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.


New Year celebrations in Piazza Vecchia

For the first time ever the funicular that links the Città Bassa with the Città Alta will run until two o'clock in the morning on New Year's Day (Capodanno) in Bergamo.
This is to enable revellers to enjoy the celebrations in Piazza Vecchia, which are expected to go on well after the Campanone has rung in the New Year at midnight.
Action in Death in the High City
 takes place in Piazza Vecchia.

Restaurants around the square will be putting on special New Year's menus and there will be live music and entertainment for the crowds in Piazza Vecchia. A fireworks display from Porta San Giacomo will welcome in 2015 with a bang.
ATB (Azienda Trasporti Bergamo) have taken the decision to keep the funicular running after midnight when it would normally stop to enable locals and visitors to get home safely after enjoying the festive atmosphere.
Bergamo's Piazza Vecchia will clearly be the place to see in the New Year.
Buon Anno and a Happy New Year to all visitors to Best of Bergamo.
And a special thank you to everyone who has bought a copy of Death in the High City, published in 2014 and the first crime novel to be set in Bergamo, in which most of the action takes place within the walls of the Città Alta.

Death in the High City by Val Culley is available in paperback and in Kindle from Amazon

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Celebrating Christmas Bergamo style

With Italian specialities readily available in the shops there is no reason why you can’t recreate a traditional Bergamo Christmas in your own home.
Panettone, Pan d’Oro and Panforte are great alternatives to Christmas pudding and Prosecco is, in my opinion, better than Champagne.
Prosecco, cake and a novel set in Italy
While you may not be able to find authentic Bergamo sausages or meats for your antipasti or not want to go to the trouble of making your own casoncelli alla bergamasca for your primo piatto, you can find good quality prosciutto and salami and stuffed pasta in most shops.
Christmas is very much a family feast in Bergamo, just as in the rest of Italy .
After la Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve), when traditionally a fish meal is consumed, Natale (Christmas Day) is a time for feasting.
While the children open their presents, the adults savour a glass of Prosecco as 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 dishes of prosciutto and bresaola are served with preserved mushrooms, olives or pickled vegetables.
Stuffed pasta is usually served as a first course, either 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, 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 abroad.
The feasting and family parties continue on 26 December, the festa di Santo Stefano (Boxing Day).
To transport you back to Bergamo over the festive season, why not read Death in the High City, a crime novel in which much of the action takes place in Bergamo’s Città Alta.

Death in the High City by Val Culley is available from Amazon.com

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Casa Natale di Gaetano Donizetti

Birthplace is now a national monument

It is both humbling and inspiring to visit the birthplace of Bergamo composer Gaetano Donizetti, just outside the walls of the Città Alta (upper town).
Donizetti was born into a large family living in the basement of a house in Borgo Canale on 29 November 1797, a date that was to be of major significance for music and opera.
Entrance to Donizetti's birthplace
The Casa Natale (birthplace), which has now been declared a national monument, is open to visitors free of charge every weekend and it is well worth a visit to see the conditions in which the musical genius spent his early years.
You can still see the well from which the family drew their water and the fireplace where meals were cooked, which would have also been their only source of heating.
Music from Donizetti’s operas echoes around the basement while you study the exhibition that commemorates his life and career, helping you to reflect on the amazing journey he made from his place of birth to being acclaimed in theatres all over the world when he was at the height of his success.
The child born 217 years ago today in these humble surroundings went on to become a prolific composer of operas in the early part of the 19th century and was a major influence on Verdi, Puccini and many other Italian composers who came after him.
To reach Donizetti’s birthplace, leave the Città Alta through Porta Sant’Alessandro and go past the station for the San Vigilio funicolare. Borgo Canale is the next street on the right and the Casa Natale, at number 14, in the middle of a row of characteristic, tall houses, is marked by a plaque.
The family's only source of water
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…”
Donizetti developed a love for music and despite the poverty of his family benefited from early tuition at a special music school that had been set up in Bergamo to train choirboys.
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 as a sick man and died in 1843 in the Palazzo Scotti, where he was living at the time with friends. The street in the Città Alta where the palazzo is situated was later renamed Via Donizetti in his honour.
There is also a museum dedicated to his life and career in the Città Alta, within the former Palazzo Misericordia Maggiore, which is still being used to house a musical institute, in Via Arena. 
Donizetti’s tomb is in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Piazza Duomo in the Città Alta.
Fireplace where the family would gather round
A monument dedicated to him was erected in the Città Bassa in Bergamo in 1897, 100 years after his birth.
It is close to the theatre on the corner of Via Sentierone that was renamed Teatro Donizetti in honour of the composer.

Casa Natale is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 10.00 to 13.00 and 15.00 to 18.00. From Monday to Friday, visits to the house are by appointment only.

See Best of Bergamo’s updated Flights Guide
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Restored Casinò a triumph for San Pellegrino Terme

Casinò Municipale di San Pellegrino Terme

One of the most magnificent examples of the architectural style known in Italian as stile liberty, the Municipal Casinò at San Pellegrino Terme is now available as a venue for weddings and conventions.
Casinò di San Pellegrino
Both the impressive exterior and ornate interior of the building in Via Bartolomeo Villa have been carefully restored, taking it back to the elegance and sophistication of the glorious days early in the 20th century when it was fashionable for the rich and glamorous to visit San Pellegrino.
The spa town’s Casinò took just 20 months to build between 1905 and 1907 and is generally regarded as a masterpiece of Stile Liberty, or Art Nouveau, as it is also known.
Illustrious guests visiting San Pellegrino Terme to take the waters would come to the Casinò to hear musical concerts or gamble in the Sala da Gioco (gaming room). It became a meeting place for the most eminent people from the worlds of finance and politics as well as the aristocracy.
The gaming room was closed on Mussolini’s orders in 1926 and reopened, for a brief period only, in 1946.
Ornate detail
inside the Casinò
Nowadays under Italian law, gambling is permitted in a few places only, the most famous being the Casinò in Venice.
San Pellegrino Terme and the province of Bergamo are now working in partnership to revive tourism in the town and the restoration of the Casinò and adjacent theatre were the first projects undertaken. There are also plans for a new Spa centre and for the restoration of the Grand Hotel.
The Casinò now provides a prestigious venue for weddings, meetings and conventions. For more information about arranging an event there, visit www.casinosanpellegrinoterme.com.
Guided tours of the Casinò can be booked with Bergamo Su e Giù, who are a small group of dedicated tour guides committed to promoting the unique heritage of Bergamo and the surrounding area. They formed their association to provide services for tourists five years ago and can provide tours with commentary in English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Japanese for groups from as few as six, to around 30 people.
Bergamo Su e Giù, which literally means 'Bergamo up and down', have taken more than 600 visitors round the Casinò since it reopened. For more information, visit www.visitbergamo.info.

Sample some San Pellegrino

The name San Pellegrino has become synonymous throughout the world with the bottled aqua minerale that comes from the town.
But since medieval times San Pellegrino Terme, which is about 24 kilometres north of Bergamo in the Valle Brembana, has been a place people visited hoping for a cure for their illnesses. The waters were believed to be particularly effective against uric acid and kidney stones.
San Pellegrino became fashionable at the end of the 19th century and impressive buildings such as the Grand Hotel, il Palazzo della Fonte and il Casinò Municipale were designed for the town by architect Romolo Squadrelli.
It is worth a visit, by car or bus from Bergamo , to see the opulent architecture and to take a stroll along the banks of the River Brembo, where you can imagine what San Pellegrino would have been like at the height of its popularity.
There are plenty of elegant bars and restaurants on the main street looking out over the river.
But wherever you decide to stop for refreshment, make sure you order a bottle of San Pellegrino!

See Best of Bergamo’s updated Flights Guide
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Fifth anniversary festivities for Bergamo tour guides

Bergamo Su e Giù, who are a small group of dedicated tour guides, celebrate their fifth anniversary this month.
Piazza Vecchia features prominently
in Death in the High City

The guides, who are all committed to promoting the unique heritage of Bergamo,  provide tours around the city with commentary in English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Japanese and can take groups from as few as six people to around 30 people.
Bergamo Su e Giù literally means Bergamo up and down. The guides have a wealth of local knowledge and over the last five years have delivered many customised guided tours, according to the wishes of particular groups, concentrating on aspects such as art, history or religion, as required.
In the stunning surroundings of the Casino Municipale at San Pellegrino Terme, Bergamo Su e Giù are hosting a fifth anniversary event on Saturday 11 October when their guest will be www.bestofbergamo editor Val Culley, who is the author of a crime novel set in Bergamo, Death in the High City.
On Sunday 19 October they continue their anniversary celebrations with a guided visit to the Museo Arte e Tempo at Clusone.
For more information about Bergamo Su e Giù and their fifth anniversary celebrations visit their website at www.visitbergamo.info or contact them on +39.035.234182.

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New flights guide for Bergamo's easy-to-reach Caravaggio Airport

One reason for Bergamo's popularity with visitors to Italy is its close proximity to a major international airport.
Caravaggio is a Ryanair hub

Bergamo’s Caravaggio airport is situated in the suburb of Orio al Serio, which is just 3.7 kilometres (2.3 miles) to the south-east of the city.  It is so close to the city that visitors can sometimes enjoy a first glimpse of the Città Alta's beguiling charms even before they land.

Taxis to the city are in plentiful supply and there are buses every 20 minutes from outside the arrivals area, every half an hour at weekends

Bus tickets cost only a couple of euros and the journey time is short -- only 15 minutes to the railway station in Bergamo's Città Bassa, 30 minutes to the Città Alta.  Look out for the No 1 service, which runs along Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII and Viale Roma - the Città Bassa's main thoroughfare -- before climbing to the Città Alta along Viale Vittorio Emanuele II.  Most of the Città Bassa's major hotels are within a short walk of the bus route.

Caravaggio is the fourth busiest airport in Italy, just behind Milan Linate and ahead of Marco Polo airport in Venice. Almost nine million passengers used the airport in 2012. 

Currently you you can fly to Caravaggio -- usually listed in airline schedules as Milan Bergamo -- from 37 countries around Europe and North Africa. Ryanair has developed Bergamo as one of its major hubs and the majority of flights to the airport are operated by the Irish budget carrier.

Visitors to Bergamo from the United Kingdom can fly with Ryanair from Bristol, East Midlands, Leeds-Bradford, London Stansted and Manchester.  Flights from London Stansted accounted for 372,397 passengers arriving in Bergamo in 2012.

Ryanair has also become a major carrier within Italy, operating flights to Caravaggio from 10 departure points

In addition to the UK, countries with direct flights to Bergamo are: Albania, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and Ukraine. 

More details can be found in our flights guide, which has been updated to show the autumn schedules.

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Bergamo Su e Giù

How to get the inside track on Bergamo

Visitors to Bergamo have a wonderful opportunity to see the architectural treasures of the city from an insider’s point of view.
A small number of dedicated tour guides with a wealth of local knowledge are available to show groups around both the upper and lower towns and point out some of the hidden gems and nooks and crannies that may not be immediately obvious to outsiders.
Looking down on Bergamo from San Vigilio

The guides, who are all committed to promoting the unique heritage of Bergamo, formed their association Bergamo Su e Giù to offer this service to discerning tourists nearly five years ago.
They can provide tours with commentary in English, French, German, Spanish, Russian and Japanese and can take groups from as few as six people up to around 30 people.
Bergamo Su e Giù, which literally means Bergamo up and down, can provide customised guided tours, according to the wishes of each particular group, concentrating on a particular aspect, such as art, history or religion, as required.
The secretary of Bergamo Su e Giù Elisabetta Campanini was born and brought up in the Città Alta and knows every stone and corner of the old town intimately.
She says: “We are all passionate about Bergamo and are dedicated to helping visitors to discover its uniqueness, its stunning natural beauty and its amazing architectural heritage.
“As we go around the city we are able to bring each area to life, by telling both funny and touching anecdotes about the stories behind each building.
“We also like to take our guests down the lesser-known side streets and show them surprises that many visitors never discover.”

For more information about Bergamo Su e Giù visit their website at www.visitbergamo.info or contact them on +39.035.234182. If you mention that you read about them on Best of Bergamo you will be offered a 10 per cent discount.

Flights Guide

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When the big bell tolls 100 times

A stunning sight silhouetted against the blue sky, the distinctive bell tower, il Campanone, in Bergamo’s Città Alta (upper town) is visible from miles away.
Il Campanone towers above Piazza Vecchia
Bergamo’s bell tower dates back to at least the 12th century. It is also known as the Torre Civica (Civic Tower) and stands next to the Palazzo della Ragione, dominating a corner of Piazza Vecchia. From the top there are wonderful views over Bergamo and the surrounding countryside.
If you are in Piazza Vecchia at ten pm on any evening you will hear the bell toll 100 times marking the ancient curfew, when the gates in Bergamo ’s walls were locked at night to keep the city safe from invaders. The bell tolled at ten pm to remind the Bergamaschi that it was time to come back inside the walls or be locked out for the night. Although residents and visitors to the Città Alta can now come and go as they please, the tradition of 100 chimes at ten pm continues.
Il Campanone and the city’s ancient curfew feature in a new crime novel set in Bergamo, Death in the High City by Val Culley. The book was published as a Kindle edition in May 2014 on Amazon and is also due out in paperback later this month.

Flights Guide

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Bergamo airport to close for runway work

Flights to Bergamo between next Tuesday (May 13) and Sunday June 1 will be subject to re-routing because of resurfacing work on the runway at the Caravaggio Airport, otherwise known as Orio al Serio.
Bergamo airport

No services in or out will operate between 00.01am on Tuesday and 06.00 on Monday June 2.  This will impact especially on Ryanair's extensive schedules and travellers should check with the airline should they have a flight booked during this period.

Ryanair's website advises that all their flights to and from Bergamo between these dates will instead arrive and depart from Milan's Malpensa Airport, which is located 91km west of Orio al Serio.  Those flying with other airlines should consult their websites or contact their customer service departments.

Work is continuing on an expansion of the arrivals and departure areas at Caravaggio, which is the fourth busiest airport in Italy, after Rome Fiumicino and the two Milan airports, Malpensa and Linate.

Flights Guide

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Death in the High City

Brand new detective story taking place in Bergamo

A new crime novel set in Bergamo has just been published on Amazon Kindle.
The novel is the first in a series featuring detective duo Kate Butler, a freelance journalist, and Steve Bartorelli, a retired Detective Chief Inspector who is of Italian descent.
Believed to be the first British crime novel to put the spotlight on Bergamo, Death in the High City centres on the investigation into the death of an English woman who was writing a biography of the composer Gaetano Donizetti.
Of interest to anyone who enjoys the cosy crime fiction genre or likes detective novels with an Italian setting, the book is currently available as a Kindle edition, but can also be read on smartphones, tablets and computers using Amazon’s free Kindle app.
The dead woman had been living in an apartment in Bergamo ’s Città Alta and much of the action takes place within the walls of the high city. The local police do not believe there is enough evidence to open a murder inquiry so Kate Butler, who is the victim’s cousin, arrives on the scene to try to get some answers about her cousin’s death.
Kate visits many of the places in Bergamo with Donizetti connections and her enquiries even take her out to Lago d’Iseo. But after her own life is threatened and there has been another death in the Città Alta, her lover, Steve Bartorelli, joins her to help her unravel the mystery and trap the killer. The reader is able to go along for the ride and enjoy Bergamo’s wonderful architecture and scenery while savouring the many descriptions in the novel of local food and wine.

Death in the High City by Val Culley, published in May, 2014, is now available on Amazon.

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Don’t miss architectural gems of Bergamo’s lower town

The stunning medieval and Renaissance architecture of the Citta Alta (upper town) is understandably a magnet for visitors to Bergamo.
It can be easy to overlook the Citta Bassa and go straight up to the beautiful town within the walls that you see in the skyline when you arrive in the city.
But Bergamo’s lower town has a wealth of imposing 18th and 19th century buildings to admire as well as many areas of historical importance.
One square definitely not to be missed is Piazza Pontida, near the junction of Via Sant’Alessandro and Via XX Settembre, which would have been the hub of the city in the 15th century.
Decorative porticos in Piazza Pontida
The square is close to a point known for centuries as Cinque Vie (five roads), where traffic from Milan, Lecco, Treviglio and Crema would converge. It was the place where goods arriving in Bergamo would be unloaded before being sent up to the Citta Alta (upper town).
Some of the portici (porticos) date back to the 15th century, when farmers and merchants would shelter from the sun under them while negotiating over the goods. It would have been a lively scene in those days, with story tellers and poets roaming from one inn to the next, entertaining the crowds who had come to trade in the square.
There are now modern shops doing business behind the porticos, but the square is still a popular meeting place for local people and it is pleasant to sit at a table outside one of the bars or restaurants and watch the Bergamaschi going about their daily lives.

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Ancient palace has become Bergamo landmark

One of the most distinctive buildings in the Citta Alta, Bergamo’s upper town, is the 12th century Palazzo della Ragione, an imposing presence at the southern end of Piazza Vecchia.
The dark, medieval palace is perhaps Bergamo’s most frequently photographed building and has become an iconic image of the Citta Alta.
Medieval Palazzo at one end of Piazza Vecchia
The ground floor walls of the Palazzo were removed in the 15th century, allowing a view through the arches into Piazza Duomo. This provides a glimpse of the sumptuous fascade of the Colleoni Chapel, which is a bright contrast to the dark stone of the Palazzo.
It is claimed court cases used to be heard under the open arcades that now form the ground floor of the Palazzo and that prisoners were put on show there for the Bergamaschi to see.
Nowadays you will often be able to listen to musicians under the arcades while you sit and enjoy a drink at the Bar Tasso next to the Palazzo.
A grand covered stairway was added to the Palazzo della Ragione in 1453. This rises from Piazza Vecchia to the first floor of the Palazzo, where 13th and 14th century frescoes, taken from old churches and houses in the surrounding area, were used to decorate the upper hall. Known as the Truss Room, the upper hall is now often used for art exhibitions.

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See the stone walls built to protect Bergamo

The monumental walls encircling the Città Alta (upper town) are a striking feature of Bergamo.
Built in the 16th century, the stone walls effectively divided Bergamo into two cities and everything left outside them became part of the Città Bassa (lower town).
To see the walls at close quarters and appreciate how well they were built, it is worth taking a stroll along Viale delle Mura, a beautiful tree-lined avenue that overlooks the Città Bassa.
Solid stone walls surround Bergamo's historic high city
Walls had been built to protect Bergamo in Roman times and rebuilt and repaired over the centuries.
But it was the huge walls built by the Venetian rulers of Bergamo that came to define the city and are still admired for their grandeur today.
The Venetians kept the project secret beforehand so that any protests against the building work would be too late to have any effect.
On 1 August 1561 the major work began and several churches were demolished, including the ancient Basilica di Sant’Alessandro, which was dedicated to Bergamo ’s patron saint. At the time it was recorded that more than 200 private homes were demolished, but it is believed the figure was probably higher than that.
The work also damaged the sewerage system causing underground cellars and passages to flood.
The Bergamaschi were forced to provide lodgings for the soldiers who had been put in charge of guarding the fortifications, an additional hardship at a time when many had lost their homes and received no compensation.
The walls were designed by a Florentine, Bonaiuto Lorini, who already had a reputation for his intelligent fortifications and the way he defended cities. They were built with places for canons to be positioned and for soldiers to be housed, and with openings to enable troops to go out and seize any survivors from among invaders who had been fired on.
Prisoners were locked up in the Torre Adalberto, which became nicknamed Torre della Fame, tower of hunger, because of the way the inmates were treated.
Beautiful gates were designed and built to provide entrances for legitimate visitors to the Città Alta. They were always manned by troops and people had to pay to bring their goods and produce in to sell in the upper town.
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City in the skyline entices visitors

If you arrive in Bergamo by train, or by bus from the airport, you will immediately be greeted by a magnificent view of the Città Alta.
Stand outside the railway station and look down the long, straight Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII and you will see the towers and roofs of the Città Alta silhouetted against the sky.
View in the skyline from outside the railway station.
It’s a magical view and will make you want to go and explore the upper town at close quarters.
The view is different according to the seasons. The Città Alta looks magnificent on a bright day against a blue sky, but it also looks beautiful shrouded in mist in the autumn.
The Number 1 bus will take you directly there. Alternatively, you could choose to explore part of the Città Bassa on your way to the funicolare, the funicular railway that also transports visitors up to the Città Alta.
Walk down Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII to Porta Nuova, a neoclassical gateway made in Bergamo’s medieval walls in the middle of the 19th century, which is flanked by i Propilei (the Propylaea), two buildings that look like temples.
Further along Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII you will reach Via Sentierone. Turn to your right to see the 18th century Teatro Donizetti and next to it the monument to the composer Gaetano Donizetti, erected in 1897 in the centenary year of his birth. Opposite is Balzer, a bar founded in 1850 that has now become a Bergamo institution.
Further along Via Sentierone is the church of San Bartolomeowhich has a large altarpiece by Renaissance artist Lorenzo Lotto depicting the Virgin Mary and child on a throne surrounded by saints.
Retrace your steps along Via Sentierone and continue walking down the main thoroughfare, Viale Vittorio Emanuele II, until you reach the funicular railway station on the left hand side. Trains leave every few minutes from there for the short journey up to the Città Alta.
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