The thought process that saw us land in Bergamo went something like this: find somewhere on the map west of Lake Garda, but not too far west; don’t go as far as Milan; somewhere fairly central to other places would be good; ooh, we’ve heard of Bergamo! And that was that! Bergamo was supposed to be a quiet wee base for three days, but it turned out to be so much more than that.
Bergamo is essentially made up of two cities: the older, and very compact, Città Alta (Upper City), and the newer Città Bassa (Lower City, surprisingly enough!). We headed straight for the Citta Altà as older things tend to be of more interest, and within minutes we were absolutely captivated. I should say that driving towards Bergamo is an absolute delight. You see this town nestled at the top of a hill just north of the motorway and think, ‘I hope Bergamo looks like that’, only to find that it is Bergamo!
The Città Alta is full of narrow, cobbled streets, beautiful cafes, restaurants, gelaterias delis and bakeries, and inviting shops. Cars drive on the narrow roads, sometimes in both directions! The view from the old city walls is breathtaking, looking south over the newer city and way beyond towards the heart of Italy, and looking north towards valleys, hills and yet more picturesque towns. Just walking and watching is a delight.
But perhaps the three main gems of Bergamo sit in the one square, Piazza Duomo: the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, the Duomo di Bergamo and Capella Colleoni. The grandeur, beauty and impressiveness of these three buildings is hard to put into words, and it almost seems unfair that such buildings are literally a few feet apart. The Capella is a family chapel – hard to believe when you see it! The Duomo is the only one you can take photos in and – as usual – they don’t do the place justice.
One of the most interesting things found in these churches is a massive depiction of Noah’s Flood, showing the horror and desperation you would associate with that event, along with some more surprising human reactions – greed, for example.
The view from the Città Alta is tremendous, but it amazed us to find that it could be improved upon. A short funicular ride up yet another hill brings you to San Vigilio, with views of the Città Alta, Città Bassa and the countryside for many, many miles around. Utterly stunning.
As with everywhere else in Italy, Bergamo is fantastic for food. We had a wonderful meal in Da Mimmo, a buzzing family restaurant in Città Alta; and there were loads of other great options available, too.
How good is Bergamo? Well, our plan had been to stay for three days and use two of the days for day trips, but after experiencing how delightful the city is we realised it deserved more than a few hours to itself. It is a stunning city, and well worth a visit.