Noble and proud of itself, Bergamo displays two souls in which a single heart beats. The Upper City, with the ancient core guarded by the circle of walls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2017 ( transnational serial site “Venetian Works of Defence between the 16th and 17th Centuries: Stato da Terra – Western Stato da Mar”) and the Lower City, a sort of countermelody, modern and changing, yet rich in cultural episodes, among which the Carrara Academy, one of the country’s major picture galleries, stands out. From the former, gathered around Piazza Vecchia, where the medieval streets join, and Piazza del Duomo, the gaze rests on the centre below in a sinuous and delicate embrace. The Visconti used it to extend the duchy eastwards, Venice employed it as a bulwark against Milan’s expansive aims. The outcome of this frontier condition is recounted today by the high historical lineage and the amazing heritage of art and traditions. Not least the gastronomic one, within which one must include the great cheeses that make Bergamo the pivot of the Cheese Valleys.
The Seriana Valley runs from the plain to the highest peaks of the Orobian Alps, towering from a height of over three thousand metres. It is thanks to the waters of the Serio that one of the largest manufacturing concentrations in Lombardy, and therefore in Italy, took shape here. Today, interesting pieces of industrial archaeology survive, but the tourist vocation prevails, especially as you approach the mountains. The places deserve to be discovered step by step. If you like silence, by observing the panorama. If you like history, by visiting artistic wonders. If you are fond of sports, practising the many disciplines made possible by the conformation of the valley. Better still would be to combine all these interests. There is something for every taste: from the natural beauty included in the Parco delle Orobie Bergamasche to the delightful village of Clusone, an ideal base for reaching the Presolana and the ski resorts, to the robust flavours of the local gastronomic tradition.
A faithful companion on the journey is the Brembo River, which glides down into the valley between frothy leaps and murmurs. Zogno is home to the Museum of the Valley, where memories of popular traditions and life in past centuries are collected. Further on, the unique art nouveau setting of San Pellegrino Terme stands out. In addition to thermal cures, the centre offers the possibility of practising sports and hiking in the surrounding mountains. Cornello dei Tasso, with its beautiful, compact, medieval fortified nucleus, links its name to the family that received from the Serenissima the concession to found the first postal service of the modern era. Strolling along the ancient via mercatorum you arrive at Oneta, where tradition places the birthplace of Harlequin. There are countless opportunities for high-altitude hikes along alpine trails or easy walks along the old mule tracks. For skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts, there is the Upper Valley ski area.
Step by step, the visitor is overwhelmed by an indefinable sensation that makes him feel projected into an archaic yet familiar space. The first impression is created by the steep gorges carved out over the millennia by the Bitto, a torrent with foaming waters and a mysterious appearance that, circling Pizzo Berro, its natural watershed, divides into two branches. One of which draws precisely the Val Gerola, narrow and rugged, known to many for its cheese production. Thanks to its role as a hinge, the Bocchetta di Trona has long been one of the most important passes linking the two Orobic sides, and the villages here have experienced the dimension of Alpine isolation less than elsewhere. This phenomenon is exceptionally expressed in the camera picta of Sacco, a moving 15th-century fresco cycle depicting religious scenes, an archer, floral decorations and the mythological Wild Man.
One reaches Valle Imagna by crossing ancient Lemine, an area among the richest in art and history in the Bergamo area. Outside the village of Almenno San Bartolomeo, sheltered by the trees around it, the circular building known as the Rotonda di San Tomè, a jewel of Lombard Romanesque architecture, stands out among the fields. At the beginning, the valley groove presents a bottleneck, then rising northwards, it stretches between gentler slopes and terraces where picturesque clusters of houses are laid out. At the end it closes with a headland, half covered with pastures, that stops against the mass of Resegone, the tutelary deity of these lands and of a large part of Lombardy. Sant’Omobono Imagna, immersed in a scenery characterised by favourable climatic conditions, formerly an administrative centre during the Venetian domination and then a well-known spa centre, is one of the ideal destinations for a wellness holiday.
Of course, Val Taleggio already evokes the famous cheese in its name. Beware, however, here many other ingredients that invite visitors to refresh themselves are encountered : greenery, tranquillity, good air. Isolated and remote, but also because of this, authentic, it can be reached from Gerosa in Val Brembilla, after passing the Forcella di Bura, or from San Giovanni Bianco, or even from Valsassina, via the Culmine di San Pietro. There are indeed many reasons to visit this verdant basin of the Orobic Pre-Alps. The atmosphere of the villages that keep their rhythms and traditions intact is one of them. Simple walks or trekking routes await sports and hiking enthusiasts. Forests, lush green pastures and alpine meadows offer nature-lovers good food. The Enna gorge is spectacular: for three kilometres, the stream flows through a narrow cleft that still expresses a primordial beauty.
Climbing northwards up the Po plain and past the pre-Alpine reliefs, one encounters the Orobie chain. The Valtellina side descends steeply towards the Adda, cut by short valleys immersed in natural settings that are as impervious as they are seductive. Chestnut woods, coniferous forests and alpine meadows dominate, but there is no lack of signs testifying to an ancient human presence. Starting with the communication routes, of which the 16th century Priula road, built to connect Bergamo to Valtellina and from there to the Grisons, is an illustrious example. Then there are the mountain pastures and the maggenghi (fallow), still used for cattle grazing. Cheese production naturally benefits from the fresh and fragrant herbs. The many excursions offered by the Parco delle Orobie Valtellinesi provide the perfect opportunity to discover this precious treasure trove of biodiversity and appreciate the knowledgeable rural, craft and gastronomic traditions.
A land of discreet, sometimes hidden beauty, the Valsassina reveals the best of itself to the discerning and refined tourist. The most noble valley, as the Duke of Milan Galeazzo Maria Sforza called it, runs almost parallel to ‘that branch of Lake Como’, from Lecco to Bellano. Two vocations coexist in it: one ironworks, the other dairy. The first has its stronghold in Premana, in Valvarrone, a splendid postcard with its tall houses clinging to the mountain. The second has elected Pasturo as its capital, a pretty town that preserves surprising examples of architecture with several overlapping loggias facing south. The tourist capital is Barzio: silence and nature are offered to those who wish to take a walk in every season, while in winter one can reach the snow-covered slopes thanks to the Piani di Bobbio ski lifts. Undisputed queen is the Grigna, which, in the words of Lecco geologist Mario Cermenati, defies the clouds with which it almost shares the colour.