So after a brief hiatus from lifestyle and all things easy breezy, we're going to ease back into it after my last post on Brexit and the impact it's had already on everyday relationships between Brits and Europeans... by writing a little love letter to Europe!
(And I mean really, is there a single post about Italy on this blog that isn't a love letter to Europe?)
I've written about Bergamo before but it deserves revisiting for many, many reasons, a few of which I'll touch upon today. Back in April, we took our friend Liam for the day whilst he was visiting us in Milan. Seeing as it was his first time visiting Italy, we decided to take him out of the bustling metropolis and out to find some calmer Italian charm at the foot of the Alps...
And here's why you should too!
(P.s be prepared for picture OVERLOAD)
1. It's beautiful just getting there
If you're flying in, you'll be swooping through the clouds, over the Alps and into full view of the expansive plains of the Po valley. Once you've arrived at Bergamo station, the walk up to the Città Alta takes you past a mix of buildings, from the classical Italian architecture you might be used to seeing on postcards to more modern styles reminiscent of those cool black and white films from the 50s and 60s.
Once you've arrived at the foot of the Città Alta, you can either take the funicular or you can save a few cents (after all, they're pretty precious these days for us Brits..) and take a hike up the shaded cobbled paths to the fairytale fortress..
2. The views are insane (and they go on forever and ever and ever...)
It's not always that easy climbing up to Bergamo's Città Alta, especially in the heat of summer. But never fear! The spectacular views mean that stopping to catch your breath can be easily disguised as being overwhelmed by the breathtaking scenery!
3. It's a perfect example of Italian old-world charm
The Città Alta is basically the old town of Bergamo. Due to the way those clever Medieval types packed it in nice and closely on top of the hill, it remains virtually untouched by modern hands and feels a little bit like stepping back in time. It's largely pedestrianised meaning that you can wander around staring up at your centuries-old surrounds without risking being struck down by a wandering Fiat 500.
4. THE FOOD
I didn't take anywhere near enough photos of the food to do it justice (and looking back through my other photos of trips to Bergamo, I never have done which I can only put down to the fact that I'm probably shoving it in my mouth before the waiter has set the plate down).
Bergamo is (one of) the spiritual home(s) of polenta, and what better way than to serve it smothered in cheese and dripping in sage-infused butter? Every time I visit Bergamo, I basically live off the stuff. And cheese boards. Because the Bergamaschi really do not know what vegetarians are* so the only things you'll be able to eat are polenta and cheese. It's BRILLIANT.
(*True story, I once ordered something off the "vegetarian section" of a menu in a Bergamo restaurant - I was very drunk and so at first put the "odd flavour" down to the regional cuisine but after finding a rather obvious square of ham halfway through, the flavour's origin became all too clear... for the record, I really don't like pork.)
5. The botanical gardens are great for walking it all off
After all that cheese, polenta and butter, you're probably going to want to keep climbing up to the top of the city in order to hush the alarm bells in your brain that are very clearly ringing in your impending cardiac arrest. The botanical gardens of Lorenzo Rota tick off two boxes - a bit of gentle hill climbing to get there and then a pretty floral landscape amongst the mountains where you can sit down and contemplate your reduced breathing capacity...
I also feel I should explain the odd posing in the above photos - I was trying to get Michele to take some nice photos of me in the gardens (you know, like bloggers typically do, I hardly ever appear in photos on this blog and sometimes I just want some proof that I was actually there y'know?)
Anyway... He always has a specific way of taking them that I don't like (angles I don't want, flash on etc. etc.) and I always have a habit of choosing shady spots that I think are too photogenic to change. So we were trying to show each other how to find the light in photos... yeah.
Back to Bergamo!
We happened to visit whilst they had a beautiful collection of tulips on show. I hadn't seen them in the gardens before and they were hidden in the final little courtyard just before the exit. My particular favourites were those in the final photo - I'd love to have a vase of these on my desk every single day.
6. Did I mention the views?
After the gardens, you can take another funicular or follow the signs up to Castello di San Vigilio if you're still into punishing yourself for lunch. It's a bit of a steep climb, especially if you then follow the path up through the old castle and out into the little park on the roof. Needless to say, the views from the top are worth it. We ended up joining lots of others in taking a nap in the sunshine surrounded by rolling hills and mountains. On that particular day, it was even clear enough to see the Milan skyline shimmering on the horizon.
7. The churches are absolutely spectacular
Back in the old town, we visited the Duomo, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and the Chiesa di Sant'Agata al Carmine (above). It's wonderful that you can just wander into these absolutely incredible pieces of architecture for free. Plus on a hot day, they're a nice bit of respite from the weather! Don't forget to cover your knees and shoulders or you might get thrown out!
8. And finally, the Caffé del Funicolare
At the end of a long day of walking and craning your neck back, you'll probably be tired and in need of a sit down before heading back to the train station. I refuse to leave Bergamo Alta without a trip to the Caffé del Funicolare for a glass of prosecco and a few nibbles. A small glass of the good stuff sets you back €4 which isn't a bad deal at all considering that in the UK you can get a lukewarm flute of bubbles for about £8. Plus the views are absolutely on point. Last time I went, the panes on the glass barrier were peeling somewhat which kind of obscured the view a bit but if you lean out over it, there's the entire valley spread out before you!
So that's why you should visit Bergamo Alta. I hope I've convinced you!