Once upon a time there was a town in the foothills of the Italian Alps. It was very pretty, but it never managed to gain the same popularity that other towns seemed to gain – even though it had more beauty and character than many of them. But that didn’t seem to bother the town. Instead of weeping, it continued to wake up every morning, charming those visitors who did manage to stop by.
A visit to Bergamo is like stepping hundreds of years back in time. With cobblestone streets, the irresistible smell of bread baking, and an abundance of fresh pasta, it has just about everything you might expect a historic Italian town to offer.
But despite Bergamo being less than an hour away from Milan, it never seems to make it onto any “must see” lists. And although it hosts an airport where budget flights land every day, most people simply make a beeline for Italy’s fashion capital. And that is a terrible shame.
Of course, you won’t immediately see Bergamo’s old world charm when you arrive at the train station, which is situated in the lower town. Instead, you’ll see a McDonald’s and other signs of modern day-to-day life. But be patient – you aren’t in the citta alta (high city) yet.
However, there’s no need to rush to get there, because the lower part of town has its own set of offerings. One of those is SaporePuro, a great place to stop for a coffee after getting off the train. Friendly staff will make you an espresso or a hot chocolate (highly recommended), and you can watch them make the day’s food offerings in the middle of the restaurant.
The rest of the lower town has quaint streets, typical high street shops, and some great coffee shops and restaurants. But if you’re only in Bergamo for a day, don’t waste too much time there. The real beauty lies in the upper town.
You can either walk to the citta alta or take the easier route: the funicular. A single ride costs €2, and a round-trip journey will set you back €3. It takes just a couple minutes for the funicular to deliver you up the steep climb, dropping you off right in the middle of Bergamo’s most picturesque scenes.
Narrow streets are lined with shops and cafés, and the storefronts are reminiscent of an earlier time.
Cathedral Square is perhaps the grandest of all the sights. A visit into the elaborate Bergamo Cathedral is well worth it, with its exquisite gold detailing and black-and-white checkered flooring.
However, it’s the Cappella Colleoni that will truly take your breath away, its domed facade accompanied by statues overlooking the square. The church and mausoleum, built between 1472 and 1476, will leave you wondering how such an extravagant structure was built in just four years.
The inside is just as incredible, and could easily rival just about any other building of its time – even though most people have never even heard of this magnificent masterpiece.
There’s no shortage of eateries in Bergamo, each one as inviting as the next. One of those is Vineria Cozzi, which is a restaurant in two parts. You can choose to eat in the shabby chic area, where sleek white decor abounds, or the more traditional area, which is lined with wicker baskets and wine bottles.
No matter where you sit, you must try the casoncelli pasta, which is a Bergamo speciality.
As much as you also might like to try the tiramisu on offer, you’ll want to skip dessert at the restaurant. That’s because two sweet treats await – and to get the true Bergamo experience, you need to try both.
One of those is polenta e osei, a cake made from polenta, jam, sugar, and almond paste. It’s very sweet, but very delicious. You can grab one from Panificio Tresoldi, a bakery whose window displays will leave you salivating.
The other is to eat stracciatella gelato from La Marianna, the gelateria that invented it in 1962. According to owner Enrico Panattoni, the idea to create the flavor came after he tired of making stracciatella soup for his customers. If that’s truly the case, Italy has Mr. Panattoni’s customers to thank for the delicious creation, which has become a staple at every gelateria in the country.
Just around the corner from La Marianna is a second funicular, which can take you even higher in the town. You’ll find cafés with lovely vistas, as well as some truly beautiful homes.
Trains from Milan to Bergamo leave from Central Station and Garibaldi, and take just 48 minutes. So whether you’re a tourist or just need a break from city life, head to Bergamo for quiet scenes fit for a postcard.