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.


Seeing in the New Year in Bergamo

Piazza Vecchia

Corks will be popping and the bars will be busy as local residents and visitors see in the New Year in Bergamo.
Piazza Vecchia in the Città Alta (upper town) and Via Sentierone at the heart of the Città Bassa (lower town) will be thronged with revellers just before midnight.
Il Presidente della Repubblica Giorgio Napolitane will deliver a New Year message from the Quirinale in Rome, which will be shown on most of the Italian television channels at 20.30.
This will be followed by a live programme of pop and entertainment to see in the New Year on Rai Uno, transmitted from a square in Rimini in Emilia Romagna.
New Year’s Eve is known as la Festa di San Silvestro in Italy and families and friends all get together for a special dinner.
There are midnight fireworks displays in many city squares as well as at private parties. An old custom that is still followed in some parts of Italy is throwing your old things out of the window to symbolise your readiness to accept the New Year.
Buon Anno from Best of Bergamo.


Chestnuts Bergamo style

Castagne Bergamasche

Chestnuts are plentiful at Christmas
If you have some chestnuts left over after making the Christmas vegetable dishes and stuffings, why not try out a simple way of cooking them from Bergamo.
There are lots of chestnut trees in the countryside round Bergamo, many growing wild. After the nuts are harvested they are often roasted on bonfires before being used to make delicious soups, tarts and cakes.
But this is a quick and easy dish you can make in your own home.
Roast your chestnuts on a baking tray in a hot oven, first using a sharp knife to make a cross in the flat side.
Quickly peel them while they are still hot.
Toss them in a dry frying pan over a high heat without using any butter or oil.
Remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle the chestnuts with Grappa and sugar.
Mix and then flambé them. The heated spirit will light with a match.
Eat the chestnuts as soon as the flames disappear.
For a kilo of hot, roasted chestnuts you will need about 70 mls of Grappa and three tablespoons of caster sugar.


Celebrating Christmas in Bergamo

Traditionally packaged festive panettone

Christmas is very much a family feast in Bergamo , just as in the rest of Italy and many other parts of the world.
After la Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve), when traditionally a fish meal is consumed and the adults go to midnight mass, Natale (Christmas Day) is a time for feasting.
While the children open their presents, the adults savour a glass of good Prosecco or uncork a special vintage bottle while they prepare the festive table.
Friends and relatives who drop in with presents or to exchange good wishes will be offered nuts, biscuits and torrone (nougat from Cremona).
Antipasti is likely to include Parma ham or bresaola, served with preserved mushrooms, olives or pickled vegetables.
Stuffed pasta is usually served as a first course, often in the shape of ravioli or tortellini, which are said to have been offered as Christmas gifts to priests and monks during the 12th century.
For the main course, turkey or capon is likely to be served in the Lombardia region, with potatoes and vegetables as side dishes.
The traditional end to the meal is almost always panettone, served warm accompanied by a glass of sparkling wine.
Panettone is said to have been concoted by a Milanese baker, Antonio (Toni), to impress his girlfriend at Christmas time in the 15th century. The result was so successful that ‘Pane de Toni’ has become a regular feature of the Christmas season all over Italy and now even abroad.
The feasting and family parties continue on 26 December, the Festa di Santo Stefano (Boxing Day).
Buon Natale from Best of Bergamo, Buon Appetito e Salute!


Christmas shopping in Bergamo

Christmas treats on display
Bergamo is a great location to choose for a pre-Christmas break as there is a wide range of shops and you can go home with some interesting presents.
In the Città Bassa (lower town) there are large department stores as well as specialist shops, while in the Città Alta (upper town) there are plenty of individual shops selling unique items.
Traditional Italian Christmas delicacies make good presents, such as panettone and pan d’oro (Christmas cakes) in their elegant cardboard boxes. There are also torrone, a type of nougat that is a speciality from nearby Cremona, the rich flat fruit cake panforte di Siena, and many types of biscuits that are specialities from different parts of Italy .
A good place to look for presents is the Paneficio in Porta Nuova in the Città Bassa, which is well stocked with cakes, biscuits and chocolates from all over Italy ,
For wine, marinated vegetables, oils and vinegars look in the Billa supermarket on the lower floor of Oviesse in Via Gerolamo Tiraboschi near Porta Nuova.
In the Città Alta there are interesting food and wine shops in both Via Gombito and Via Colleoni where you will see a tempting array of cakes, biscuits, wine and fresh pasta to take home with you.
There are also some small fashion shops where you may find unusual Italian knitwear and leather goods.
Books and calendars always make good Christmas presents and there are shops selling them in Via Colleoni and Piazza Vecchia in the Città Alta and in Via XX Settembre in the Città Bassa.
Towards the end of the day, when shopping gets too much for you, visit one of the bars advertising ‘happy hour’, where for the price of a glass of wine you will also be able to sample the sandwiches, pastries, pizza and pasta from the buffet, which tends to be set up at around five pm. Salute e Buon Appetito!


San Spasimo in the heart of shopping district

Via XX Settembre. San Spasimo is
halfway down, on the left

A pre-Christmas tradition for children in Bergamo is to visit the Church of San Spasimo in the Città Bassa (lower town) with letters saying what they would like to receive for Christmas.
The Church of San Spasimo is appropriately in Via XX Settembre, at the hub of the shopping area.
It is also known locally as the church of Santa Lucia because on 13 December, the saint’s feast day, the children lay their letters at the foot of the saint’s altar with their Christmas wish lists.
According to tradition, Santa Lucia comes down from the sky with a cart and a donkey and distributes the gifts to all the children who have been good, while all the naughty children receive only a piece of coal.


Crack open the Chiaretto Spumante!

When buying in the bubbly for Christmas, consider wowing your guests with a bottle of sophisticated Chiaretto Spumante.
I can recommend the sparkling version of the very quaffable Bardolino Chiaretto Classico, which is made in the area around Lake Garda, not far from Bergamo. 
You can bring some home if you are visiting Bergamo before Christmas, or order some online. The Villabella Chiaretto di Bardolino pictured here is available in the UK from slurp.co.uk.
Its delicate coral pink tone makes Chiaretto Spumante a perfect festive tipple. It has all the fruitiness of a classic Bardolino, with a hint of raspberries and blackberries, combined with a subtle spice all of its own.
Chiaretto Spumante is made from Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes, which have been grown in the ideal climate of the shores of Lake Garda, about an hour away from Bergamo .
Bardolino wine producers are noticing an increase in popularity for their Chiaretto labels. They export 70 per cent of all the wine they produce, the main buyers being Germany, France, the UK, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, the US and Japan.
Try Chiaretto Spumante as a classy alternative to Buck’s Fizz or Cranberry Fizz on Christmas Day.
For more information about Bardolino wines visit www.ilbardolino.com.


Bergamo celebrates start of Christmas

Decorated trees abound
 in Italy at Christmas
Today is a public holiday in Bergamo when banks and offices will be closed, special masses will take place in the churches and people will celebrate the beginning of Christmas.
Il giorno dell’immacolata concezione (the day of the immaculate conception) has been celebrated for centuries on 8 December in Italy.
It is an official festa (feast day) when the immaculate conception of Jesus is celebrated in the Christian calendar. It also marks the start of the Christmas season when the lights and trimmings start to go up.
Although the banks and public offices are closed, all the shops in Bergamo will be open as usual and probably doing an even brisker trade, with many people not at work taking the opportunity to do some Christmas shopping.
As in many other countries across the world, Christmas shopping actually starts much earlier than 8 December in Italy, with Christmas trees, lights and decorations going up during November.
Via XX Settembre in Bergamo’s Citta Bassa (lower town), which is known as ‘the shopping street’ locally, will be thronged with activity until Christmas Eve.

Buona Festa!


Bergamo painter Moroni made his subjects come alive

Moroni's work is on display in the Palazzo della Ragione
One of the most celebrated 16th century Italian portrait painters, Giovan Battista Moroni, was born at Albino just outside Bergamo.
Moroni is renowned for the vitality and realism of his portraits, for which he was once praised by Titian.
Although some of his work is in international galleries and some is in private collections, it is possible to see examples of Moroni’s work in Bergamo.
The exact year of his birth is uncertain, but it is believed to have been somewhere between 1510 and 1522.
He began his artistic training in the mid 1530s under a religious painter from Brescia, Alessandro Bonvicino.
Moroni’s legacy of portraits shows the way society evolved in Bergamo in the 16th century as he received commissions both from noblemen and wealthy, middle class merchants.
The Accademia Carrara in Bergamo has some fine examples of Moroni’s portraits in its vast collection. Although it is currently closed for restoration, you can see some of Moroni’s work in the exhibition currently being held in the Palazzo della Ragione in the Piazza Vecchia in Bergamo’s Città Alta (upper town).
della Croce
Moroni also painted religious subjects and while he was working in Trento towards the end of his life was the first painter to reflect aspects of the Reformation in his work.
One of his finest religious works, the Coronation of the Virgin, can be seen in the church of Sant’Alessandro della Croce in Via Pignolo in Bergamo’s Città Bassa (lower town).
Moroni was in the middle of painting a Last Judgment for the church at Gorlago near Bergamo when he died on 5 February, 1578.


Visit the nativity scenes in Bergamo churches

A window display of presepio figures
From early December, churches in Bergamo will have their presepio (nativity scene) on display.
The tradition of recreating the birth of Jesus with a presepio dates back to the 13th century in Italy. Many families will also have a presepio in their homes and you will see shops selling either a complete presepio -- or figures and materials so that you can make your own -- in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
An interesting trip from Bergamo is a visit to the Museo del Presepio at Brembo di Dalmine to the south of the city.
Founded 35 years ago, the museum in Via XXV Aprile has more than 800 different nativity scenes in a variety of shapes and sizes from all over the world on display.
There are many examples from the 17th century, which was considered a golden age for the production of the presepio in Italy .
There is also a library of books, stamps, pictures, postcards and photographs depicting the presepio.
The museum is open every day between December and January from 14.00 to 18.00 and on Sundays from 9.00 till 12.00 and from 14.00 till 19.00. During the other months it is open from Thursday to Sunday only.
The Museo del Presepio is situated not far from the A4 autostrada to Milan , which you should leave at the Casello Dalmine exit.
For information about buses to Brembo di Dalmine visit www.bergamotrasporti.it.
Look out for shops selling figures to enable you to make your own presepio when you get home.
One of the most famous places for production is Naples, where there is an entire street in the centro storico, Via San Gregorio Armeno, lined with shops that sell figures and props for the presepio all year round.
Producers have now even branched out into making figures of celebrities, sportsmen and politicians to place in the presepio along with the traditional characters, so don’t be surprised if you see a Barack Obama or a Silvio Berlusconi among the shepherds.

Language point

Presepio or presepe

You will see the words presepio and presepe both used to refer to a nativity scene in Italy. The words both literally mean ‘crib’.


Lunch by the lake at Sirmione

Sirmione's Rocca Scaligera
A good day out from Bergamo in the run up to Christmas would be a trip to Sirmione, a resort on Lake Garda where there are plenty of shopping opportunities, ranging from market stalls to high class fashion boutiques.
Sirmione lies in a dramatic setting on a narrow, four kilometre peninsula reaching out into the lake. It has a medieval centre full of interesting things to see and is well served by bars and restaurants
You could treat yourself to lunch at the elegant Ristorante Risorgimento in Piazza Carducci in the heart of the historic centre.
The restaurant was established in Sirmione’s salottino (little drawing room) near the lake more than 100 years ago and continues to offer good hospitality, food and wine.
Ristorante Risorgimento specialises in seafood and flambé dishes and serves bread and dolce (desserts) made on the premises.
The restaurant claims to have carefully selected each of the 700 quality labels offered on its wine list. It would be a good place to try Lugana, a light, dry white wine, and Bardolino, a soft, fruity red wine, as they are both produced by vineyards in the area.
Ristorante Risorgimento is open every day except Tuesday. Visit www.risorgimento-sirmione.com for more information.
The views of Lake Garda from Sirmione have inspired many writers over the centuries, from Roman poet Catullus, to Ezra Pound and James Joyce in the 20th century, who once met up in the resort.
Sirmione’s castle, la Rocca Scaligera, was built by a powerful family from Verona in the 13th century and Italian poet Dante is said to have once spent the night there. It is well worth a visit for the views of the lake from the battlements.
You can also look round the ruins of the Roman villa, built in the first century BC, that you will see perched on a rocky promontory. Although they are known as Le Grotte di Catullo, it is by no means certain Catullus ever lived there, although he is believed to have spent part of his life in Sirmione and singled out the resort for special praise from ‘…all peninsulas and isles, that in our lakes of silver lie…’
Opera singer Maria Callas also appreciated Sirmione, choosing to live for nine years in a secluded villa there.
To reach Sirmione from Bergamo by train, travel to Brescia and catch the Milan to Venice express, getting off at Desenzano del Garda-Sirmione station. It takes about an hour to reach Sirmione from Bergamo by car via the A4 Autostrada.



The day beautiful music was born in Bergamo

A portrait housed at
 the Donizetti Museum
Composer Gaetano Donizetti was born 213 years ago today in Via Borgo Canale, a few metres outside the walls of Bergamo’s Città Alta (upper town).
A prolific composer of operas in the early part of the 19th century, Donizetti was a major influence on Verdi, Puccini and other Italian composers who came after him.
Visitors to Bergamo can see the place where Donizetti was born on 29 November 1797, marked by a plaque at number 14 in the middle of a row of characteristic tall houses.
Leave the Città Alta through Porta Sant’Alessandro and go past the station for the San Vigilio funicolare. You will find Via Borgo Canale is the next street on the right.
Donizetti was the fifth of six children born to a textile worker and his wife. He once wrote about his birthplace: “…I was born underground in Borgo Canale. One descended the stairs to the basement, where no ray of sunlight had ever been seen. And like an owl I flew forth…”
The house is open to the public at weekends only. Check the opening times with the Tourist Information Office in Via Gombito.
Donizetti developed a love for music and despite the poverty of his family benefited from early tuition in Bergamo. He went on to compose some of the greatest lyrical operas of all time such as Lucia di Lammermoor and L’Elisir d’Amore.
After a magnificent career Donizetti returned to Bergamo and died in 1843 in the Palazzo Scotti, where he was living as a guest, in the street now named Via Donizetti in the Città Alta.
Via Borgo Canale
There is a museum dedicated to his life and career in the Città Alta, housed in the former Palazzo Misericordia Maggiore in Via Arena.
Donizetti’s tomb is in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Piazza Duomo in the Città Alta.
A monument dedicated to him was erected in Bergamo in 1897 - 100 years after his birth - near Teatro Donizetti in Via Sentierone in the Città Bassa (lower town).



Bergamo Bassa church ceremony attended by future pope

Santa Maria Immacolata delle Grazie

A landmark of Bergamo's Città Bassa (lower town) is the impressive church of Santa Maria Immacolata delle Grazie in Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII.
The huge church on the corner of Porta Nuova has a 19th century green cupola topped with a golden statue with an early 20th century campanile next to it.
But the origins of the church date back to 1422 when a convent was built on the site dedicated to Santa Maria delle Grazie.
The beautiful cloisters have been preserved within the church buildings although the convent itself was suppressed at the beginning of the 19th century.
The neoclassical design for the new church was created between 1855 and 1857 by architect Antonio Preda and the first stone was laid on 1 May 1857 by the bishop at the time, Monsignore Pierluigi Speranza.
On 7 December 1907 the main altar was consecrated in the presence of the then bishop Giacomo Maria Radini Tedeschi, who was accompanied by his 26-year-old secretary Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, a native of Bergamo and the future Pope John XXIII.