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.


Taste the best wines in historic setting

Vineria Cozzi's well-stocked bar
If you want to try a traditional Bergamo wine bar visit the Vineria Cozzi on the Via Colleoni in the Città Alta (upper town.)
Behind the red door it is a paradise for wine lovers and there is also a restaurant and courtyard with tables, offering a lunch and dinner menu that provides the opportunity to taste local delicacies. 

Tasty snacks accompany your wine
Vineria Cozzi, the well-stocked bar of which is pictured above, has been a meeting place for Bergamo people since 1848 and still has its original furniture. But the selection of wines in the cellar is renewed constantly and the dishes on offer change regularly to enable the bar to keep tempting both its regular customers and visitors to Bergamo.
Although all the great traditional Italian wines, such as Amarone, Barolo and Chianti are represented on the wine list, you can also sample wines produced in Lombardia and the rest of Italy that are perhaps less known, but are among the best available at any given time. Even if you order only a glass of wine, you will be offered a small portion of a tempting dish free of charge to accompany it. The examples illustrated here - polenta with parmesan crisp, polenta with herbs and anchovies and a vegetable mousse - are typical.
The owners of Vineria Cozzi take pride in offering clients only the wine and food that they believe in themselves, at a fair price that has not been inflated by reputation. They encourage customers to browse among the shelves and choose their own wine.
The Vineria Cozzi can be found at Number 22 Via Colleoni. It is on the right hand side of the street as you walk down from Piazza Mascheroni in the direction of Piazza Vecchia. It is open every day except Wednesday.

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Italy’s answer to the Champagne region

A typical Franciacorta
Many restaurants in Bergamo and the other small towns in the area offer reasonably priced Franciacorta wines on their menus.
These are well worth trying as they are produced in a small part of Lombardia that has achieved worldwide prestige and is now often compared to the Champagne region in France.
The Franciacorta wine growing region lies among the hills between Brescia and Lago Iseo.
It is believed that the name Franciacorta derives from the Italian words for French court, or free court, and dates back to the time when the area was dominated by Charlemagne.
Wealthy families built castles and villas and planted vineyards on the fertile land, which eventually started to produce excellent wine.
It is possible to tour the Franciacorta area and visit the vineyards that make the best, sparkling, Franciacorta wine that is considered to be Italy’s answer to champagne.
The winemakers use il metodo classico (classical method) and label their wines according to their sugar content as do the French.
Terre del Franciacorta Bianco is a pleasantly fruity, still white wine made from a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot grapes and is best drunk young.
Terre di Franciacorta Rosso is made from a blend of Cabernet, Barbera, Nebbiolo and Merlot grapes.
You will pay a lot less to try the wines while in the Bergamo area than connoisseurs outside Italy pay for cases of the wine to be delivered to them. So while in Lombardia, make sure you raise a glass of Terre di Franciacorta wine. Salute!



Where to stay in the Città Alta

Piazza Vecchia in Città Alta

There are only four hotels in Bergamo’s Città Alta (upper town) but they are all in stunning locations.
Just off the Piazza Vecchia (pictured above), at the corner of the Via Colleoni and the Via Rivola is the Albergo Ristorante Il Sole. Furnished in traditional style with a pleasant garden, it has ten rooms available for booking. It has the benefit of an excellent restaurant on the ground floor. Visit www.ilsolebergamo.com for more details.
Further up the Via Colleoni, on the right hand side, is the Hotel Piazza Vecchia, located in a 13th century house. Although the hotel has retained some of the building’s original features and wooden beams, the rooms are furnished in a contemporary style with smart bathrooms. Visit www.hotelpiazzavecchia.it to view their photo gallery or book on line here.
At the top of the Via Colleoni in Piazza Macheroni is the Hotel San Lorenzo. It is in a handy location near the Colle Aperto and some of the rooms have balconies and views of the mountains. Visit www.hotelsanlorenzobg.it to find out more or book on line here.
In the Via Gombito, a short walk from the funicular to the lower town, is the Agnello d’Oro hotel, which is in a 17th century building. Some of the rooms have balconies looking out on to a square. It also has a popular restaurant. Visit www.agnellodoro.it to view the hotel’s photo gallery.
Location is everything with all four of these hotels as they give the visitor the chance to experience living in the unique atmosphere of the Città Alta.

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Bergamo birthplace of beautiful music

A famous son of Bergamo is Gaetano Donizetti, a prolific composer of operas in the early part of the 19th century, who is believed to have been a major influence on Verdi, Puccini and other Italian composers who followed him.

You can visit the place where Donizetti was born in Borgo Canale, in the middle of a row of characteristic, tall houses, just outside the walls of the Città Alta (upper town.) Leave the city through the Porta S. Alessandra and go past the San Vigilio funicolare to reach the street.
Donizetti was the fifth of six children born to a textile worker and his wife on 29 November 1797 .
Donizetti himself 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…”
From his humble beginnings he developed a love for music and went on to compose some of the most lyrical operas of all time, such as Lucia di Lammermoor and L’Elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love), which are still regularly performed today.
Perhaps his most famous aria, from L’Elisir d’Amore, is Una Furtiva Lagrima (A secret tear.) This was a favourite of the late, great Luciano Pavarotti and is regularly performed and recorded on the CDs of other tenors.
One of the most beautiful versions I have heard recently is by Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon, who has become well-known to television viewers through his appearances on ITV’s Popstar to Opera Star. He includes it on his albums, Viva Villazon and Rolando Villazon Tenor.
After a magnificent career, Donizetti returned to Bergamo and died in 1843 in the baroque Palazzo Scotti, where he was living as a guest, in the street now named Via Donizetti in the Città Alta.
There is a museum dedicated to his life and career in the former Palazzo Misericordia Maggiore in Via Arena. His tomb is in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Piazza Duomo.
There is also a monument dedicated to him near the Teatro Donizetti in the Città Bassa (lower town.)

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Make your own Polenta Taragna

Try this recipe for polenta taragna, a Bergamo speciality, taken from the Accademia Italiana della Cucina (Academy of Italian Cookery).
Polenta is a light, fluffy alternative to potato and the addition of the butter and  cheese gives this variety a rich, creamy consistency and a wonderful flavour.
For four people:
300 gr buckwheat flour
80 gr corn meal
1.5 litres water
80 gr butter
225 gr Taleggio cheese
Mix the buckwheat flour with the corn meal. Bring the water to the boil in a saucepan, add a pinch of salt and pour in the buckwheat flour and corn meal.  Cook for at least one hour, stirring all the time.
Cut the butter into pieces and the cheese into strips and add to the saucepan. Mix and cook for a further ten minutes. Turn the polenta out into a serving dish or on to a wooden board from which everyone can serve themselves.
Some recipes suggest adding a glass of milk with the butter and cheese and a few sage leaves.
The picture shows the version made by the restaurant Il Sole, a good place to eat just off the Città Alta's famous Piazza Vecchia.
Buon appetito!

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Stylish bar named after legendary poet

One of the oldest and most interesting bars in Bergamo is the Caffè del Tasso in Piazza Vecchia. Situated In the top left-hand corner of the square, near the Palazzo Ragione, the Caffè Tasso dates back to at least 1476.
It was known as the Locanda delle Due Spade (the Two Swords Inn) until 1681 when the statue of the poet Torquato Tasso was erected nearby. The name then changed to Al Torquato Tasso Caffè e Bottiglieria (Torquato Tasso Caffè and Wine Shop). Because of its location the bar has always been an important meeting place and a focal point in Bergamo’s history. In 1849 during the Risorgimento it was hit by an Austrian cannon. In 1859 Bergamo volunteers met there, ready to follow Garibaldi on his famous expedition.
Today, the Caffè Tasso is comfortable and stylish, furnished with antique furniture and many reminders of past visitors in the pictures on the walls, including artists, writers and musicians.
Although the decor has been modernised, it retains its original charm and the Caffè has been run by the Menalli family since the 1980s.
It serves breakfasts, morning coffee, aperitivi, snacks, lunches, cocktails and drinks, both inside and at tables outside in warm weather.

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Popular restaurant in Città Bassa

In a handy location in Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII in the Città Bassa is the restaurant, La Ciotola, a popular place for eating out in Bergamo.
Situated in an arcade just off the main street, it is on the left hand side walking towards Città Alta from the railway station, between Via Paleocapa and Via D’Alzano. In my experience a place for good food at an affordable price, La Ciotola offers a comprehensive menu of well cooked dishes, including local specialities such as gnocchi with fennel in a cream sauce and risotto with truffles in red wine.
For the main course there are fish and chicken dishes, as well as the local speciality of veal with mushrooms and polenta. There is also a comprehensive pizza list.
The wine is reasonably priced, the service is good and the restaurant is clean, smart and has a modern décor. There is free parking for customers off the Via Paleocapa.
La Ciotola, which means 'the bowl' -- presumably filled with something tasty -- is closed all day on Wednesdays and Thursdays at lunchtimes. To book a table, telephone 035 238334

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Don’t bypass the Città Bassa

When you come out of the railway station in Piazza Marconi, or get off the bus from the airport outside the station, you will get your first glimpse of the Città Alta (upper town).
You can look down the long, straight Viale Papa Giovanni XX111 and enjoy a marvellous view of the old town in the hills beyond – 800 metres above sea level.
But don’t be in such a hurry to reach the Città Alta that you miss the best bits of the Città Bassa, which is an elegant town with some magnificent buildings erected in the last half of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century.
Walk down the Viale Papa Giovanni XX111 to the Sentierone (big path) which is flanked by smart cafes and turn to your right to go to see the 18th century Teatro Donizetti and the monument to the composer, erected in 1897 in the centenary year of his birth.
The area is characterised by large imposing buildings and wide pavements and is home to some beautiful architecture, housing banks, restaurants and shops.
On the other side of the road, the large and unusual monument to the partisans in Piazza Matteoti was a gift from the sculptor Giacomo Manzu to his home town in 1997.
Turn to the left and walk through the Porta Nuova and you will find both large department stores and smaller shops in colonnaded streets, well served by restaurants and bars.


A fertile valley producing quality wine

My favourite wine from the Bergamo region is Valcalepio Bianco, a light, dry white wine with a delicate fragrance. It is on the wine lists of many restaurants in Bergamo and the surrounding area and is usually one of the least expensive, which makes it taste even better.
The slight hint of violets lifts it above other Italian dry white wines, but it has to be enjoyed in Bergamo and the surrounding area as you don’t tend to find it in on sale in Britain and further afield.
Valcalepio is produced in the small valley between Bergamo and Lago Iseo. Driving out to Lago Iseo from Bergamo you will see the grapes growing on the vines. The land is fertile and because the climate is mild the conditions are ideal for growing grapes.
Valcalepio Bianco has a straw yellow colour and although it is dry it has a complex scent. It is the perfect wine to complement antipasti and fish dishes.
Valcalepio Rosso is ruby red, tastes dry and soft and has an intense scent. It is placed on sale every year from 1 November after six months’ refinement in wooden casks. It is the perfect accompaniment for red meat dishes, game and polenta and goes well with local cheeses such as Taleggio.
There is also a dessert wine, Valcalepio Moscato Passito, which is one of the few Italian sweet wines made from red grapes. It is ruby red with an orange tinge and has a hint of spice. It is perfect with dolce at the end of a meal. Salute!

Smart hotel in an ideal spot for travellers

In a handy location for visitors who want to do some travelling while in Bergamo is the Hotel Piemontese, opposite the railway station in Piazza Marconi.
The smart, clean hotel with modern decor is a short bus or taxi ride from the airport at Orio al Serio.
Guests can stroll out and get straight on to local buses that leave from outside the railway station or the stops at the beginning of Viale Papa Giovanni XX111. Coaches to the lakes and nearby towns leave from the bus station, which is a short walk away and there are frequent services to Milan, Brescia, Lecco, Cremona and further afield from the railway station opposite.
From the hotel, it is just a short walk to the shops, bars and restaurants of the Città Bassa (lower town).There are frequent buses to the funicular which takes you up to the Città Alta (upper town). Or you can choose to take a bus ride round the walls of the Città Alta to the Colle Aperto stop, next to Porta Sant’Alessandro.
The Piemontese has 55 rooms, served by a lift, all with telephone and satellite television. A generous buffet breakfast is served from 7 am to 10 am in the large breakfast room on the lower ground floor.
There is an internet point in reception and car parking for guests.
You can book here or for more information visit www.hotelpiemontese.com or telephone the hotel on 035 21 26 29.


Touch down and start your holiday

Visitors can reach Bergamo quickly when they land at Milan Bergamo airport, which is situated at Orio al Serio, just five kilometres outside the city.
There are flight links with Bristol, East Midlands, Glasgow, Liverpool, London Stansted and Shannon. There are also services to destinations in Spain, France, Germany, Scandinavia and eastern Europe.
To travel into Bergamo, visitors can take an ATB (Azienda Trasporti Bergamo) bus to the railway station in Bergamo for Euro 1.70. These run from early in the morning until late at night.
Autostradale buses also provide a link with Brescia and Milan.
There are radio-controlled taxis waiting outside Arrivals and a choice of car rental firms based at the airport.
Orio al Serio has ample parking and plenty of amenities for travellers, such as banks, shops, bars and a choice of places to eat.

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A funicular ride into another age

An interesting way to travel to the Citta Alta is on the funicular railway, built 120 years ago, that climbs up from Viale Vittorio Emanuele. You can admire the solid city walls and the view of the Citta Bassa on your way up.
The funicular arrives in Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe and on leaving the station you feel as though you are stepping back in time.
Città Alta alternates narrow, medieval alleyways with bright open spaces and the route along Via Gombito and Via Colleoni, two of the main streets, is a good example of this.
Via Gombito leads to Piazza Vecchia, for centuries the political and administrative heart of Bergamo. It was rebuilt in the fifteenth century and there is a lot to see in this beautiful square, including the fountain in the middle, donated by the Venetian Alvise Contarini and the civic tower and the Palazzo della Ragione at one end, that date back to the twelfth century. At the other end of the square there in the elegant white marble civic library, which was built in the seventeenth century as a new town hall.
Beyond the loggia of the municipal building is another square, Piazza del Duomo, which is bordered by the Cathedral, the Baptistery, the Colleoni Chapel where the famous condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni is entombed, and the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, whose ornate baroque interior houses fourteenth century frescoes, marquetry panels created from drawings by Lorenzo Lotto, Flemish and Florentine tapestries and the tomb of composer Gaetano Donizetti.
The Via Colleoni is lined with shops, bars and restaurants and leads to the Piazza Mascheroni, which was built in the sixteenth century to hold the city’s market. An archway leads into the courtyard of the Cittadella, which takes you out to the Colle Aperto, where there are magnificent views of Citta Bassa below and the hills high above.

Traditional transport link still popular

ATB (Azienda Trasporti Bergamo) operates the funicular, which runs every few minutes, connecting the Citta Alta with the Citta Bassa.
The idea first came about in 1887, to save the Citta Alta from isolation and economic depression. The funicular has been updated several times since, but it remains the most popular means for local people and visitors to reach the upper town from the lower.
To use it, travellers have to buy a ticket and pass it through the machine at the barrier before boarding.
It is possible to buy a 24 hour bus ticket that includes use of the funicular, which is handy for tourists.
For more information, contact ATB Point, Largo Porta Nuova, Bergamo, telephone 035.236.026 or,


A sunny spot in the corner of the square

At the heart of Bergamo’s Città Alta (upper town) lies the Piazza Vecchia, which is sometimes referred to as the most beautiful square in Italy. It is a good place to stop for a drink or a meal as there are plenty of bars and restaurants.
In one corner of the square, at the beginning of Via Bartolomeo Colleoni, is Il Sole, one of my favourite restaurants. Although it looks small from the outside, there are plenty of tables in two large rooms, furnished in traditional style with oil paintings and some interesting, antique cookery implements on display. There is also a large garden for sunny lunches and dining outside on warm evenings.
It is a great place to try traditional Bergamo dishes such as Casonsei alla Bergamasca (stuffed ravioli with bacon and sage) and Polenta Taragna (polenta served with local cheese). Or you could try their Cotoletta alla Milanese (pictured above; a large veal cutlet in breadcrumbs, which is a Milan speciality), or fresh fish. They also offer a comprehensive list of pizze, which are cooked in a wood-fired oven.
Il Sole has an extensive wine list, or you can try the inexpensive house wine, which is served in jugs. The food is reasonably priced and I find it to be consistently good.
To book a table, telephone 035 218 238. The restaurant is closed on Thursdays.
Il Sole is also one of only a few hotels in the Città Alta and it has ten rooms available for booking. Visit www.ilsolebergamo.com for more details.

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