide who has lived in the Città Alta and knows every alleyway and stone can also give you the inside story on events and famous people that only a local would know.

Tour guide Elisabetta Campanini, who manages Across Bergamo, provides a bespoke service for visitors who want to really get to know the Città Alta.

She provides tours for both groups and individuals that can be customised to meet specific requirements on themes such as art, history, music and much more.

Elisabetta was born in the Città Alta and lived there for 30 years before moving down the hill to the Città Bassa below. Every single street and fountain and many of the current inhabitants are familiar to her and she will soon make you feel as though you belong there yourself.
The 12th century Palazzo della Ragione

She can tell anecdotes, both humorous and poignant, about the history of this beautiful city and reveal the secrets that lie beneath the ancient stones with which it was built.

Elisabetta says: ‘Bergamo is a casket of wonderful works of art and was the home of famous figures such as Pope John XXIII and Gaetano Donizetti. It is a city that always surprises visitors, thanks to its unusual traits.’ 

Elisabetta is an accredited and experienced tour guide and an accomplished linguist who can lead guided tours in Italian, English, German and French. For Spanish, Russian and Japanese visitors, Elisabetta uses the services of mother tongue speakers who act as translators for her.

If you want to find out the secrets of Bergamo’s captivating Città Alta, contact Elisabetta to arrange a guided tour by visiting www.acrossbergamo.com. 

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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Riccardo Cassin – mountaineer

The long life of partisan who was fascinated by Lecco's mountains

Climber and war hero Riccardo Cassin, who lived for most of his life in Lecco, was born on this day in 1909.

Despite his daring mountain ascents and his brave conduct against the Germans during World War II, he was to live past the age of 100.
Riccardo Cassin

By the age of four, Cassin had lost his father, who was killed in a mining accident in Canada. He left school when he was 12 to work for a blacksmith, but moved to Lecco when he was 17 to work at a steel plant.

Cassin was to become fascinated by the mountains that tower over Lago di Lecco and Lago di Como and started climbing with a group known as the Spiders of Lecco, Ragni di Lecco.

Lago di Lecco is the south eastern branch of Lago di Como. The Bergamo Alps rise to the north and east of the lake.

In 1934 he made his first ascent of the smallest of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. The following year, after repeating another climber’s route on the north west face of the Civetta, he climbed the south eastern ridge of the Trieste Tower and established a new route on the north face of Cima Ovest di Lavaredo.

In 1937 Cassin made his first climb on the granite of the Western Alps . Over the course of three days he made the first ascent of the north east face of Piz Badile in the Val Bregaglia in Switzerland. Two of the climbers accompanying him died of exhaustion and exposure on the descent.

This is known today as the Cassin Route, or Via Cassin, and he confirmed his mountaineering prowess by climbing the route again at the age of 78.

His most celebrated first ascent was the Walker Spur on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses in the Mont Blanc massif in 1938, which was universally acknowledged as the toughest Alpine challenge. Even though Cassin knew little about the area before going there he reached the summit and made a successful descent during a violent storm.

Cassin made a total of 2,500 ascents, of which more than 100 were first ascents.
Mountains tower over Lago di Lecco

During World War II, Cassin fought on the side of the Italian partisans against the Germans. In 1945, along with another partisan, he attempted to stop a group of Germans escaping along an alpine pass into Germany. His comrade was shot dead by them but Cassin survived and was later decorated for his heroic actions.

Cassin was supposed to have been part of the Italian expedition that made the first ascent of K2 in the Karakoram, having sketched the route and done all the organisation.  But the expedition leader left him out after sending Cassin for a medical examination in Rome, where he was told he had cardiac problems.

Cassin believed the expedition leader had felt threatened by his experience and from then on  he organised and led expeditions himself, such as the first ascent of Gasherbrum IV in the Karakorum range and an ascent of Jirishanca in the Andes.

In 1961 he led a successful ascent of Mount McKinley in Alaska. The ridge was later named Cassin Ridge in his honour and he received a telegram of congratulations from President Kennedy.

Cassin began designing and producing mountaineering equipment in the 1940s and formed a limited company in 1967. In 1997 the CAMP company bought the Cassin trademark from him.

Cassin wrote two books about climbing and received two honours from the Italian Republic. He became Grand’Ufficiale dell Ordine al merito in 1980 and Cavaliere di Gran Croce Ordine al merito in 1999.

The book, Riccardo Cassin: Cento volti di un grande alpinista, was produced for his 100th birthday, containing 100 testimonials from people who had been associated with him, including President Kennedy.

Cassin died in August 2009, more than seven months after celebrating his 100th birthday, at his home in Piano dei Resinelli, Lecco.

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Christmas in Bergamo

Natale adds extra sparkle to Lombardy’s hidden gem

The beautiful city of Bergamo has now become even more magical, adorned with thousands of twinkling lights, colourfully decorated Christmas trees and lovingly recreated nativity scenes, known in Italian as presepi.

Christmas tree lights up a corner of Piazza Vecchia
On Christmas Evela Vigilia di Natale, it was warm and sunny with a clear blue sky while people completed their Christmas shopping, with most of the shops open for business, even though it was a Sunday.

Hundreds of people dressed as Santa Claus - Babbo Natale to Italians - competed in a fun run for charity, Babbo Running, handily finishing on Via Sentierone in the Città Bassa, so they could go into the bars still in costume for a refreshing drink afterwards, adding to the festive atmosphere.

Babbo Running finishes in Bergamo's lower town
The night before Christmas, the buses and the funicular railway were running until late, making it possible to go up to the Città Alta to dine out.

Restaurants were open on both Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day, Natale, but were all filled to capacity, so it is well worth booking in advance, by either email or telephone, to make sure you get a table at your favourite.

There were Christmas concerts in many of the churches and more informal festive entertainment put on in some of the bars.

The talented Maysingers perform in the Tucans
 Pub in Via Donizetti
Some shops and bars were open on Christmas Day in the morning but there was no public transport running. Thankfully the day dawned bright and clear, with warm sunshine, making the walk up to the Città Alta enjoyable.

Many shops and businesses in the city had followed the custom of leaving a seat outside for Santa, adding to the festive atmosphere.

The shops were all filled with seasonal goodies, such as the traditional Panettone and Pan d’Oro and also torrone, a type of nougat made in Cremona, which is a traditional gift to take when visiting friends on Christmas morning. Negozio Sperlari in Via Solferino, in nearby Cremona, has become famous for making torrone. The concoction of almonds, honey and egg whites was created in the city to mark the marriage of Bianca Maria Visconti to Francesco Sforza in 1441, when Cremona was given to the bride as part of her dowry.

In one supermarket in Bergamo’s Città Bassa, a special offer enabled customers to buy a bottle of Aperol, a bottle of Prosecco and a very large bag of crisps, patatine, for just 10 euros,the makings of a very merry Christmas!

Supermarket special offer

Editor’s note: ‘Particular praise should go to the restaurant Il Sole in Via Colleoni just off Piazza Vecchia in the Città Alta. The restaurant was full for Christmas lunch and offered a very good à la carte menu. The courses were served promptly and all the dishes we ordered were hot and delicious. The staff were cheerful and attentive. It was a lovely convivial atmosphere and I would recommend the restaurant to anyone wishing to enjoy a good Christmas lunch in Bergamo’s Città Alta next year.’

For more information visit www.ilsolebergamo.com

Buon Natale e Buon Anno from Best of Bergamo !

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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Novelist trained as chef in San Pellegrino Terme

Novelist Sandrone Dazieri attended a
catering college in San Pellegrino Terme
Sandrone Dazieri, the best-selling author who celebrates his 53rd birthday today, has a connection with the Bergamo area.

Before fulfilling his ambition to write fiction – he is the author of more than 12 crime thrillers – Dazieri spent 10 years working as a chef, having trained in San Pellegrino Terme.

The town in Val Brembana has long tradition of educating chefs and hotel management staff, being home to a vocational institute for hotelier and catering services.

Born in Cremona, Dazieri worked in locations all over Italy as he pursued his career in cooking, but as an enthusiastic reader of gialli – the word Italians use to describe crime novels on account of their traditional yellow covers – he had ambitions to write and eventually decided to move to Milan in the hope of finding work in the publishing business or journalism.

After working as a proofreader and writing about his favourite genre fiction for the newspaper Il Manifesto, he had his first success as a novelist with Attenti al GorillaBeware of the Gorilla – which introduced readers to a complex character, based on himself and even named Sandrone, with two personalities who solves crimes and tackles injustices.

The book spawned a series featuring the same character that not only gained Dazieri enormous popularity among Italian readers but helped him get work as a screenwriter, especially in the area of TV crime dramas.

He was for several years a contributing writer to the hugely popular Canale 5 series Squadra Antimafia.

Now, for the first time, Dazieri has moved into the English language market with Kill the Father, published by Simon & Schuster in London in January 2017.

Already a top-selling title in Italy, the dark crime thriller received such good reviews in the literary sections of English newspapers and magazines that it made the Sunday Times best-sellers list.

The novel features new characters in Colomba Caselli, the chief of the Rome police’s major crimes unit, and Dante Torre, a man who spent 10 years of his childhood imprisoned by a masked kidnapper and is called in to help Caselli solve a crime with all the hallmarks of the one committed by his own captor.

A second in a planned series featuring the same lead characters, entitled Kill the Angel, is due to be published in English next year.

San Pellegrino Terme is well known as the home of the mineral waters bearing the name of the town.

It was a fashionable spa town in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a favourite haunt with wealthy industrialists from Bergamo.  Some wonderful Liberty-style architecture remains as a legacy, in the shape of the San Pellegrino Thermal Baths, the Municipal Casino and the Grand Hotel.

The Grand Hotel in San Pellegrino Terme opened in  1904 with 250 luxury guest rooms
The Grand Hotel in San Pellegrino Terme opened in
1904 with 250 luxury guest rooms
The resort’s popularity declined somewhat in the mid-20th century.  The Grand Hotel, an extraordinary building of 162 metres (177 yards) in length on the left bank of the Bremba river, rises to seven storeys high and has 250 guest rooms.

Designed by Milanese architect Romolo Squadrelli and opened in 1904, it once boasted a guest register – now preserved in a San Pellegrino library – that included such names as Queen Margherita of Savoy and other members of the Italian royal family, the composer Pietro Mascagni, General Luigi Cadorna, Nobel Prize winners Eugenio Montale and Salvatore Quasimodo, relatives of King Faruk of Egypt, the film director Federico Fellini, opera singer Mario del Monaco and players from the ‘Grande Inter’ team that dominated Italian football in the 1960s.

Sadly, as business fell away, the hotel could not maintain the standards of luxury demanded to keep its five-star status and it closed in 1979.  It is such a magnificent building, however, that it is hoped that individuals or organisations will come forward to restore it.

This has already happened, to a degree with the equally impressive Municipal Casino on the opposite bank from the Grand Hotel and also designed by Squadrelli, which has not operated as a gambling establishment since 1946 but which now hosts cultural and theatrical events, as well as meetings, congresses, wedding receptions, social dinners, gala evenings, fashion shows, corporate conventions and exhibitions.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Hail the brilliant new Atalanta!

By Jeremy Culley

Wayne Rooney
'His Majesty' Wayne Rooney
‘His Majesty Wayne Rooney had to run into the Nerazzure mouths of a hungry goddess, who makes a morsel of the soft Toffees of Liverpool’ was the triumphant declaration from the iconic Italian daily Gazzetta dello Sport.

English audiences unsure what to expect as Everton travelled to Italy last night will be under no illusions now, after Rooney and co were so convincingly thumped.

This was the final stage of the rebirth of Atalanta, the Bergamo club making their first foray into European competition since 1991.

The club will be familiar to British fans hooked by Football Italia on Channel 4 in the 90s and noughties, but few would associate it with anything remotely resembling success.

They have perennially been little more than fodder to be brushed aside by the likes of Juventus, Roma, AC Milan and Internazionale.

So this renaissance of ‘La Dea’, or ‘the Goddess’, a nickname stemming from the club being named after the Greek huntress, has something almost mythological about it.

Not least on Thursday as their fans had to traipse 120 miles south to Reggio Emilia to take in the historic occasion, while the ageing Stadio Atleti d’Azzurri Italia in Bergamo is refurbished to meet UEFA regulations.

Being forced into unfamiliar surroundings would surely be a leveller for Everton to seize upon against the Italian upstarts?


The thousands who travelled turned the temporary home into a cauldron, Atalanta’s fans oozing the optimism and confidence generated last season when the Bergamaschi defied expectations by finishing fourth in Serie A to qualify for the Europa League.

They symbolically finished ahead of both neighbouring Milanese giants, so often having watched their illustrious rivals Inter and Milan hog the limelight.

In 1991, appropriately enough it was Inter who defeated Atalanta 2-0 at the UEFA Cup’s quarter-final stage, sentencing them to a quarter of a century in the European footballing wilderness.

Gian Piero Gasperini, the head coach of Atalanta
Gian Piero Gasperini, the head
coach of Atalanta
How sweet the Peroni must have tasted in the bars of the Città Alta last night, and back in May when Atalanta finished nine points ahead of Milan and 10 clear of Inter.

Everton were dreadful, their manager Ronald Koeman withering of his players’ efforts, yet their colossal £130m summer spending spree, notwithstanding the free transfer of Rooney, dwarfs the modest outlay spent on the Atalanta revolution.

Andrea Petagna, the pacy scourge of Everton last night, was plucked from AC Milan at a bargain price after spells on loan in Serie B.

Marten de Roon, a £12m Middlesbrough buy ahead of last year’s Premier League season, flopped on Teesside and returned to Bergamo.

And Andreas Cornelius, Cardiff City’s record £7.5m buy in their maiden season in the top flight, was a disaster of such epic proportions in south Wales he left after just six months.

All three, especially the wonderful, electric Petagna, are now integral to Gian Piero Gasperini’s side, which continues to confound doubters.

Gasperini himself, a journeyman manager now at 59, has a somewhat chequered record.

Marten de Roon was a flop in England with Middlesbrough
Marten de Roon was a flop in England
with Middlesbrough
Success with Crotone and Genoa earned him the opportunity to revive the fortunes of Atalanta’s neighbours Inter.

He took the helm just over a year on from José Mourinho’s Champions League triumph in 2010, after which a poor period under Rafa Benitez had led to a decline in fortunes.

Gasperini fared disastrously in trying to arrest the slide and was sacked after just five matches in charge, losing four of them.

Rather aptly, the Italian media routinely referred to him as ‘Gasp’ in headlines, such was the panic that seemed to be engulfing San Siro.

It left Gasperini with a career to resurrect, his stock having taken a pounding, and the recent success of Atalanta is as much a story of his revival as it is the club’s. 

The giants of Inter, Roma and Napoli departed Bergamo empty-handed last season as Atalanta surged to six straight wins in October and November.

All season, defeats were rare, with AC Milan and Juventus also unable to claim victory at the intimidating Atleti d’Azzurri.

The Argentine winger Alejandro Gomez, another astute purchase, from the Ukrainians Metalist Kharkiv, was the star, bagging 16 goals and earning a maiden cap for his country in the process.

Much-needed improvements to Atalanta’s home ground are now on the agenda, after the club bought the stadium – still quite a rarity in Italy – from the local council.
Andrea Petagna was the scourge of Everton
Andrea Petagna was
the scourge of Everton
Such upbeat signs are a far cry from seven years ago.

As Inter celebrated Champions League glory, their neighbours in Bergamo were relegated to Serie B, suffering two heavy defeats to their rivals at San Siro before Napoli nailed the coffin lid shut with a 2-0 win on the penultimate weekend.

It was a third relegation in seven years, with real fears voiced for the club’s future, both financially and on the pitch.

But an immediate promotion and successive seasons of survival have shored up the club, with Atalanta heavy reliant on bargain buys and academy graduates to be competitive.

The superb Petagna might not strictly be an Atalanta product but it is they who have catapulted him into the limelight.

He follows an illustrious line of players to have blossomed in Bergamo, with Filippo Inzaghi, Christian Vieri, Paolo Montero and Roberto Donadoni among a star-studded list.

The sale of these stars has always been a necessary evil to keep the club afloat.

Such prudence explains why the Bergamaschi have endured such a long wait for silverware; the 1963 Coppa Italia triumph remains Atalanta’s solitary major trophy.

But perhaps now – possibly even through the Europa League – the wait for a trophy may end.

Certainly the only ‘gasps’ from watching pundits now are in admiration for the job Gian Piero is doing in Bergamo.

‘The Toffees of Liverpool’ are merely one of many teams to come unstuck against the new, brilliant Atalanta.

See Best of Bergamo’s updated Flights Guide
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