Bergamo is located in the north Italian region of Lombardy close to the Alps about 25 km from Milan. It’s a beautiful old city. An underrated alternative to the more famous cities in the region.
Bergamo is like Modica in Sicily, divided into two parts: Bergamo Bassa, the lower and new part of town, and the old part: Bergamo Alta build on the hill and elevated above the rest of the city.
Lunch in Bergamo Bassa
The lower part of Bergamo is the center of the city today, where you will find shopping streets, the train station, restaurants, and a busy everyday life.
We were staying in the lower center, at Hotel Excelsior San Marco, so we started out by exploring this area. We quickly spotted a gelateria and made our first stop for some great italian gelato. Then we sat out to find a place for a late lunch.
We went into a small but cozy place, very down to earth, with just a few seats to eat by and the option for takeaway. The place, Il Coccio, was busy and the owner at the counter welcomed us with an explanation of each dish in perfect English. The food was home cooked, simple dishes, with a focus on fresh products and seasonal vegetables, and with options for vegetarians. Matias ordered tagliatelle with ragu, I had a vegee lasagne, and it was served on biodegradable plates. For the low price, it felt like a bargain for the taste and quality. Fresh pasta, based on eggs, as well as ragu, has its home in northern Italy. Il Coccio was a good place to get a simple, but delicious serving.
Further down the street on Largo Nicolò Rezzara, you’ll find a few small bars with outdoor serving. We sat down for a coffee while watching the local life. Around 6 pm it started to get crowded around the cafes as people were coming for Aperitivo.
Aperitivo time in Bergamo
Aperitivo is a pre-dinner concept where people meet and socialize, while they have finger food together with a drink. Usually, you just need to pay the price of a drink, and the food is free, as bars use the food to compete for customers. The idea is to stimulate the appetite for dinner. Italian dinners normally start around 9 pm. The hours for aperitivo usually start around 6 pm and runs until 8.30pm.
Popular drinks for aperitivo is Aperol spritz or Campari based drinks, which both Matias and I really like. They only seem to taste better, sitting at a cozy square in Italy!
We went to Tassino Café, which looked especially like a popular place for aperitivo among the locals. The atmosphere around the little square outside Tassino was great. Lots of people preparing for a night out and students taking advantage of aperitivo as a cheap way to go out. The place offered a buffet of pasta, small pizza slices, cheeses, and grilled vegetables, to enjoy together with your drink.
We love the concept of aperitivo. But check out the food before sitting down, some places offer quite boring options. Aperitivo is most common in the northern part of Italy, but we found it in Marzamemi in Sicily also.
Wedding with a view
We actually came to Bergamo, to attend our friends’ wedding. The ceremony was quite spectacular as it was held in the grand old church San Michele al Pozzo Bianco in Bergamo Alta. The church dates back to the 8th century and for fresco fans, it’s a must visit.
The big wedding reception, dinner, and party afterward were held up on the mountainside, at the restaurant Ristorante Il Pianone. In the garden of the restaurant, there is an amazing view over both the Bergamo and the surrounding mountains, which alone makes it worth a visit.
Il Pianone serves a mix of a local and Tuscan food and offers two tasting menus besides the a la carte menu.
The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. Go there for a dinner with the best panorama view of the town and its valleys.
Bergamo Alta is enclosed by a six kilometers long Venetian wall from the 1600’s. To get to Bergamo Alta, you can walk on stairs along the wall and take in the view over the city, or take the funicular. The funicular is perfect for a warm summer day, as it takes you just 3 minutes to get up.
Just be sure to do the descent by walking down along the wall, back to Bergamo Bassa. The views over Bergamo’s well-preserved old villas with lush green gardens lying on the hills is beautiful.
When you come up to Bergamo Alta you are met by old buildings in warm colors with shutters and small cobblestoned streets. The streets are closed to traffic, and therefore perfect to wander around and get lost in.
The day after the wedding we strolled around Bergamo Alta. We were hungry and a bit hungover. Many restaurants on the main street seemed a bit touristy, why we walked into some smaller streets. We found a nice little place called Officina dei Sapori. The restaurant is small and cozy and you feel like you’re in someone’s living room.
Officina dei Sapori specializes in the traditional food of the region: Filled ravioli called casoncelli, and polenta. Both were very good and filling. Our friends had the gnocchi quattro formaggi (gnocchi with 4 kinds of cheese), and while delicious, the dishes demonstrate that the cuisine is quite heavy, when compared to the southern part of Italy.
Da Mimmo Family restaurant
For dinner, our local friends recommend us the old school family restaurant Da Mimmo. Mimmo Amaddeo, who started the place in 1960’s, welcomed us to the restaurant together with his wife. We got a table in the big garden in the yard. The place was filled with a mix of tourists and local families with both their grandparents and their 5 kids.
The place serves traditional dishes of their family recipes and focuses on fresh and natural ingredients. They are proud to be part of the Slow Food Presidia and of having a Pizza D.O.C certification.
Da Mimmo is famous for its pizzas. The recipe is simple and good: organic dough flour raised for 36 hours, San Marzano DOP tomato, buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes from Pachino (ciliegino), fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil.
Address: Via B. Colleoni, 17, Bergamo Alta.
Our friends from Bergamo recommended us to go further up in Bergamo Alta for pizza, at the place called San Vigilio. It should have a breathtaking panorama view from there terrace, which is open in the summer evenings, and from its windows in the winter. You can get there by the Funicolare San Vigilio. We will have to do that our next time in Bergamo, but I wanted to share this tip with you.
Getting to and from Bergamo
Fly directly to Bergamo airport, Aeroporto Orio al Serio, which is just 5 km away from the city. From the airport, it takes about 10-15 min. with the airport bus or a taxi. You can also catch the train to or from the central station in Milan, it takes about 1 hour.
From Bergamo, you can visit the thermal bath San Pellegrino Terme. San Pellegrino, you will also find the grand hotel, which was the inspiration for Wes Anderson’s film: Grand Budapest. Close to Bergamo is also the famous Lake Como, and the Lake Iseo (which I prefer of the two).