Our visit to Bergamo was really surprising. It was so beautiful and had lots of lovely streets and plazas to fall in love with!
The number 1 bus took us from Bergamo’s modern day train station in the lower town up the steep hill and around the Medieval town wall to the old town filled with cobbled streets, stone houses and picturesque squares. This is the unique town you’ve dreamed about with pastry shops bursting with delicious looking sweets, pizza on fluffy foccacia bread and beautiful wine. After the hustle and bustle of nearby Milan, Bergamo’s picturesque setting was just the ticket. And, even though it’s a smaller town, there are lots of things to in Bergamo and the surrounding area.
For the art and history buffs
In Bergamo, we were surprised to find the Carrara Academy, which turned out to be the 10th most important art gallery in Italy. The building was nestled just below the city walls in between the upper and lower town and framed by golden autumn leaves. The museum was started thanks to the collection of Count Giacomo Carrara who left a legacy to the town at the end of the 18th century. Since then, there have been numerous other artistic donations and the collection boasts over 1,800 works including paintings from the 15th-19th centuries by artists such as Botticelli, Bellini, Raphael and Il Piccio. We enjoyed a guided tour of the galleries, although I think I could have spent a few hours exploring all the gorgeous paintings.
SIf modern art is more your cup of tea, we suggest you head to the GAMeC (the Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art). With a permanent collection including works by Alviani, Basilico, Man, Bonnet and Cattelan, the museum also hosts regular temporary exhibitions.
If you are interested in music, make sure to catch an opera at the gorgeous Theater Donizetti. We were lucky to see a very unique and modern version of Don Pasquale and the theater was beautiful. There were orchestra seats, but everything else was individual boxes stacked one on top of the other to a dizzying height. What could be better than seeing an opera in Italy?
For those more interested in the history of the town, your best bet is the Palazzo del Podesta, a 7 room museum with interactive displays showing Bergamo’s Venetian age. We were surprised to learn that Bergamo had more in common with Venice than Milan, but it was actually the last town in the province of Venice before crossing over into the province of Milan. Another thing we love is that the museum is found in the Palace of Podesta which was the traditional home to Venice’s representative in the town.
Of course, if you are into history, you should also make sure to wander through the streets of the old medieval upper town. Bergamo’s old buildings are amazing and if you get off the main road with all the shops, you can really get a feel for what the town used to be like hundreds of years ago.
Italy is a paradise for anyone who loves good food and drink. Of course, you already knew that! In Bergamo we tried some delicious bites. It was our first time in the region and we were surprised to see just how different the cuisine was from Tuscany and Rome. Of course, this stands to reason since Spain’s own gastronomy varies widely from region to region. In fact, we learned that in the north of Italy, it’s much more common to cook with butter (instead of olive oil), something I never would have guessed. Bergamo is also the birthplace of stracciatella gelato.
The little sweet shop just across the street from the bus stop in the old town is famous for their chocolate Easter eggs. It turns out one year they had so many left over that they broke them up and mixed them with the cream flavored gelato and it was an instant hit! Other must try foods include casoncelli (a Bergamo style ravioli stuffed with Italian sausage, mortadella and parmesan cheese), Muscat wine (moscato di scanzo), which is typical of the region, as well as polenta (our favorite version was smothered in a delicious cheese sauce)!
Of course, there are also delicious pastries (Try the polenta cakes, which aren’t actually polenta, just made to look that way). As well as craft beer from the area if you’re looking for a drink later at night. We could go on, but pictures are worth a thousand bites, as they say.
The view from up above
We’ve always loved to get a view of a town from up above. In Malaga you can see everything from Gibralfaro Castle, in New York it’s the Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building, in Pittsburgh it’s Mount Washington. Bergamo, while not a big city, certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of the views. We enjoyed the view of the old town from the tower in Piazza Vecchia next to the Duomo. The day we visited it was rainy, but the clouds and grey weather just added to the charm and took us back in time as we gazed out across the landscape.
We also enjoyed the view from the clock tower in the lower town. You could see the old town clearly, as well as the contrast with the modern lower town and on a cool fall morning, it was a gorgeous view.
Another great view of Bergamo was on the Funicular or Incline. This reminded us of Pittsburgh and the ride up to Mount Washington, but it’s a wonderful way to see Bergamo from a unique angle as you ride up the steep hill. (It’s also just a fun and different mode of public transport, in our opinion!)
Places to Visit and Things to do Nearby
You might have heard of the San Pellegrino sparkling water, but we certainly didn’t know that it came from a little town just 25 km outside Bergamo. You can visit San Pellegrino and enjoy the relaxing spa there. In fact, there have been spas in this area since the time of the Romans because of the therapeutic properties of the sulphurous waters in the valley. Definitely worth a trip if you want to indulge in a truly relaxing Italian spa experience.
This might have been my favorite place we visited near Bergamo. Lovere is a little town on Lake Iseo. The town square and little streets reminded me of something out of a movie, but my favorite part was our trip on the little water taxi which regularly travels between towns on the shores of the lake. For us, however, the water taxi was a chance to see Lovere and the surrounding landscape from a new angle. Everything was blue and green with brightly colored houses and buildings that would inspire any photographer or artist. It would be the sort of place I’d love to come for a month in summer and just disconnect.
We pulled into Clusone in the midst of a rainstorm, but just as we reached the door to the beautiful old church, the sun shone through the clouds. It certainly made for a breathtaking first glimpse at this little town near Bergamo. We only had a bit of time to explore, but the church alone with it’s authentic fresco paintings and the lovely old streets were enough to make us want to come back again some day. If you have time, this is a fantastic traditional Italian town. Make sure to see the clock tower, as well! As you can see from our pictures, it’s well worth it!
Sadly, our visit to Bergamo and the surrounding area was a bit of a whirlwind.
Even so, we enjoyed every moment of it (and every bite!) The overwhelming feeling that we had, when leaving town was that there was so much more that we’d love to explore. Bergamo might be better known for its airport near Milan, but we ruskommend that you make a point to visit the town of Bergamo with 5 boquerones. Between the arts scene, the history, the food, and the various little side trips you can take in the region, we’re sure you’ll be glad you came!