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.


Take a break in the Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe

Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe
An important square in the Città Alta (upper town) in Bergamo is Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe (Shoe Market Square) where the roads from Milan to the south (Via San Giacomo) and Venice to the east (Via Porta Dipinta) converge.
It is also the point of arrival for the funicular from the Città Bassa and is where the main street through the town, the Via Gombito, starts.
The funicular station and bar are housed in a 14th century palazzo, which was built for the important Suardi family and has a quaint little balcony overlooking the square. 
Opposite the funicular station you can sit under the porticos of a bar to study the square, which is of great historic interest. It is believed to have been the site of the city’s market as far back as Roman times and at one time there was a fountain in the middle that was a major supplier of water for the people of Bergamo.
Even today it is a good place to stop for refreshments when sightseeing. There is also plenty of choice if you want to have a meal. As well as the restaurant in the funicular bar, there are two more at the end of Via Donizetti and several only metres away in Via Gombito.


All mod cons close to airport

If you are arriving in Bergamo late in the day or have to make an early departure there are plenty of purpose-built hotels handy for the airport at Orio al Serio.
And because they are modern buildings, they have sound proofing, air conditioning and many facilities for business travellers.
The NH Hotel is less than a kilometre away from Orio al Serio in Via Portici, near the Orio shopping centre.
Facilities include a fitness centre, sauna and gym and a restaurant and choice of bars.
The NH Hotel is about four kilometres from the centre of Bergamo. Book via this link, or for more information visit www.nh-hotels.com.
The Starhotel Cristallo Palace (below, right) in Via Betty Ambiveri is in a good position three kilometres from the airport at Orio al Serio and one kilometre from the railway station in the Città Bassa (lower town).
It is a modern building furnished in traditional style inside. The restaurant serves an American-style buffet breakfast and there is a free shuttle bus into Bergamo. Follow this link to book.
The UNA Hotel in Via Borgo Palazzo offers either a shower-sauna or hydro massage bath in the bathroom of all of its 86 rooms and has a fitness centre. The restaurant serves both Bergamo specialities and international cuisine.
The UNA Hotel is three kilometres from the airport and two kilometres from the railway station. Click here to book, or visit www.unahotels.it  for more information. 

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Covered staircase leads to salone

The Palazzo's covered staircase
An interesting architectural feature in the Piazza Vecchia in Bergamo’s Città Alta (upper town) is the covered staircase at the side of the Palazzo della Ragione. 
As was typical in Renaissance Italy, the staircase was built to enable visitors to access the salone superiore (main top floor room) of the palazzo from ground floor level. These days the salone is open to the public for exhibitions and other cultural events.
The staircase and the stone bridge that connects it to the palazzo were added to the original 12th century building in 1453.
Look out for the doorway under the staircase, which gives access to a small shop selling guidebooks, pictures and antiques.
A distinctive feature on the wall to the right, before you turn to walk up the stairs, is a set of stone gargoyles (pictured left) that were taken from a funeral monument in the former San Francesco convent.



Magnificent Milano

While staying in Bergamo you are well placed to visit the great city of Milan, the capoluogo (most important city) in Lombardia.
There is a train every hour from Bergamo’s railway station to the Stazione Centrale in Milan and the journey takes only about 50 minutes.
As well as being an important financial centre, Milan is a mecca for fashion shoppers and a magnet for opera lovers.
Take the metro from the Stazione Centrale to Piazza Duomo in the centre of the city where you are bound to be impressed with the Duomo, which is the third largest cathedral in the world.
Walk through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele where there are elegant bars and restaurants and designer shops. At the other end, Piazza della Scala is home to the world famous opera house, Teatro alla Scala (pictured below), where there is a fascinating museum with original costumes and scores and some items that belonged to the composer Giuseppe Verdi.
You can walk along the Via Manzoni to see the Grand Hotel et de Milan where Verdi died in 1901. From there you can turn into Via Montenapoleone where the top Italian and international fashion designers have shops.
Of course, you will not be able to see everything Milan has to offer in one day.
You will have to book in advance if you want to see one of the most famous paintings in the world, Il Cenacolo -- The Last Supper -- by Leonardo da Vinci, which is in the refectory of the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
You could head for the Brera district with its interesting shops and restaurants and visit one of Italy’s top art galleries, the Pinacoteca di Brera.
Or, you could choose to look round the mighty Castello Sforzesco, which houses the last ever work by Michelangelo, the Rondanini Pieta.
But do spare the time to sip a glass of wine and sample a typical Milanese dish, such as risotto alla milanese or cotoletta alla milanese at one of the city's many fine restaurants.
Salute e Buon Appetito.

Language point - Il capoluogo

This literally means ‘head place’ and is used to refer to the main town in each region, such as Milano in Lombardia, Firenze in Toscana or Napoli in Campania .
Roma is the most important town in Lazio, but is also known as il capitale, as it is the capital city of Italy .



Sweeping views from San Vigilio restaurant

Stunning views from San Vigilio
If you would like to dine in style while enjoying spectac- ular views, try the Bar Pizzeria Ristorante San Vigilio, high above Bergamo.
From the terrace of the restaurant in Via San Vigilio there are sweeping views over Parco dei Colli (park of the hills).
Open every day, the San Vigilio offers a comprehensive menu with pizza, pasta, fish and meat dishes and salads.
There is also a good wine list that includes plenty of wines from Lombardia.
To reach San Vigilio, take the funicular (cable car) from Largo di Porta Sant'Alessandro, close to where the bus from Città Bassa to Città Alta terminates at Largo Colle Aperto. When you disembark at the funicular station at San Vigilio, turn left and you will find the restaurant a few metres away at the beginning of Via San Vigilio.
The map below shows San Vigilio in relation to Città Alta, which is the area in the map around the university buildings.
Inside it is bright, modern and spacious with some pieces of antique furniture and some unusual features such as a gleaming red and chrome ham slicer, complete with a whole prosciutto crudo (cured ham), in pride of place in front of the bar.
I enjoyed a delicious pizza napoli washed down with a good bottle of Valcalepio bianco when I visited San Vigilio in May 2010.
For more information about the restaurant visit www.ristorantepizzeriasanvigilio.it or telephone 035 253188.

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Castello keeps watch over Bergamo

Towering above Bergamo, the Castello symbolises the military importance of the city over the centuries.
The Castello's moat
Bergamo’s second funicular railway will take you up to San Vigilio, from where there are spectacular views over the Città Alta (upper town) and the surrounding hills, which are dotted with old villas and farmhouses.
From the funicular station, turn right and it is a short walk to the Castello, which was built as a defensive fortress with thick walls and four cylindrical towers, from which soldiers could keep watch over the surrounding countryside.
The Castello is thought to date back to the sixth century at least, but it is known to have been reinforced in the 14th and 15th centuries.
The funicular

From the Castello, there are wonderful views over the surrounding countryside and Bergamo’s Città Alta and Città Bassa below. It is well worth the two and a half minute funicular ride up to San Vigilio for the photographic opportunities alone.

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Prosecco or pastries at Balzer

Enjoy un aperitivo (an aperitif) in the elegant surroundings of Balzer in Bergamo’s Città Bassa (lower town).
Founded in 1850, the bar in Via Portici Sentierone (under the porticos of the Senti- erone) has become a Bergamo institution.
You can meet up with friends and colleagues for breakfast, coffee and pastries, drinks, lunch, English tea, ice creams, cocktails, vini spumanti (such as prosecco), salads and sandwiches.
Balzer’s pastries are hand made from recipes that have been handed down over the generations and drinks orders are always accompanied by complimentary tiny sandwiches and savoury pastries.
Balzer is particularly known for polenta e osei (a cake made to resemble polenta with chocolate birds on top) and Torta Donizetti, named in honour of the composer. 
Because of its position opposite the Teatro Donizetti, the tables of Balzer have at times been graced by stars such as Maria Callas and others from the opera world.
For more information visit www.balzer.it or telephone 035 234083.
Balzer is an ideal place to stop for a drink and watch the world go by along the historic cobbles of the Sentierone. Salute!

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Don’t overlook the Duomo

Although there are plenty of beautiful churches filled with art treasures in Bergamo, you should make sure you find the time to visit the Duomo (cathedral).
The Piazza Duomo (pictured) in Bergamo’s città alta (upper town) was the political, religious and commercial centre of the town in medieval times.
A cathedral has occupied the site of the present day Duomo since about the sixth century.
The present building was designed in the 15th century and then remodelled 200 years later. Work on the Duomo continued until the current façade was added in 1886.
It is easy to be distracted by the more ornate Santa Maria Maggiore and the Colleoni Chapel, which both have their share of art treasures.
But it is worth having a look inside the Duomo as well, where behind the altar you will see an important work by Gian Battista Tiepolo, the Martyrdom of Saint John.

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Lakeside charms of Lovere

The largest town on the western shore of Lago d’Iseo (Lake Iseo), Lovere is an easy journey from Bergamo by car or by pullman (coach) from the bus station.
From this beautiful town, there are wonderful views of the top of the lake with its dramatic backdrop of mountains.
Up the narrow, steep streets away from the lake there is a medieval town centre that is well worth exploring.
And there are some good restaurants and bars at the side of the lake where you can eat and drink while enjoying the scenery.
Art lovers will be interested in the classical Palazzo Tadini, which looks out over the lake from Via Tadini and houses one of the most important art galleries in Italy.
The church of Santa Maria in Valvendra has some sixteenth century frescoes and the church of San Giorgio, which is built into a medieval tower, contains an important work by Palma il Giovane.
You can take the boat from Lovere over to Pisogne on the eastern shore of the lake. Next to the imbarcadero in Piazza XIII Martiri, the Ufficio di Turismo will give you a map of Lovere and a boat timetable.
You can either return to Bergamo by bus from Lovere or go over to Pisogne on the boat and take the train back to Brescia, where you can change to a train bound for Bergamo.

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Look out for Lugana

If you enjoy a light, white wine with a hint of flowers, order Lugana when in restaurants in Bergamo or resorts around Lago di Garda (Lake Garda).
Lugana is a straw yellow, almost pale green, colour and is a very delicate wine, with a slight hint of fruit.
It is made from Trebbiano di Lugana grapes by several vineyards set on the hills around the southern shores of Lago di Garda.
Lugana wine can be enjoyed as an aperitivo in a bar, to accompany antipasto and risotto made with fish, and with dishes such as carpione del Garda, carp from Lago di Garda.
Check the date on the bottle because Lugana is at its best when drunk young. It should be served chilled, preferably between eight and 10 degrees centigrade.
Respected producers of Lugana include Ca’ dei Frati, Visconti and Zenato.



Past secrets of Bergamo’s medieval houses

An interesting architectural feature in Bergamo’s Città Alta (upper town) can be seen in Via alla Rocca.
As you climb the narrow winding street (pictured) towards La Rocca you will see on your right hand side some medieval houses that have a narrow, walled up opening next to the main door.
These were believed to be opened up only for the funeral of an important member of the family living there to let the coffin out.
They have therefore become known as ‘doors of the dead’ and could be connected with the phrase ‘at death’s door’.
Behind the walled up opening you will always find a very steep staircase without any corners leading to the top floor.
On a lighter note, there is also the theory that the doors could have been opened up to let through a bride’s chest, the most important piece of furniture to be kept on the upper floor of the house.
It would be nice to think that the openings had a joyful as well as sombre purpose. 
The map below shows the position of Via alla Rocca in the Città Alta. The funicular station is in the square nearby where Via Porta Dipinta and Via San Giacomo converge.

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Pizzeria Capri provides plenty of choice

Whatever your taste in pizza toppings, the Pizzeria Capri Trattoria in Bergamo’s Città Bassa (lower town) probably has it on the menu.
There are more than 250 types of pizza listed from the different regions of Italy, using a variety of ingredients. Bergamo has a page of its own featuring locally produced cheeses.
The restaurant even offers pizze made from wholewheat flour and a dessert pizza topped with chocolate.
I tried a pizza napoletana when I went there for lunch a few weeks ago and I thought the base of the pizza was excellent and the topping tasted authentic.
Pizzeria Capri Trattoria has been owned by the Fratelli Nasti (Nasti brothers) for more than 40 years and is in a handy location in Via Zambonate, a short walk from Porta Nuova in the centre.
The restaurant has a beamed ceiling with brick archways and is fitted out in the Italian colours with red tablecloths, white covers and green painted chairs.
There are pasta, meat and fish dishes on the menu and tempting displays of antipasti and dolce (desserts).
A wide range of bottled beers and wines are listed, but you can also order draught beer and Prosecco served by the jug.

The Pizzeria Capri Trattoria is closed on Mondays but on other days it is open from 12 till 3pm for lunch and from 6.30pm to midnight for dinner.
To book telephone 035 247911or do it on line at http://www.danasti.it/

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Stroll along the Sentierone

The Sentierone, which means broad path, links the Piazza Vittorio Veneto in the centre of the Città Bassa (lower town) with the Via Torquato Tasso, a road that leads into the oldest quarter where there are 15th and 16th century buildings.
The Piazza Vittoria Veneto is dominated by the Torre dei Caduti (pictured), a tower built as a war memorial in the 1920s and positioned so that it did not spoil the view of the skyline of the Città Alta (upper town).
As you walk along the Sentierone you will see shops and bars behind elegant colonnades on your left and the Teatro Donizetti and a little garden with a memorial to the composer on your right.
The Sentierone was built in the 16th century and used as a site for a fair which was attended by merchants and travellers from all over Italy and Europe. It was also traditionally the place where carriages were parked and horses allowed to take their rest.
The elegant colonnades were built in the 1920s and provide the perfect place to relax with a drink and watch the smartly dressed Bergamaschi go by.

Language point

La passeggiata

This can mean a walk, or a stroll, on foot, or a ride in a car or on horseback. Places where you can take a walk, such as the Sentierone, can also be referred to as a passeggiata. Be careful not to misuse the word passeggiatrice, which can mean a prostitute, literally ‘street walker’.



Views from San Vigilio

For spectacular views of the countryside around Bergamo and to be able to look down over the Città Alta (upper town), it is worth making the trip up to San Vigilio.
The easiest way is to take the funicolare from Largo di Porta Sant’ Alessan- dro, just outside the city walls.
The single track funicular railway runs between the Città Alta and San Vigilio every few minutes. If you have a day bus ticket or a three-day bus ticket you will be able to use it for the journey.
Next to San Vigilio’s funicular station in Via al Castello there is a terrace from which you can take photographs and admire the views of the Città Alta (above) and the Città Bassa. On a clear day you can see the hills leading to the alpi orobiche (Orobic Alps) north of Bergamo in the distance. 


Old palace is now part of Bergamo University

An interesting building on the west side of the Piazza Vecchia in the Città Alta (upper town) is the 14th century palace that used to be the residence for the Venetian rulers of Bergamo.
The Palazzo del Podesta Veneto (the Palace of the Mayor of Venice) now houses the University of Bergamo’s Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literature.
The palace was originally built by the powerful Suardi family of Bergamo in about 1340 and was once decorated with frescoes by Bramante. The remaining fragments of the frescoes are now carefully preserved inside the nearby Palazzo della Ragione.
The palace became the residence of the Podesta, the mayor sent to govern Bergamo, usually for a period of 16 months, by the Venetians.  The various Podesta ruled Bergamo from there from the 16th century until the end of the 18th century, when the city finally became free of Venice.
The ground floor of the palace is now occupied by two restaurants, the Colleoni e dell'Angelo and the Ristorante San Michele.


Bergamo remembers popular Pope John

There will be prayers today in Bergamo and throughout the world to mark the anniversary of the death of Pope John XXIII.
The popular Pope John was born Angelo Roncalli, the third of 13 children, to a farming family at Sotto il Monte, 16 kilometres south west of Bergamo.
He was educated in Bergamo before going on to study theology in Rome.
He was ordained in 1904 and was an army chaplain during the first World War. He later became Cardinal Patriarch of Venice and was elected pope in 1958.
Pope John opened a hostel for students in Bergamo and wrote a multi volume work on the episcopal visitation of Bergamo by Saint Charles Borromeo.
During his years as pope he advanced ecumenical relations by creating a new secretariat for promoting Christian unity. He died on 3 June, 1963.
One of the main streets in Bergamo’s Città Bassa (lower town) is named after him. Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII leads from the station to Porta Nuova.
He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000.



Viva la Repubblica

Today is Festa della Repubblica (Republic Day) in Italy, celebrating the birth of the country as a republic, 64 years ago.
It is the day when the anniversary of the country voting to abolish the Italian royal family is remembered.
But although it is a bank holiday in Italy and there will be some events and celebrations, the Italian royal family is not forgotten in many places, including Bergamo.
A statue (pictured) of Victor Emanuele III, who was king until 1945, towers over Piazza Giacomo Matteotti in the Città Bassa (lower town).
The Italians voted for a republic after the Second World War on June 2, 1946, in a referendum.
As a result, King Umberto II, to whom Victor Emanuele III had given way, went into exile in Portugal.
The attitude of the Italians towards their former royal family seems to have softened in recent years.
Emanuele Filiberto, the son of the current king of Italy, took part in the 2009 series of Ballando con le Stelle on Rai Uno, the Italian version of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, and was so popular with viewers that he was crowned champion, sparking newspaper headlines declaring him “King for a Night”.