Geography: Bergamo is situated in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, 50km north-east of Milan. It is nestled between the valleys Brembana and Seriana at the foot of the Alps and is an ideal base from which to visit the Italian lakes - in half an hour by car you could visit Iseo or Como; or you could take a day trip to Lake Garda. Bergamo is divided in two: the upper town (cittÓ alta) is the old town of Bergamo, a walled city strategically built on a hill overlooking the plains of Lombardy and the lower town (cittÓ bassa), most of which was built much later to accommodate the needs of a growing population.
History: Traces of settlement dating from between the sixth and fifth centuries BC have been found on the hill where the upper town is now situated. The root of the word Bergamo is 'berg', meaning hill or home on the hill. Celts, Goths, Romans and Lombards all had settlements on the hill, although little now remains to bear witness to these settlements. Some of the most important monuments in Bergamo date back to the Middle Ages. Piazza Vecchia, the main square in the old town, was completed in the 15th Century. The portico of the Palazzo della Ragione, which faces onto Piazza Vecchia, was constructed in the 12th Century and links the square with Piazza del Duomo (the cathedral square).
Bergamo lived under Venetian rule for four centuries, a period which marked the city in terms of its history, art and culture. The walls surrounding the upper town stretch for five kilometres and were built by the Venetians between 1561 and 1591, intended to make Bergamo a fortress on the boundary with the State of Milan.
Donizetti: Bergamo is a city of culture, with its noble palaces, art galleries, ancient frescoes, baroque art and architecture. The city is also the birthplace of the composer Gaetano Donizetti (b. 1797), to whom the town dedicated its main theatre (Teatro Donizetti), built in the lower town at the end of the 18th Century. An important opera season dedicated to Donizetti is held in this theatre and is a popular international event, as is the International Festival for Piano. The Donizetti museum, home to the piano used by the composer in the creation of most of his works, is situated in the Palazzo della Misericordia in the upper town. The museum contains manuscripts, musical and theatrical publications, letters, documents, portraits etc.
Accademia Carrara: The Accademia Carrara is one of the most important art galleries in Italy. Its exhibition halls hold paintings of world famous artists and include several works by the most important artists of Bergamo. The large art collection of this gallery originated from the patronage of a Bergamasque nobleman, Count Giacomo Carrara, who bequeathed his wealth to set up an art gallery and school in 1795. Other collections were added later and the gallery was recently extended to include the Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery. NB. Both galleries are closed on Mondays.
Museo Civico Archeologico (archaeological museum), Piazza della Citadella, 9
Museo Civico di Scienze Naturali 'E. Caffi' (Natural Science Museum), Piazza della Citadella, 10
Museo Storico, Piazza Mercato del Fieno, 6/A
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Piazza Duomo
Cappella Colleoni, Piazza Duomo
Torre Civica (the Tower), Piazza Vecchia
Buses: Bergamo has quite an efficient bus service. For a complete bus timetable, there is an office at the train station (Ufficio Abbonamenti) and one at Porta Nuova (along the main road in the lower town). You can buy tickets here or in any tabacconist (all signposted with a big black 'T'). A card of 10 tickets (tesserino da dieci) will cost you about 7 euros. When you get on the bus, stamp the ticket in the yellow machine. The ticket is valid for an hour and can be used for all buses in the centre and for the funicular railways. The main bus line (No 1) runs from the train station to the funicular railway (which takes you to the upper town). The 1a takes you from the train station directly into the upper town (Colle Aperto).
The Upper Town: The upper town is well worth a visit, with it's cobbled streets, little cafes, cathedral, churches, tower etc etc. Allow a few hours to explore (more if you think you might lose a few hours in a cafe ...). Piazza Vecchia is the centre of the old town. There are often street entertainers here. Go through the archways to take a look inside the cathedral and basilica.
San Vigilio: Take the funicolare from the top of the upper town (Colle Aperto) to San Vigilio for beautiful views of the countryside around Bergamo.
The Alps: For the mountain-lovers among you, there are day trips from Bergamo into the Alps. If you want to get off the beaten track and explore at your own leisure, you should hire a car. For details on trekking, rock-climbing, itineraries etc, click here.
Val Brembana: Clanezzo is at the beginning of the Val Brembana, a lush valley at the foot of the alps. If you have a car, you might like to take a drive up the valley to San Pellegrino (famous for its natural springs, which, so the locals say, produce the best water in Italy). If you are suffering from any aches and pains, take a visit to San Pellegrino or Sant'Omobono Imagna for their 'thermal cures', mud baths etc. The hot springs, which are rich in calcium and magnesium, are said to have healing qualities. For more information regarding thermal baths in Lombardy, click here. You could follow this road to San Giovanni Bianco and Piazza Brembana for stunning views of the mountains. For further information regarding the Val Brembana, click here.
Shopping: The main shopping street in the lower town is Via XX Settembre. The upper town has some exclusive (ie. expensive) boutiques. For undercover shopping, there is a large shopping centre opposite the airport: OrioCenter.
Parking: For on-street parking, there are several areas available. Spaces are marked either with yellow lines (for residents only) or blue lines (public parking, pay using a ticket machine; cost is approx. 1 euro/hour). There are car parks dotted around the town. Click here for a map.
Grub: There are lots of nice places to eat in Bergamo. Most restaurants in the upper town are good; for typical 'Bergamasco' cuisine, we recommend Da Ornella Trattoria in Via Gombito, 15 or Ristorante al Sole, just up from the Piazza Vecchia. For the budget traveller, Ristorante Al Circolino provides good al fresco dining.
Pizza: You can't come to Italy without trying the pizza. There are a few places in the centre of the lower town which are pretty good: Pizzeria All'Ancora in Via Quarenghi (facing the upper town, turn left at Porta Nuova, keep walking, Via Quarenghi is on the left), Pizzeria Da Nasti (not as nasty as it sounds) in Via Tiraboschi (facing the upper town, turn left at Porta Nuova; the pizza is on the left hand side) and Pizzeria La Ciotola in Via PapÓ Giovanni XXIII (facing the upper town from the station, on the left hand side). If you have a car, you might like to check out the Grotta Azzurra pizzeria in Via Ruggeri da Stabello, coming out of Bergamo towards our house (Ponteranica/ Sorisole).
Ice Cream: Italian ice cream is the best. There are lots of yummy ice cream shops, but our favourite is Surya in Viale PapÓ Giovanni XXIII. As you are heading towards the upper town from the train station, between the CafÚ de Paris and Porta Nuova, on the left you will see a tacky neon ice cream sign.
Clanezzo: There is a restaurant in the castle and also a good restaurant nearby, Ristorante Del Moro.
Typical 'Cucina Bergamasca':
Casoncelli: This is pasta shaped like ravioli with meat and cheese inside, with a butter (or olive oil) and sage dressing.
Polenta: This is the northern Italians' alternative to pasta as a staple food. It's made of corn, has a texture a bit like mashed potato and is served in slices about 8mm thick with various toppings (cheese, mushrooms, meat etc).
Taleggio: This is the local cheese. It's fairly soft and creamy and quite yummy.
Salame nostrano/bergamasco: The local salami.
Booze: There are cafes and bars all over the place in the upper and the lower towns. A nice place for an aperitif is the Bar Funicolare (at the funicular station in the upper town, overlooking the lower town). There are two Irish pubs in the lower town of Bergamo, the Ritual in Via San Francesco d'Assisi (main street in the lower town, with your back to the station, on the right hand side) and Maguires in Via Previtali (get a map!).
Muller ThŘrgau: It sounds German, but if you taste it, you'll know it's not! It's a white wine and can either be sparkling (frizzante) or still. It has a nice, fresh taste and makes a refreshing aperitif.
Prosecco: This is the Italian bubbly.
Val Calepio: This is the local wine, red or white.
Franciacorta: Also a local wine, produced in the area of lake Iseo. Red or white.
Valpolicella: Red wine produced in the Lake Garda area.