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Bergamo Italy - Reasons to Visit Milan’s Lesser-Known Neighbour

The Upper City of Bergamo is a palace of art in a medieval setting. Some of our favorite things to do in Bergamo included the Duomo Duomo, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Castello di San Vigilio and the Upper City which is the best part of Bergamo. The daily markets are great but unfortunately, we weren’t able to take advantage as we were looking for specific items for some friends and didn’t want to leave it till the last minute – word of advice, just go!

Did you know that Bergamo is full of ancient churches with spectacular interiors? We didn't. Nor did we know it's one of northern Italy's most beautiful cities and, we were told by our hosts, perfect for foodies with its excellent produce and restaurants. Visiting Bergamo was a real treat for us. We'll be back!

Bergamo is one of the most underrated places to visit. You could be forgiven for not even knowing where it is, as I certainly did not before arriving. Some history is probably in order so that I can explain why this charming town in the foothills of the Italian Alps is one of the best-kept secrets in Italy and has been overlooked by most travelers. Bergamo has a long history of invasion, with a rather gruesome story. Rosalia Lombardo was a child born in 1918 who died at just two years old, but her body never decayed. Her father then embalmed her and displayed her in his small museum which eventually was to become famous worldwide as the ‘Museo dei Bambini’ or ‘Museum of the Dolls’. In 1938 this museum became known all over Italy and beyond when photographs of Rosalia's residence were published in Life Magazine, making her an international celebrity for almost 30 years until her father's death in 1957.

In the foothills of the Italian Alps, about 40 km northeast of Milan, is a city you’ve probably not heard of before. The medieval streets, Bergamo’s hilltop Upper City is steeped in medieval history, so much so that some parts seem untouched since they were first built. Bergamo’s 16th century Venetian defensive walls and gates were so impenetrable that the town was never conquered. To get a sense of just how impossible the task of the invading forces was, visit one of the impressive stone gates to the old town. We visited Porta S. Giacomo near to the top funicular station which comes with the added attraction of spectacular views over the much newer Lower City below. The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is breathtaking, Without exaggeration, this 12th century church is one of the most incredible buildings Jade and I have ever visited. We were staggered by the decadence, the detail and the devotion to the decorative arts.

Bergamo is also a great base for exploring northern Italy, we took day trips to Lake Como, Brescia and Verona from our apartment in Bergamo as well as some local hikes up into the mountains.

For the first time in months, I had to dig out my coat, and it was not even October. The city we were visiting was Bergamo. In the foothills of the Italian Alps, about 40 km northeast of Milan, is a city you’ve probably not heard of before.

The medieval streets, of Bergamo’s hilltop Upper City is steeped in medieval history, so much so that some parts seem untouched since they were first built. Bergamo’s 16th-century Venetian defensive walls and gates were so impenetrable that the town was never conquered. To get a sense of just how impossible the task of the invading forces was, visit one of the impressive stone gates to the old town. We visited Porta S. Giacomo near the top funicular station which comes with the added attraction of spectacular views over the much newer Lower City below.

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is breathtaking. Without exaggeration, this 12th-century church is one of the most incredible buildings Jade and I have ever visited. We were staggered by the decadence, the detail and the devotion to decorative arts on display at this basilica. It was once again made all the more remarkable when we learned that

We’re not usually fans of the term ‘breathtaking’, but it is wholly appropriate here. The basilica was built in the 11th century as a dedication to the Virgin Mary, and features an ornate facade, ceiling and floor. It’s no surprise that Bergamo has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. The outside of the basilica is impressive in its own right, but we were completely overwhelmed by the interior. We quite literally could have spent hours gawping at the beautiful frescoes on the walls and ceilings, and at the intricate paintings on display. It was incredible that human beings over 800 years ago could create such amazingly detailed artwork. The detailing continued on the floor too, with marble pieces forming a huge mosaic showing scenes from the Bible – we’re not sure how many millions of pieces had to be cut to make up this image! We also visited Cappella Colleoni, a chapel dedicated to Bartolomeo Colleoni which is every bit as impressive as Santa Maria Maggiore and we saw Bergamo’s oldest building, Chiesa di Santo Spirito, which dates back to 1271.

Elegance and Luxury Fleet Experience

If you're looking to escape the tourist throngs of Italy's big cities, Bergamo is a great option. It's a medium-sized city that's not too far from Milan and its international airport, but it doesn't have the same tourist appeal so it's never very busy.

The old town is absolutely beautiful and you'll feel like you've stepped back in time as you stroll through narrow cobblestone streets lined with medieval buildings. The old town sits on top of a hill and is surrounded by an impressive stone wall, which was built between the 16th and 17th centuries. There are several gates in this wall where you can get access to the old town. We visited Porta S. Giacomo near to the top funicular station which comes with the added attraction of spectacular views over the much newer Lower City below.

We were blown away by how beautiful Bergamo was and we didn't see any other tourists there until we entered some of the churches!

We also loved visiting Bergamo because no one in Italy seems to know about it! We also love being able to say "Bergamo" because it makes us feel very fancy!

If you’re planning your next European trip, here are four reasons why Bergamo should be on your itinerary.

1. Bergamo has a beautiful Lower City

Surrounded by mountains and rich in greenery. The Lower City is a place of parks, stone paved streets and squares, palatial buildings and elegant shops. A perfect place to while away the hours and enjoy the ambience of this stylish city.

2. The Upper City is a medieval masterpiece

In a word, yes! It’s especially magical when the streets are quiet, so aim for early morning or late afternoon when most day visitors have returned to the Lower City and it’s more peaceful.

3. Bergamo is an art lovers paradise

The town boasts 40 museums and art galleries including the Museo di Scienze Naturali Enrico Caffi which we found fascinating – with its dioramas of animals set in their natural habitats as well as dinosaur fossils, stuffed animals, taxidermy birds and fine art paintings depicting nature scenes.

4. Bergamo is home to some breathtaking churches

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is breathtaking; without exaggeration this 12th century church is one of the most incredible buildings Jade

It's not very often that you're able to visit a place that has been kept secret for so long. Bergamo is one of those places, and it's one that I'd love to share with you. This gorgeous town is nestled into the foothills of the Italian Alps, about 40 km northeast of Milan. It's the kind of place I've always wanted to go: medieval streets, hilltop Upper City, 16th century Venetian defensive walls and gates, Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore—it's literally packed with history. I've heard from some friends who went there that it was quite an experience—the people were welcoming, the food was fantastic, and they felt like they were getting away from all the madness of everyday life. It sounds like a total escape! If you're interested in giving Bergamo a try, let me know!

From the narrow cobbled street lined with shops and cafes, the hillside belfry of Piazza Vecchia, to the magnificent Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, this majestic city should be on every traveller’s list. Bergamo is an incredible example of why Italy is so very special and if you add in the surreal green-tinged mountains surrounding it, it’s no wonder why half a million people live there. It really was a joy to document our trip in this stunning city. We hope that you do decide to visit and enjoy it as much as we did.

Bergamo might not have hit the international press like its Italian cousins, but it is no less enchanting. The medieval streets, churches and museums are an experience like no other and I can’t recommend it enough.

The old town of Bergamo is a maze of medieval streets, alleyways and squares. It is an absolute delight to wander around. We found the people to be very welcoming and the food to be excellent indeed, if perhaps not cheap. I have no hesitation in recommending a visit to this wonderful city.

Bergamo is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, one that you could have with your own family and friends saving up to 40% on entrance prices alone. Bergamo is also home to Italy’s largest air force base, something that we were amazed to discover in an Italian city. Whilst it was once under your control, now the base is under Italian control and is an established part of the community. So get to Bergamo Italy as soon as you can because this place is great!

Bergamo built a reputation for itself as a producer of fine wool (still visible in the medieval silk weaving workshops on the streets around Piazza Vecchia), but silk, like many other luxury goods, was traded widely and most often made in Italy. Later on Bergamo and the surrounding area became known as one of the most industrialized parts of Italy at the time.

If you have time, we strongly suggest the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e Tecnologia ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ in Milano and the Museo Archeologia Medievale ‘Lorenzo Ghiberti’ in Firenze. There is also a new exhibition called ‘The Sistine’ Experience’ which demonstrates techniques used on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. It's in English and costs ~€18 per person (2016) but it is an opportunity to see how the paintings were made from start to finish.

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See also Bergamo Italy page

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