On a walking tour of Bergamo, Italy, Alan and I marvel at the stone walls surrounding Città Alta, the upper town of Bergamo, Italy—a medieval city that’s still thriving. In the 17th century, Venetians built the walls to protect the town from Milan.
Today, residents and university students live and shop here, dine at local restaurants and lounge in the sun on the Piazza Vecchia. For travelers, history and life meld in Città Alta, providing an authentic look at Italian life in a medieval town. That’s what Alan and I discover on a northern Italian road trip guided by Claudio Fontana of A La Carte Italy Tours.
When the funicular climbs from the lower town of Bergamo, Città Bassa, through the old city walls, it’s like going back in time. Soon, we’re walking the pedestrian friendly streets along narrow, winding lanes lined with local shops.
Fresh baked goods sit temptingly in a bakery window. How much would one tasty cake destroy my baby boomer diet?
A shoe shop offers stylish Italian leather boots. Every boomer woman needs a pair of boots, right? I could spend the entire day on this very street.
All paths in Città Alta eventually lead to Piazza Vecchia. Here, students from the University of Bergamo take a break between classes, while patrons of local dining establishments watch the action from covered patios. In the summer, outdoor performances entertain locals and tourists, alike.
Of course no visit to an Italian town is complete without exploring the local duomo. A few steps beyond Piazza Vecchia, a smaller square, Piazza del Duomo, plays host to Bergamo Cathedral (duomo), the people’s church—Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, and Colleoni Chapel.
Of the three, the 12th century Santa Maria Maggiore is the most magnificent. The exterior gives no hint of the ornate interior that you’ll find inside.
A visit to the Renaissance-style Colleoni Chapel and its elaborate facade is also worthwhile just to learn of the 14th century warrior with an ego, Bartolomeo Colleoni. He built the chapel as a shrine to hold his tomb and that of his beloved daughter, Medea. But I’m most impressed with the fact that Colleoni lived to be 80-years-old, a feat in itself for a man of the 14th century.
Step out the rear door of Santa Maria Maggiore and circle back to Convento di Francesco for a glimpse of partially restored frescoes dating from the 15th century. You’ll probably have the place to yourself.
For lunch, we wander back to Piazza Vecchio. Although the patio at Caffè del Tasso looks inviting, the weather is a bit too cool for dinning al fresco. We take a seat in the back room where photos commemorate the cafe’s history, which dates to 1476. That’s a long time to be serving food.
Claudio interprets the extensive menu offering suggestions. After we sample appetizers of local salami and cheese, plates of pasta with walnuts and gorgonzola sauce arrive. Would you like to try it? I found a recipe. Claudio convinces us to finish the meal with little sponge cakes filled with almond cream, an extremely sweet ending to the meal that cures my desire to try the pastries back at that cute shop.
A walk to La Rocca, a hilltop fortress with a killer view of Lombardy and the Bergamasque Alps, finishes our day in Città Alta. On the way, we peek into the open windows of a blacksmith shop where the original equipment dates back to medieval times.
The park-like grounds of La Rocca offer a place to rest and take in the scene. Sit on a bench under a tree or search out the portion of the wall that provides a view of San Giacomo gate with its Venetian walls.
Rather than ride the funicular back to Città Bassa, consider walking down the hill into the lower town. Stepping through the old gates, the medieval past gradually fades into the present, a pleasant way to end a walking tour of Bergamo.
From Hotel Brittania Excelsior in Cadenabbia di Griante, our headquarters for several days on Lake Como, it’s a two-hour drive to Bergamo. The journey includes a ferry ride and a drive along a road that hugs the winding coast of the lake past villages and light industrial zones.
While researching this article I discovered an excellent blog, Best of Bergamo, written by journalist Val Culley. You can bet that I’ll be visiting her site if a return to the medieval city is in my future.
Click road trip in Northern Italy to read more about our 10-day journey. Use our suggestions to plan your own Italian road trip!