There’s one memory in particular that I associate with the town of Bergamo. Having arrived in Italy for the first time, friends immediately took me to meet their Bergamaschi (= from Bergamo) cousins. The family matriarch, an old woman in a long black dress, met me with “buongiorno” while simultaneously stirring a huge cast iron pot on the fire. (I swear I saw her again years later in the countryside outside of Naples, riding a grocery-laden bike up a steep hill). “Polenta”, she said, pointing at the pot. We left for a walk and arrived back 30 minutes later. The woman was still stirring that darn pot of polenta. She motioned for me to come over and try to stir it. It was difficult, like trying to move very thick mud with a wooden spoon. You know how the story ends: the polenta was our delicious lunch. It was topped with a memorable homemade sauce of locally gathered mushrooms. (Yum.)
On subsequent visits to the town, I got to spend time wandering the medieval streets of Bergamo Alta, the Old Town, and I’m here to recommend you do the same.
Bergamo is only one of many great options for a daytrip from Milan.
So if you’re flying in or out of Milan’s Bergamo airport, Orio al Serio, lucky you. Not only did you most likely get acheaper flight, you have the opportunity to visit an absolutely gorgeous medieval town. And if you’re not flying out of Bergamo, visit the town as a day trip from Milan. You may not see that old woman stirring polenta, but you’ll get to know a small Italian town with enough medieval atmosphere for a movie setting and very few tourists. Here’s what I recommend.
- Architecture Get the funicular to Bergamo Alta, and start in the Piazza Vecchia (top photo), the Old Square, which is considered by some as among the most beautiful piazzas in Europe. Don’t miss the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (photo) and the Cappella Colleoni (photo below).
- Atmosphere For small-town medieval atmosphere, walk along Via Arena. Just 200 m long, this is considered to be Bergamo’s most enchanting street. Go in the early morning and you may hear the rustle of a nun’s habit as she hurries to the Santa Grata convent for mass. Walk along Via Porta Dipinta (Via of the Painted Door) too.
- Views Visit Palazzo Terzi for the views over the countryside. Walk along Bergamo’s walls, seen in the photo above. For views of the city from afar, take the funicular up to San Vigilio (photo).
- Art Visit the Pinacoteca Carrara, a fabulous art museum housing Venetian, Lombard, and Tuscan schools. Note: as of this writing the Pinacoteca is closed for renovation but its major works are on display at the Palazzo della Ragione, in the Piazza Vecchia.
- Food Enjoy a gelato or a coffee at Caffe del Tazzo, or if it’s dinner time, eat a regional meal at Vineria Cozzi, (both in Piazza Vecchia) or eat while enjoying the views at the Ristorante San Virgilio (34 via San Virgilio. A shout out to Chris Thomas of the Facebook Italy Photo contest for this recommendation). Try the locally made white wine, Franciacorta.
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