12 hours in Bergamo – Città Alta (Upper town), Lombardy, Italy

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The plane was slowly descending through the layers of clouds. We had almost got out of them when the fog, covering the hills at the foot of the Alps, came to our sight. Here and there we were able to see the taller hills, standing above the fog. It was the first time we were flying above Lombardy, preparing to land in Bergamo. And while I was just thinkig that we were to have a gloomy morning in the Italian city, a part of Bergamo arised before us. It was indeed the part we were most keen to see – the towers of the churches of Città Alta – the Upper town of Bergamo.

View towards the Upper town of Bergamo
View towards the Upper town of Bergamo

The view was marvellous in the early morninhg. The sun was just rising and the fog covered the valley and the Lower town. We were flying slowly above the city, enjoying the beautiful views towards the hill, covered with old buildings, rising above the white cotton-like curtain. I was really sorry that I was unable to take proper photos of this moment. Then we landed, took the bus after buying day passes and got off at the last stop in the old town of Bergamo.

The Lower town of Bergamo and the Alps in the background
The Lower town of Bergamo and the Alps in the background
Some useful information if you are landing at Bergamo airport

The Bergamo airport is like a hub of some of the low-cost airlines. There is a huge chance that you stop there and wonder what to do for 5-6-12 hours, waiting for your next flight. In this regard, we have prepared some useful information for you.

  • You can buy a day ticket for the city public transport from the ticket automat on the bus stop at the airport. It is valid for 24 hours for all city transport lines (including the airport bus and the funicular) and costs 5 EUR.
  • Allow about 1 hour time to travel from Bergamo airport to town and more than an hour in the opposite direction (traffic can be heavy in the late afternoon).
  • To reach the old town of Bergamo from the airport take bus number 1 (every 20 minutes).
  • You can go from Bergamo to Milan by bus straight from the airport or from downtown
  • If you want to leave your bags, there are two storage places in Bergamo. One is at the airport, in the booth where you pay for the parking. The other one is near the last stop of Bus 1 in the Upper town – just next to the public toilets
  • Città Alta (Upper town) is the old and very well-preserved town of Bergamo.
  • If you are visiting Bergamo for a few hours between two flights, allow enough time for entering the terminal because queues may form at the security checks. You may lose as much as 40 minutes or even more there.

Breakfast in Bergamo – Città Alta (Upper town)

The fog had disappeared but the town was still gloomy and wet, like on a November morning. But the weather was still a nice autumn. We got off the bus at the last stop and filled our bottles with fresh water from the public fountain. Some Italian cities are amazing with their many towers. The last stop of the bus is just next to Adalberto tower and the Archaeological museum in the Upper town.

Maria fills her bottle from a fountain in Upper town Bergamo, Italy
Maria fills her bottle from a fountain in Upper town Bergamo, Italy

The Upper town rises majestically above the valleys of Lombardy and above the Lower town, of course. It is not only a beautiful neighbourhood with great location and views towards the Lombardy fields at the foot of the Apls, but most of all, the historical heart of Bergamo which we were keen to see.

Early morning bread deliveries in Upper town Bergamo
Early morning bread deliveries in Upper town Bergamo

Besides us, on the street there was a group of excited tourists with their suitcases, making noise on the cobblestone street of the town. So we were quick to pass them and immerse in the still quiet streets of the Upper town of Bergamo. We were hungry and we wanted to start the day in the typical Italian way – with a delicious capuccino. We spotted a few drivers loading their cars with hot bread from a local bakery. In front of an osteria there was a full bag of warm baguettes.

There are always a lot of people near the Il Fornaio bakery in the Upper town of Bergamo
There are always a lot of people near the Il Fornaio bakery

The feeling of a nice autumn day was not leaving us and we entered the Il Fornaio bakery. It was a spontaneous decision but proved a good one. The place was open from the early hours and offered a huge diversity of fresh breads, focaccia, pizza and sweet treats. Almost all of the tables were occupied by Italians but there were a couple of foreigners as well. Like in a good bakery, all the breads, pizzas, focaccia and everything else were fresh and delicious. About the capuccino, we had to wait a bit but finally we had it too, making our Itaian morning perfect.

A small tour around the Upper town of Bergamo

Well-fed and having had our morning capuccino, we headed to explore the old town. Bergamo is a wonderful place with its centuries-old buildings, most of them very well-maintained and preserved. We found ourselves at Piazza Vecchia with the beautiful fountain in the middle (Fontana di Piazza Vecchia). Around the square are the most important buildings of the past of Bergamo. But after the administration of the city relocated, these historical buildings were turned into museums, library and other cultural institutions.

Piazza Vecchia, Bergamo, Italy
Piazza Vecchia, Bergamo, Italy

Piazza Vecchia means “old square” – the names of the important places in Italy are often so simple. The old square was built above a Roman forum in the 13th century. Next to the square is Palazzo della Ragione – a building more than 800 years old, nowadays hosting exhibitions and other cultural events. The name of the building comes from Venetian times, when it hosted the court of justice.

The sundial, made in 1798
The sundial, made in 1798

Between the columns of Palazzo della Ragione hides a sundial, built more than 200 years ago (1798). It still works pretty well, showing the exact date when the sun is up. We have seen a similar installation in Bologna.

The clock tower in Bergamo, Italy
The clock tower in Bergamo, Italy
Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Bergamo, Italy
Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore

I will not take you to every single building here, although they are all beautiful, important and interesting. The sundial is located between Piazza Vecchia and the Piazza del Duomo. Here is also the clock tower which you can climb if you wish. Palazzo del Podesta is another interesting building from the Venetian era, once the hearquarters of the Venice’s representative in Bergamo. Now the palace hosts the history museum of Bergamo.

Fontana di Piazza Vecchia
Fontana di Piazza Vecchia
The lions of Fontana di Piazza Vecchia
The lions of Fontana di Piazza Vecchia

In the beginning I mentioned the Fontana di Piazza Vecchia. Once it acted as a fountain and well for the surrounding houses. It looks very curious with the water flowing from the mouth of the sphynx. In 1885 the fountain was removed and a statue of Garibaldi was installed at the site. However, in early 20th century the statue was moved to the Lower town and the fountain was returned to its original place.

The Venetian walls of Bergamo

Almost every building in the old town of Bergamo has an interesting story. The deeper you research, the more interesting it becomes. It is best if you have someone to take you through these stories but you can also serearch yourself. But this article will get too long, so now I move on to tell you about the fortification walls of Bergamo.

The Venetian walls of Bergamo
The Venetian walls of Bergamo

While travelling to the Upper town by bus, we stopped to wait in a small traffic jam at one of the gates in the fortification walls in the city.

The funicular in Bergamo
The funicular in Bergamo
There are two funiculars to the Upper town of Bergamo. They are both a part of the public transport network and are very convenient.
The bridge towards San Giacomo gate
The bridge towards San Giacomo gate

The fortress of Bergamo is a part of the “Venetian Works of Defence between the 16th and 17th Centuries: Stato da Terra – Western Stato da Mar” UNESCO World Heritage site.

Towards the end of our day in Bergamo, a sunset above the walls in the Upper town
Towards the end of our day in Bergamo, a sunset above the walls in the Upper town

These are Military fortifications and defensive structures created by the Venetian Republic in its mainland domains (Stato da Terra) and its territories stretching along the Adriatic coast (Stato da Mar), all included in the World Heritage list. Within the list are the fortifications in Bergamo, Pesciera del Guarda (at Lake Guarda), Palmanova, Zadar, Sibenik and Kotor.

Lunch in Bergamo

It sounds simple but it should be considered in advance. The good restaurants are only open at certain times, for lunch usually between 12 and 2 pm. We really wanted to visit some special place but this takes some preparation. First we passed by Casual, the restaurant of chef Enrico Bartolini, a one-starred Michelin restaurant, where a lunch meal would cost about 100 EUR. We kept walking uphills towards the Castello di San Vigilio – one of the uppermost parts of the town with marvellous views.

The San Vigilio castle is located at 496 m altitude, above the Upper town. It has been the residence of Bergamo’s numerous rulers for centuries. It has an amazing panorama towards the Upper town so do not miss an opportunity to go up there. There is a funicular to San Vigilio, but if it is out of operation, the walk upwards may be long and tiring.

Some of the meals in Baretto - the restaurant where we had lunch
Some of the meals in Baretto – the restaurant where we had lunch

Almost at the top, we spotted Baretto, a small restaurant with a sunny terrace and a family of bears on one of the tables. The restaurant had two zones with different kinds of table covers. Initially we wondered where it is proper to sit. It appeared that the tables with white covers were for lunch and the others were for people who would like just drinks. Depending on where you sit, they bring you either the menu for food or drinks.

Lunch is usually over around 2 pm, this is normal for restaurants all accross Italy. The menu of this restautant was not long, but was pretty nice. A lunch set menu of three courses and a glass of wine costed 35 EUR. Of course, you are free to order whatever you wish separately.

After a good lunch, the mood is always better
After a good lunch, the mood is always better

We enjoyed our stay in Baretto and noticed a Michelin sign on the door. It appeared that the place is being watched by Michelin guide but is still not in the guide officially. For 2020, Michelin Guide recommends 9 restaurants in Bergamo.

The traditional food in Bergamo

Almost every restaurant in Bergamo serves the most traditional pasta in the area – casoncelli, or Casonsèi della Bergamasca. This is stuffed pasta, usually with meat, but in the filling they also add almonds, bread crumbs, ets. It is usually served with butter and pancetta sauce, seasoned with sage leaves.

Casonsèi de la Bergamasca
Casonsèi de la Bergamasca

Another very popular food in Bergamo and the region is the polenta. It is served in various ways and is one of the most popular garnishes for main courses. Moreover, they also make desserts, cakes and cookies with polenta (you can see them in the bakeries and candy shops).

Sunset above Bergamo, Lombardy
Sunset above Bergamo, Lombardy, Italy

Just before we go

The day was near its end and we bought some focaccia for the flight to Morocco. We spent the last minutes near the fortification walls and made a quick walk throught the Lower town as well. Bergamo is a charming city. Maybe we liked it so much because we love everything about Italy, Italian people, wine.. But maybe its charm contributed to our love to become even deeper. We would definitely return to Bergamo for more than a few hours.

The Lower town of Bergamo and the Upper town in the distance
The Lower town of Bergamo and the Upper town in the distance
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