We were heading to Calais in France from Montenegro via northern Italy and had already stopped at Udine and Verona both of which we loved.
Our next stop was Bergamo which we thought sounded interesting from its online description – “cobblestone streets, encircled by Venetian walls and accessible by funicular,” “Bergamo is the hidden gem of Lombardy.”
What more could you ask for?! Well I suppose you could wish for a pleasant but economical place to stay where all the facilities sparkle with cleanliness. And maybe a very kind caretaker who provides maps with useful information and a hand drawn route to the funicular station. Perhaps also a lovely drive to get there through beautiful countryside with grapevines and orchards spreading as far as the eye could see? Affirmative to all that!
Although it was only a quick visit we were very taken with Bergamo. The walk from the camper van site down in the lower (and newer) part of town to the funicular station was lovely as we went past some beautiful buildings and gardens filled with blossom.
It was a bit of a thrill getting on the funicular to reach the upper town (Città Alta) – what an unusual way to visit a place as a tourist!
We rattled up the steep hill and five minutes later we were in a pretty square called Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe (Shoe Market Square). In Medieval times this square would have been humming with activity – we could just imagine the sounds and the smells of the shoe makers at work.
Some of the buildings (including the facade of the funicular station) date back to the 13th Century.
When we don’t have much time to explore a place we love to wander through the back lanes and byways and just enjoy whatever delight we stumble across. In Bergamo we found sweet cobbled laneways and parts of the massive city walls built by the Venetians.
One delightful surprise tucked away from the main tourist “trail” was an ancient “Lavatoio” – a communal laundry constructed from white marble. It was in a lovely cool and shady spot and it wasn’t hard to imagine how in the past it would have been filled with bustle and chatter while the washing was being scrubbed and rinsed by the ladies of the town.
Later we wandered passed the Angelo d’Oro, (the Golden Lamb), a famous restaurant which until recently, before it’s recent closure, had been at the centre of social life in Bergamo for over half a century and had hosted “the most famous names and faces from the world of entertainment, music, sport, science, journalism and of art.”
After a while, the small street we were walking in opened out into the heart of the Città Alta – to the beautiful Piazza Vecchia.
The piazza is bordered on every side by fabulous architecture. On one side is the Palazzo della Ragione (also known as the Palazzo Vecchio), which was built in the 12th century and in addition to a palace it has over the years, been a town hall, a courthouse, and a theatre.
On the opposite side of the Piazza is the elegant white marble Palazzo Nuovo. Construction of this building began in 1604 and wasn’t fully completed until 1928!
The building was the seat of the Municipality of Bergamo for three centuries and is now one of Italy’s most important libraries, the Civica Angelo Mai , which preserves parchments, codices, incunabula and priceless volumes of music.
Situated between the Palazzo della Ragione and yet another Palazzo – the Palazzo del Podestà – is a 56 metre high bell tower – the 12th Century Torre Civica – which is the tallest tower in the city.
In the middle of the square we found an unusual drinking water fountain with two sphinxes from whose mouths water flowed. The Contarini Fountain was donated to the city by the then chief magistrate Alvise Contarini in 1780.
We left the square at the Palazzo della Ragione end and arrived at the amazing chapel and mausoleum of Bartolomea Colleoni, who died on November 2, 1475 and who was from one of the city’s most notable families.
The chapel is full of fantastic paintings and sculptures by famous artists. A highlight amongst these works of art were the frescoes on the dome, executed by Giambattista Tiepolo between 1732–1733.
From the Chapel we walked part of the way around the ancient city walls, and enjoyed the spectacular views before walking down the long and winding path back to the van.
After a quick bite to eat we set off once again towards Calais where we would catch the ferry to England to visit our families.
We drove through glorious Alpine countryside with snowy peaks dominating the skyline. As we approached our destination the sun began to set and the red glow over the mountains was absolutely glorious.
Just before 7pm we arrived at the entrance to the tunnel that travels directly through Mont Blanc and which starts in Italy and then comes out in France.
Fifteen minutes later we arrived at the ski resort town of Chamonix Mont Blanc in complete darkness but we had chosen an easy-to-find “Aire” to spend the night. Soon we were opening a bottle of Italian wine and eating dinner at the base of Mt Blanc surrounded (we assumed) by beautiful mountains – wondering what we would see out of the windows when we woke up in the morning!