Myriad Pleasures in Italy's
By John Mariani
the tourist radar, Bergamo is often bypassed by Americans;
Europeans, however, find it easily accessible and
flock to it for its myriad pleasures, which have somehow
been maintained despite a millennium of various domineering
rulers and nations that took their toll on the city,
until Garibaldi liberated Bergamo from the Austrians
Bergamo, a walled city in Italy’s Lombardy region,
lies along the route for those visiting Italy’s
northern lake country, just off the A4 between Milan
and Verona. The outskirts of the city offer little
to draw the eye; the lower, newer part of Bergamo
is fairly nondescript except for the Carrara
Academy, whose collection includes an array
of Renaissance masters like Tintoretto, Bellini, Lotto
and Titian. The broad Piazza Matteotti leads to the upper part of the city, which you enter
through 16th-century Venetian portals. Ditch your
rental and take the funicolare—a cable
car pulled up the hill—up to the old part of
town, then walk straight into the heart of Bergamo.
Steep, shiny cobblestone streets lead to the Piazza
del Duomo, which is as splendidly sized as
any in northern Italy, not grandiose but human in
scale. Equally beautiful is the Piazza Vecchia,
with its 12th-century bell tower and graceful fountain.
Beyond these there are winding narrow pathways teeming
with locals. The farther you get from the center,
the quieter the city becomes behind its ancient walls.
is the birthplace of the Commedia dell'Arte,
so the shops have a good selection of masks. But this
is not a highly dramatic city; instead, it has dearness
in its close quarters and streets, which are all scrubbed
clean; the many shops, pasticcerias (pastry shops),
and food stores burst with color. With so many cultural
influences determining the city’s fate over
the centuries, the Bergamasks are sophisticated but
not overly effusive and strike a distinct northern
reserve. But teenagers, like their contemporaries
everywhere, bound from one side of the street to the
other, singing pop songs, finding their friends, and
skidding past their elders, who walk with a gait that
is not frail but deliberate and slow, so as to take
in a good day’s sunshine, the purple twilight
of an evening, the starry skies at night. Around the
Piazza Vecchia everyone flocks to the fountain, and
visitors stroll to the Basilica of Santa Maria
Maggiore. This is the center of Bergamask
life, never frantic, ever sweet. Two restaurants caught
our attention, Taverna Colleoni dell’Angelo
and Vineria Cozzi.
just to the side of the Piazza Vecchio, the large Taverna Colleoni dell’Angelo sports a comfortable formality inside with tuxedo-clad
waiters, and an unpretentious gentility that makes
lingering here a great luxury. There are many outdoor
tables where you may watch life in the Piazza. Taverna
Colleoni respects Lombardian culinary traditions while
bringing them to a level of refinement, evoking wonderment
about how the Italians do it with what seems like
so little effort. The wine list is exceptionally good,
worldwide in its scope, including American labels
like Atlas Peak, Opus One and Rubicon; the tablecloths
are heavy azure damask, set with lace doilies and
A meal might begin with an amuse of marinated salmon
on greens and radicchio accompanied by sips of sparkling
prosecco. For antipasti, dive into a plate of large
shrimp, calamari and lentils scented with rosemary.
Lovely pastas include trofie (tiny squiggly dumplings)
with stewed tomatoes and taleggio cheese; and tagliatelle
with porcini mushrooms, cream and an unexpected spoonful
or two of blueberries. A perfectly cooked monkfish
has the curious addition of a lemon grass stalk that
gives piquancy to a dressing of tomato and zucchini.
A flavorful, tender veal medallion is dressed in a
mushroom sauce and creamy yellow polenta.
Treat yourself to a slice of rich savarin cake capped
with spun sugar, complimented by a perfect espresso.
When the Duomo bell chimes one hundred times at 10
p.m., it’s time to go home. For all the above,
the bill comes to a little over $200. Taverna Colleoni
dell’Angelo accepts all credit cards and is
closed on Mondays.
sweet façade of Vineria Cozzi will immediately win your heart. Venture to the rear
to find two small dining rooms with red-and-white
diamond-patterned floor tiles, bent metal chairs and
walls of yellow-ochre banded with green wainscoting,
one hung with an enchanting cherub who watches over
you while you dine. Inside is also a bustling wine
Consider the cansonsei pasta, which translates to
"little britches," twisted like candy wrappers
containing cheese, sausage bits and sage, in a rich
sauce of butter and Parmigiano. Plump ravioli with
smoked cheese rests on a bed of spinach, braised fennel,
pignoli and sweet raisins. A good choice is confit
of duck with roast potatoes, grapes and prunes; skip
the roast rabbit and polenta. With a bottle of sturdy
Valtellina wine, the bill comes to about $95, including
tax and service. Or opt to eat at the wine bar up
front, where you may sample and sip and pay very little
for a fine casual lunch.
here to see more restaurants in Italy.
Going to Italy? Check our guide.
Restaurant images courtesy of Taverna Colleoni dell’Angelo
and Vineria Cozzi. Bergamo images courtesy of Comune
di Bergamo, www.comune.bergamo.it.
(Updated: 06/23/08 HC)