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.


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.


Bergamo birthplace of popular Pope John

Bergamo Bassa's tree-lined main thoroughfare is named
after Pope John XXIII

The much loved Pope John XXIII was born 129 years ago today at Sotto il Monte to the west of Bergamo.
He was tutored by a local priest before entering the seminary at Bergamo at the age of 12. He went on to study theology in Rome and rose to become Cardinal Patriarch of Venice before being elected Pope in 1958.
Born Angelo Roncalli on 25 November 1881, he was the third of 13 children in a farming family.
His religious studies were interrupted by a spell in the Italian army but he was ordained in 1904.
He served as secretary to the Bishop of Bergamo for nine years before becoming an army chaplain in World War One.
After the war he worked in Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece on behalf of the church helping to locate prisoners of war.
In 1944 he was appointed nuncio (envoy) to Paris to help with the post war effort in France. He became a Cardinal in 1953 and expected to spend his last years serving the church in Venice .
When he was elected Pope by his fellow cardinals in the conclave of 20 October 1958 it was a turning point in the church’s history.
Pope John XXIII
Although he was Pope for less than five years, he enlarged the College of Cardinals to make it more representative, consecrated 14 new bishops for Asia and Africa, advanced ecumenical relations and worked for world peace.
Since his death on 3 June 1963 his home and the museum set up to commemorate his life in Sotto il Monte have become popular destinations for pilgrims.
There is a permanent reminder of him in Bergamo’s Città Bassa (lower town) where the main thoroughfare from the railway station to Porta Nuova has been named Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII. 



Look out for Vino Novello in Bergamo

Shops do a brisk trade in Vino Novello
Wine lovers visiting Bergamo at around the end of November should look out for Vino Novello on sale in the shops and being served in bars and restaurants.
The light, fruity, new wine is enjoyable to drink and is a bargain buy to take home with you.
Vino Novello is similar in taste, body and colour to the French Beaujolais Nouveau, which is exported to a number of other countries after its release. But whereas Beaujolais Nouveau is produced using only the Gamay grape variety, Vino Novello is made in many different regions of Italy using a wide range of grapes.
Like Beaujolais Nouveau, Italy’s new wine should be drunk quickly after the bottle is opened. Unopened bottles should be kept for only a few months.
Italy’s Vino Novello 2010 was launched on 6 November, ten days ahead of Beaujolais Nouveau and you will see it on sale in many Italian supermarkets, wine shops and bars.
A major area for production is the Veneto, with the merlot grape being the one most used by wine makers.
Whereas 100 per cent carbonic maceration is used to produce Beaujolais Nouveau, only 30 per cent is required for Vino Novello.
However, one Italian Vino Novello that has been produced using 100 per cent carbonic maceration is Bardolino Novello, which is made in the area around the resort of Bardolino on Lake Garda .
According to the Bardolino wine consortium (Consorzio Tutelavino Bardolino Doc) 100 per cent carbonic maceration is used in order to produce an excellent wine.  Because of the cost implication of this, Bardolino Novello tends to be produced to satisfy specific requests from the larger wine distribution chains, although a few small producers will sell their bottles of Bardolino Novello to regular clients.
So if you are lucky enough to get the opportunity to taste Bardolino Novello while on holiday in Italy , make sure you appreciate it. Salute!



Winter wonderland on Bergamo's doorstep

As winter begins to take hold, Bergamo -- or, to be more precise, the Bergamo province -- comes into its own as a destination for skiing enthusiasts.

Foppolo by Night (by Pierpaolo.)
Foppolo by night
Part of Bergamo’s attraction for skiers, especially those travelling from other countries, is that the airport at Orio al Serio (Milan Bergamo) is barely an hour to an hour and a half from the ski resorts close to the two major valleys of the province -- the Valle Brembana and the Valle Seriana.
Both areas are well served by road, which makes the resorts easily accessible by bus or car.
For the Brembana resorts, follow the SS470 route north-west from Bergamo, passing through the spa town of San Pellegrino.  The SP2 route from Piazza Brembana eventually reaches Foppolo, which combines with nearby San Simone and Carona to make up the Brembo ski area.  Foppolo has 120km of runs and a new section of piste on Monte Valgussera.
Other roads from Piazza Brembana reach the resorts of Piazzatorre and Valtorta.
The whole Brembana area offers more than 40 ski lifts and excellent opportunities for cross-country skiing amid fantastic scenery, especially around Conca dell’Alben, Oltre il Colle, Valtorta Piani di Bobbio, Branzi Gardata, Rocobello and Monte Avaro.
Families and beginners, meanwhile, could head along the SS671, which follows the Valle Seriana, as far as the area around Castione della Presolana, where gentler slopes provide a ski training ground for the less experienced.
Cross-country trails are plentiful around the valley, particularly at La Spessa, Clusone, Montagnina, Onore and Bondione.  The more adventurous might try Monte Pora, Colere or Lizzola.
Christmas and New Year are seen as peak season, with the slopes quieter during the colder January weeks.  The perfect time is often February on the lower slopes, with a good chances of sun as well as snow, with March the best month for the higher resorts, with the snow still good and longer, sunny days. 

For more information, consult the Bergamo tourist resource at www.turismo.bergamo.it



Stay in Lovere at the side of the lake

The Piazza XXIII Martiri
If you want to explore Lago Iseo in detail while staying in Bergamo you might find it worthwhile to book a hotel on the lake for a couple of nights.
Lovere is a good location to choose as it is within easy reach of Bergamo by bus or car and is linked by a boat service with Pisogne, Iseo and Sarnico, making it easy to get around.
A beautiful village with an interesting history, Lovere was selected for the 2009 edition of I Borghi piu belli d’Italia (the most beautiful small towns in Italy) guidebook.
In the elegant Piazza XXIII Martiri at the side of the lake you will find the Hotel Moderno, which despite its name is housed in an historic building and has been run by the same family for more than 100 years.
There are panoramic views of the lake from many of the rooms in the hotel, which is also located conveniently close to the medieval centre of Lovere.
The hotel has its own restaurant and beauty salon, a reception area which is open 24 hours a day and wi fi internet access. It is open all the year round and is accessible to the disabled.
The Hotel Moderno would be an ideal base for walking or cycling excursions in the are or exploring Lago Iseo by boat.
For more information visit http://www.albergomoderno.eu/



Bergamo’s tribute to first world war fallen

Torre dei Caduti
The focus will be on the Torre dei Caduti in the centre of Bergamo’s Città Bassa (lower town) today as the city remembers its war dead.
The early 20th century war memorial towers over Piazza Vittorio Veneto and Via Sentierone but has been carefully positioned so that despite standing 45 metres tall it does not spoil the skyline of the Città Alta (upper town).
The Torre dei Caduti (tower of the fallen) was built to honour the citizens of Bergamo who were killed in the first world war.
It was part of the new layout for the centre of the Città Bassa by architect Marcello Piacentini in the 1920s, who recalled the buildings of the Città Alta, such as the Torre di Gombito, in his choice of design and materials.
The Torre dei Caduti was officially inaugurated at a ceremony in 1924.


Sample the delicate fragrance of a classic Chiaretto

When eating out in restaurants in Bergamo, look out for a wine called Chiaretto.
If you enjoy Bardolino wine, you will love Bardolino Chiaretto Classico, even if you are not normally a fan of rosé wines.
It is probably a gross oversimplification to say that Chiaretto is a pink version of Bardolino, but the wine comes from the same production zone and has the same delicate hint of raspberries and blackberries, with a subtle spice all of its own.
It is ideal for drinking when you don’t want to order a red wine, as it has the lightness and freshness of a good Italian white wine combined with the delicate fruitiness of a young Bardolino.
Chiaretto is made from Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes, which have been grown in the ideal climate of Lake Garda, not far from Bergamo. The wine is a delightful coral pink when bottled and is best drunk young.  The picture shows a bottle of 2009 Villabella Bardolino Chiaretto.
The good news is you will probably be able to find it back home as 70 per cent of all doc wines produced in the Bardolino classico zone are exported.
The main buyers are Germany, France, the UK, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, the US and Japan.
Bardolino wine producers report an increase in popularity for their Chiaretto labels, with 10 million bottles sold in 2009 and sales looking better still for this year.
The Bardolino wine consortium (Consorzio Tutelavino Bardolino Doc) says that Chiaretto goes well with antipasti, pasta dishes, fish, seafood and white meat. (For more information about Bardolino wines visit www.ilbardolino.com)
The consortium recommends Chiaretto as a good accompaniment for ravioli in particular and so I have no hesitation in suggesting that you try a glass of it with the traditional Bergamo dish, casoncelli alla bergamasca. Salute!
Bardolino on Lake Garda


Death of Bergamo’s ‘honourable’ condottiero

One of the most influential men in Bergamo’s history, military leader Bartolomeo Colleoni, died 535 years ago today.
Colleoni spent most of his life in the pay of the republic of Venice, defending Bergamo against invaders.
But he is remembered as one of the most honourable condottieri of his era, carrying out charitable works and agricultural improvements in Bergamo and the surrounding area when he was not involved in a military campaign.
The Colleoni Chapel
In later life he lived peacefully with his family at his castle in Malpaga, to the south of Bergamo .
Towards the end he turned his attention to designing a building to house his own tomb in the Citta Alta (upper town), which was to give Bergamo its most ornate and celebrated building, the Cappella Colleoni (Colleoni Chapel).
He commissioned the architect Antonio Amadeo to design an impressive chapel where he could be buried with all the insignia of a captain of the Venetian republic.
The sacristry of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Piazza Duomo had to be demolished to make way for this.
Amadeo designed the Cappella Colleoni to harmonise with Santa Maria Maggiore using pink and white marble to match the colours of the doorway of the basilica.
Inside the chapel he designed an elaborate two-tier sarcophagus surmounted by a golden statue of Colleoni on horseback.
Colleoni died on 2 November, 1475 and in accordance with his own instructions his body was placed in the lower sarcophagus, where it remains today.
The Cappella Colleoni is now considered to be one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Italy .

Language point

Il Condottiero
Condottieri were leaders of troops in medieval times in Italy who worked for the powerful ruling factions, often for high payments.
Bergamo’s Bartolomeo Colleoni was unusual that he remained steadfast to one employer, the republic of Venice , for most of his career.
During a period of peace between Venice and Milan he worked briefly for Milan, but they never fully trusted him and eventually he was arrested and imprisoned. On his release, he returned to work for Venice and stayed faithful to them for the rest of his life.


Old Bergamo palaces line Via Pignolo

The elegant, winding Via Pignolo has some of the oldest architecture in Bergamo’s Città Bassa (lower town).
The easiest way to explore it is to walk downhill after leaving the Città Alta (upper town) through the Porta Sant’Agostino.
Germanic touch on Via Pignolo
Via Pignolo derives it name and coat of arms, with the symbol of the pine cone, from its ancient origins as a pathway through woodland.
It became the route into the Città Alta for travellers arriving from Venice and important buildings were built along it between the 15th and 18th centuries.
Palaces with imposing facades alternate with older, more modest buildings with 15th and 16th century doorways, columns and porticos.
Near the Piazzetta del Delfino look out for an interesting little house with a jutting out upper storey, reminiscent of medieval German architecture.
After that, on your left you will come to the church of Sant’Alessandro della Croce. Behind the white marble façade, which was added later, is a 17th century building with many early 16th century paintings by artists including Lorenzo Lotto, Andrea Previtali and Giovan Battista Moroni.
On your right at number 80 look out for the late 15th century Palazzo Tasso where the poet Torquato Tasso stayed on his two visits to Bergamo .
Close by at number 76 is the 16th century Palazzo Bassi-Rathgeb (now housing il Museo Bernareggi), whose doors and windows are decorated with marble carvings.
At number 72 the Palazzo Grataroli can be traced back to at least 1515, as the date is carved on a pedestal in its courtyard.
Church of Sant' Alessandro
della Croce
Further down you will come to the small church of San Bernardino in Pignolo, which contains an altarpiece by Lorenzo Lotto depicting the Virgin Mary with child and saints.
Via Pignolo continues to wind downhill to Piazzetta Santo Spirito, where the church of Santa Spirito , an important religious Renaissance building, also has an altarpiece by Lorenzo Lotto in one of its chapels depicting the Virgin Mary.
Via Pignolo continues to descend to Porta Sant’Antonio, which marks the beginning of Bergamo’s Borgo Palazzo.

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