Bergamo makes for an easy day trip from Milan, but why not spend some time in the area instead, where a visit of this historic city can be combined with an outdoor adventure in the nearby Orobie Alps.
Bergamo is in a strategic position, about 40 km (25 mi) northeast of Milan, and between 30 km (19 mi) and 80 km (50 mi) from the Lakes District (Como, Iseo, Garda and Maggiore), while the foothills of the Bergamo Alps begin immediately north of the town, and make for a beautiful outdoors lovers playground.
As recently as this year, the defensive walls that separate the Città Alta (Upper Town, the historic core) from the Città Bassa (Lower Town, modern) have been designed a Unesco World Heritage Site (part of the so-called Venetian System of Defensive Wall).
Some of Bergamo’s most interesting historic sights include the Cittadella (Citadel), built during the Visconti’s domain in the mid-14th century; Palazzo della Ragione, the administrative seat of the city in the Middle Ages, which features the Lion of Saint Mark on its façade, testifying to the long period of Venetian rule; the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, whose construction began in the 12th century on the site of a previous religious building dating from the 7th century, and continued until the 15th century; for more than 800 years, the church was a major center of music teaching and singing. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, the prolific Italian painter and printmaker from the Republic of Venice, frescoed the dome.
If you want to add a little bit of Alpine scenery to your vacation in Lombardy, head to the Regional Park of the Orobie Bergamasche, a 70,000-hectare protected natural area, whose eastern side boasts peaks higher than 3,000 meters, where eagles and steinbocks roam and the views are breathtaking.
Hiking lovers can choose among 1,000 km of varied, more or less demanding trails. The best known include the “Flower Trail”, a ‘high-altitude botanical garden’ located along the slopes of Monte Arera 2,000 meters high, and the 85-km “Orobie Trail”, which allows you to explore all of the Orobie Prealps, sleeping in mountain huts. The Orobie Trail (Sentiero delle Orobie) runs along the Bergamo mountains, and represents a full immersion in some of the wildest areas of these Alps, with the chance to see some of the wildlife that live here (marmot, chamois, eagle, steinbock). The trek isn’t difficult, but you must be in good shape. It mostly stays above 2000 meters, and is comprised of 8 stages in the Eastern Orobie Trail, and 6 in the Western Orobie Trail. The Orobie Trail can be reached via the small towns in the valley floor which allows you to walk even single stages.
The Park also organizes guided visits, with historical itineraries touching on places where the First and Second World Wars were fought.
Active days here can be matched with foodie outings. Cheese is one of the most renowned products from the area, thanks to the excellent milk produced and processed in the malghe (Alpine cottages) of the area, and following traditional techniques that are sustainable and help maintain the biodiversity of the park; cheeses to try include the formagelle, the Branzi, the Taleggio, the Formai du Mut (the last two boast the DOP trademark), the Strachitunt and the famous Bitto, mainly produced in Valtellina.
Honey, mushrooms, cured meats and potatoes are also part of the Park’s typical products, and will make for a good reward after a full day of hiking.