Como & Bergamo to attract Milan
I think I paid my 11 year-break to Italy this past year by visiting it twice, and there you have a post on one. Milan, why, right? When you’ve heard of all the - not so positive – comments, why on earth think about it? Well, first of all, popular cities were already out of the list. Second, it was affordable for a last minute option. Third, I found other excuses to visit the area; like Bergamo & Como, to combine with! Then the trip sounded quite doable and attractive. If you plan on a long weekend, this could be a good route. If you have more time, of course spend a night at each.
I was thinking of using Milan as a base but hey when I checked the map Bergamo looked much better, with regard to distances to each (and also for my flights landing to / departing from Bergamo). I find it easier to visit daily than pack each day and go thorugh the trouble of finding different accommodations, you know. Depending on your airport (Linate / Bergamo / Malpensa) you can figure out your own itinerary. For instance the choice with Malpensa could include Lake Lugano / Maggiore. Anyway, here’s my “been there, done that”, keep reading.
The region where all belong is in fact Lombardy, one of the 20 administrative regions of Italy, in the northwest of the country. The most populated and developed region is known for its exquisite vine yards, great lakes and a breathtaking mountain chain. The region has countless other distinctive facets, too, however, we’ll take a sneak look at 3 provinces . Let’s see if nature, history, art in harmony with technology & fashion will captivate you to be dragged.
As a base, Bergamo deserves to be the first on the list. Not as popular as the other two, I didn’t have big expectations from Bergamo. And that’s when you’re – hopefully- dazzled, right? I really was happy to have visited this cosy province. A good combination of modern & antique; you have a historical old town (Città Alta) taking you to centuries ago whereas the new town (Città Bassa) is full of people, students rushing to jobs, schools. Ideal for both winter & water sports, and hiking, Bergamo can be a wildcard destination with its variety of offerings.
Accessible by funicular, bus or footpaths, Citta Alta is characterized by cobblestone streets, well-preserved palaces, city walls, churches and squares. Imagine a city, once home of the Celts, Gauls, Romans, Huns, Venetians and the Dukes!
Piazza Vecchia, the centre of the old town, and the adjacent Piazza Duomo are home to some of Bergamo’s most iconic landmarks such as;
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (Doumo): the interior of this magnificent Gothic Romanesque cathedral is absolutely mind-blowing. The elaborate frescoes and tapestries are particularly impressive; my favourite, the chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
Capella Colleoni: on the Renaissance facade, you will love a vibrant play of colours on the marble, coated in colors of white and pink.
Baptistery: this octagonal neo-Gothic Baptistery on the outside, has the statue of John the Baptist along with 8 statues of the Virtues and on the inside bas-reliefs of episodes of the life of Christ.
Palazzo della Ragione & Campanone: the old town hall and Civic Tower.
Galleria dell'Accademia Carrara: displays one of the best art collections in Italy.
Castle of San Vigilio and Botanical Gardens: if you have time and wanna look from heights, take the second funicular from the Citta Alta to reach the summit.
You can see the city’s elegance even on the streets. Ugo Riva's "Anima Mundi" ( soul of the world) sculpture installed in Largo Porta Nuova, Bergamo, is such an elegant piece of art. His romanticized classicism is mainly inspired by human being and body. In 2011, he realized an exhibition commisionated by “Fondazione del Credito Bergamasco” for the 120th anniversary of the Bank. Hence the occasion, this statue is right in front of the very bank.
Da Mimmo Restaurant is a great culinary suggestion with its kitchen open outside lunch hours. And don’t forget Bergamo is famous for its cheese, branzi, formai de mut & taleggio and polenta dishes. Hint; there are two polenta dishes in fact, a marzipan cake and a savoury dish with actual polenta & bird in it!
Did you know?
- The native Bergamaschi look east towards Veneto for inspiration, but turn their backsides to Milano J
- San Pellegrino Terme, yes you guessed it, the famous water company’s resource, is closeby.
- There’s free wifi on the streets!
- Bergamo airport has ‘sleeping facilities’ to rest up and relax for the last 2,5 years? Given the airport’s lack of seating, ZZZleepandGo living pods with soundproof cubes, free Wi-Fi, a flight status screen, plugs and a bed sounds like a definite upgrade! Open 24 hours a day, they are marketed as a “low cost lounge” that can be reserved in advance through the ZZZleepandGo website or their mobile app.
A hidden gem in Milans shadow, it is hard to believe the charming Bergamo is also one of Italy's most industrialized cities, from which it derives its relative wealth. Do not be among the 96% of visitors who fly into Bergamo airport without actually exploring the city!
The city of Como lies at the base of Mount Brunate and is surrounded by hills and the Alpine foothills that watch over the southern part of Lake Como. One encounters beautiful communities one after another, beginning with Como, tucked away in the mountains that lie alongside the (upside-down Y letter shaped) lake.
For centuries this lake has attracted an elite crowd. You don’t need to be a celebrity or have a zillion dollar account to visit, though. Just get on a train and voila, you’re there! Trenitalia Como San Giovanni train station in the city center and the Varenna/Esino train station in Varenna make for easy connections to and through Milan or Bergamo. I used one on my way to and the other back 😉
Romanticisim probably lies more in the villages around than the center itself. A visit to the villages and the lake is possible by ferries. Keep in mind that the fast ferry service takes approximately 45-60 minutes while the slow ferry takes around 2 hours.
Bellagio, the pearl of Lake Como, is the most famous among them and that’s why atrracts a lot of tourists. The lakeside promenade offers stunning views of the Alps across the lake. High-quality shops stocked with local products, particularly silk, are scattered along the charming roads in Bellagio's town center, so why not consider buying a tie or a scarf while you’re at it?
Varenna is perhaps the most romantic village of all, with some hotels right on the water and the south-facing panorama second to none. Overlooked by Vezio Castle it’s quite peaceful, too. Did you know, residents have an odd tradition keep water bottles just of outside their houses to keep stray cats from peeing on their door?
Menaggio is one of the biggest villages on the lake. It’s a convenient connecting point for Switzerland and Lake Lugano either by car or bus service. It has a big lakeside promenade that passes before some imposing-looking hotels and their gardens.
Between Como and Bellagio, lies a journey of discovery of the Sacro Monte of Ossuccio on the Island of Comacina, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This area is a cluster of old Medieval towns, archaeological remains from the 2nd Century B.C., 18th-Century villas and mountainous nature trails. Pay a visit to the beautiful Romanesque abbey church located in amidst the woods of Mount Costone; where, only silence and calm reign. Facing the island is the Sacro Monte di Ossuccio, leading up to the Sanctuary of the Beata Vergine del Soccorso via a mountainous pathway marked by olive trees, hills and 17th-Century chapels.
Lecco is famous as the centerpiece of Alessandro Manzoni’s masterpiece “The Bethrothed,” which weaves its story into the landscape of the local mountains and lakeside. The steeple of Basilica di San Nicolo dates back to 1864 over the base of an ancient tower under which underground passages were used as shelter during WWII aerial attacks.
Lezzeno offers some of the most beautiful vantage points on the lake. It’s a small village directly facing Comacina Island and the Balbianello peninsula.
Brunate is a village on the hill above the city center. Take the 7 minute ride of the funicular if you’re interested in “big picture” scenery. I found the views from the funicular better than the viewpoint above, in fact.
Cathedral of Como (Duomo); the works to build the cathedral in Como, designed by Lorenzo degli Spazzi, began in 1396 over te ruins of the Romanesque basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. The works lasted more than three hundred years and ended in 1740. Although largely Gothic in style, elements of Romanesque, Renaissance and baroque can also be seen in Como's imposing, marble-clad duomo.
These are all why several celebrities have homes here. I had realized I wasn’t really interested in the villas people own, on my Miami trip, so they really weren’t much on my agenda.
If you are looking for different stuff to try, taste missoltitt, dried, salted fish, luganega sausage.
Did you know?
Lake Como has made appearances in movies such as Ocean’s Twelve, Casino Royale, and Star Wars, and was even the backdrop for Gwen Stefani’s music video “Cool.”
Is Milan less than stellar for a visit? You may think so when banks and office buildings outnumber churches but why not give it a chance and see for yourself?
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Milanese have a reputation for being obsessed with work, when you’re talking about the fashion, industry and financial capital of Italy. The second most populated city has variety to discover from glorious art to architecture.
What's the first thing that rings a bell talking of Milan? Doumo, right! The Gothic cathedral's pearly white facade is adorned with 135 spires and 3400 statues and 700 figures. The most spectacular view is through the innumerable marble spires and pinnacles that adorn the rooftop. Crowning it all is a gilded copper statue of the Madonnina (Little Madonna), the city's traditional protector. I was more impressed with the roof than inside, just so you know... Did you know, 600 years in the making, aka slow construction created the byword for an impossible task ('fabrica del Dom', in the Milanese dialect)?
Milan's Duomo's most imposing element, is the front facade facing Piazza del Duomo. The façade is baroque up to the first order of windows, and neo-Gothic above. Each of the five bronze doors that provide access to the Duomo was sculpted by a different artist. The central one is the oldest and was created in the nineteenth century by Ludovico Pogliaghi. The panels on the doors depict episodes in the lives of the virgin Mary, Saint Ambrose (patron of Milan) and Saint Charles Borromeo as well as scenes from the history of Milan and the construction of the cathedral.
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, is a must see attraction in the heart of the city, covering the street between the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza della Scala, the dome and the opera, respectively. The gallery is a shopping arcade that enlivens rather than kills the cultural life of a great city. Try to find the seal of Turin, and twist around atop the bull's testicles – it's supposed to bring great rewards. The myth's popularity is also why there is a hole where the bull's testicles in the seal of Turin are supposed to be.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Horse was one of the two great sculptural projects that Da Vinci devoted himself wholeheartedly but were not realized. Commissioned in 1482 by Duke of Milan Ludovico il Moro, the bronze horse was completed only recently in 1999.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, Il Cenacolo, is an iconic fresco located in the refectory of the monastery next to the Santa Maria delle Grazie church. Surviving the trials and tribulations of history, this fresco has been remarkably preserved. Book in advance if you are going during peak season.
If you are interested to learn more about Milan and Da Vinci’s connection with the city, here’s a good read; “Leonardo’s Swans”, the historical novel.
Sforzesco Castle, the impressive castle of the Renaissance Sforzesco family who once ruled Milan, now hosts a collection of civic museums and offers access to the large Sempione Park.
The Cimitero Monumentale is like open-air museum of Italian sculpture, where theatrical displays of grief can be admired.
Dedicated to the city’s patron saint, Sant’Ambrogio Basilica is worth a visit both for its very old and original architectural elements and the artwork inside.
Santa Maria delle Grazie is a church and Dominican convent in Milan, included in the UNESCO World Heritage sites list. The church attracts many visitors as it contains the mural of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Book your ticket in advance if you want to add it to your list.
The famous wall of dolls in the student district of Navigli in Milan is the perfect example of how the public interaction with an artwork can amplify the effect it has on a viewer and the wider community. The wall has hundreds of Barbie, hand-made and rag dolls hanging from barbed wire as tribute to women lost to femicide crimes amongst other art works dedicated to the cause. Joe Ring, the artist responsible for the idea, was a victim of femicide herself, and the dolls – pulled apart and tortured – are a visual representative of the brutality of femicide crimes, and aim to act as a reminder that “we are not dolls”.
Did you know Navigli is a network of artificial waterways designed by Leonardo da Vinci that connect the city centre to the countryside? Whether pedalling or joining the boat tours departing daily in summer, it sure is a good opportunity to get a breath of fresh air.
Fuorisalone in mid-April, one of the world’s leading design festivals, could be a good excuse to visit for those of you interested in finding everything related to design.
Wanna hear an interesting witch story regarding Milan? The resources say in Via Laghetto 2 lived the most frightful witch, Arima. It is said that at night, she organized parties & banquets, prepared potions, danced on the top of the roofs with her disciples and then flew to Piazza della Vetra 🙂 The Black Death was spreading very quickly but around Via Laghetto area, no one, neither man nor woman was infected. Not finding an explanation to this, people started thinking the witches were keeping the disease away with their magic. In Piazza della Vetra witches were tortured until they confessed their sins and then burnt alive in front of the audience claiming justice. The truth came out later. Big ships carrying blocks of marble for Doumo in fact arrived there and was unloaded, cut and moved to the cathedral. Marble dust settled everywhere especially on the skin of the people, making them immune to flea attacks that, at the time, brought the plague around. So, in fact, nothing to do with witches 🙂
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