After an extended visit in 1926, the German-Swiss poet Hermann Hesse described Bergamo as “the most beautiful corner of Italy, one of the many, small surprises and joys that makes travelling worthwhile”. Nearly a hundred years later, Hermann’s assessment couldn’t be any truer. Located in the northern region of Lombardy, around 40km from Milan, Bergamo’s spellbinding old town and luxuriant countryside – which has some of the most prolific cheese makers on the continent – make for an unforgettable sojourn in Italy’s Alpine outer reaches. Here are a few reasons why you should follow in Hermann’s footsteps and make Bergamo your next holiday destination.
The cheese is the best in all of Italy
Italy’s love of fine cheese is well-known, but of all the formaggio-famous regions in the country, nowhere does it like Bergamo. As well as being a Unesco Creative City for Gastronomy, the province has acquired Protected Designation of Origin ruling from the EU for nine of its cheeses, with a tenth soon to join them. To put that in perspective, France's renowned cheese-producing region Normandy has been awarded this coveted status for just one of its varieties. In other words, it’s a big cheese. Tours arranged by local guides are a fun way to dive into the riches produced by Bergamo’s farmers while enjoying the Alpine countryside. Alternatively, swing by a cheese shop in the city and pick up some creamy stracchino, taleggio or intense gorgonzola and a loaf of warm bread and have yourself a picnic.
It's old… very old
Surrounded by 6km of Unesco-protected Venetian walls, Upper Bergamo (or Città Alta) is a sight to behold. While the stone bastions and imposing towers of this medieval fortification perched high on the hillside were designed to ward off enemies, enclosed within its walls is an enchanting citadel filled with charming alfresco cafés, gelaterias and palaces. At its centre is the remarkable Piazza Vecchia, an old town square where you can sip a morning espresso while surveying buildings like the Santa Maria Maggiore Church that date back to the 12th century. Afterwards, take a stroll along the mighty Venetian walls that have been guarding Upper Bergamo for the last five centuries or enjoy the views while riding the funicular back down into the city centre.
Its haul of art will take your breath away
Explore the work of some of Italy’s greatest painters at the Accademia Carrara Museum, where an enthralling two-century-old collection has made the city one of the country’s most important art destinations. Since opening in 1796, the museum has been the trusted overseer of nearly 2,000 authentic masterpieces from renowned Italian artists like Giovanni Bellini and Sandro Botticelli, in addition to precious sculptures and decorative works. This archive is one of the most valuable in Europe and whether you’re an art addict or just have a flickering interest, a wander through its halls is an illuminating experience.
You can burn calories climbing an ancient staircase
Fun fact: Bergamo is the only city in Italy that’s entirely within a national park. As a result, it's handy for some pretty incredible hikes, though none are more spectacular than its ancient cobblestone staircases. The scalette have connected the lower and upper parts of the city for centuries. The pathways remain popular thoroughfares, crossing through golden fields, terraced gardens and envy-inducing Italian mansions along the 120-metre climb up to Città Alta. The walk may be challenging, but the stretching views of the Lombardian countryside are a welcome reward for your efforts. If you’re up for a real challenge, slip your trainers on and join the locals who race up the steps every morning in the name of good health. You had to run off that cheese at some point, right?
The outdoors here really are great
From emerald lakes and roving woodlands to tumbling Alpine mountain ranges, the nearby Brembana and Seriana valleys make for some breathtaking year-round excursions. A jaunt down the rapids of the Brembo and Serio rivers aboard an inflatable raft is both a fun way to cool off on a hot day and a chance to enjoy the quiet beauty of the region’s forests. Mountain biking is a major draw here too, with the steep hills and long dirt roads creating an abundance of trails for cyclists of all levels. And while it might have one of the world’s most spectacular mountain ranges on its doorstep, both valleys make for excellent ski destinations thanks to their spacious slopes and guaranteed snow up until the spring.
The bath water’s good enough to drink
It was Bergamo springs that sprung the world’s most famous still and sparkling water onto restaurant tables everywhere. The healing thermal waters that flow through the resort of San Pellegrino have drawn wellness-seekers since the early 20th century. At the San Pellegrino Terme hotel and spa you can luxuriate in the steaming mountain springs, have a reviving massage and spend the night in its newly refined design-led hotel.