Princess on a Plane

Ah, Italy. The land of good food and fine fashion.

A country where slim, impeccably styled women effortlessly traverse across steep cobblestone streets in chic shift dresses and towering wedge shoes. A country where a man can style a searingly bright yellow Andy Warhol banana design T-shirt with an edgy navy blue blazer (navy blue is the wardrobe colour of the season if you're Europe bound, by the way), with a pale blue floral pocket square and a chunky oversized Panerai watch to offset the chaotically stylish combination.

You wouldn't see it anywhere other than on the streets of Italy. Or, in this case Bergamo, which has a vital, if often under-publicised role to play in global fashion.

This is also a country where chefs can take a polarising and potentially very bland food like polenta and turn it into moist delicious lemon treats: turns out Bergamo is the birthplace of polenta, and these syrupy lemony cakes are a bit of a tourist trademark here.

 

The city of Bergamo is not a popular tourist destination but deserves to be. It has its own international airport, but is also less than an hour's drive from the fashion and finance hub of Milan in Northern Italy.

It's as picturesque as small Italian cities come, with historic sandstone buildings, tiny cafes and bustling piazzas welcoming the tourist into its Old City (Citta Alta) and the wide tree-lined streets, pedestrian shopping malls and art museums a trademark of the New City (Cita Bassa).

 

The two parts of the city are connected by a winding road, well serviced by public transport, or by one of three funiculare – steep mountain cabin trains on tracks, which may be rickety but provide striking views of both parts of the city. The funicular which joins the old and new cities operates every few minutes. A purchase of a return ticket requires a small amount of coins and a large amount of flirting with the nearby newsagent owner to purchase the ticket for you at the dispensing machine with zero English instructions.

 

The one Italian word you do need to memorise is aperitivo. Without a doubt my favourite culinary custom in the world, this is the Italian version of Happy Hour, but being Italian of course, it's done with aplomb. From around 5pm until 7pm each night, in all seasons, thirsty locals and tourists alike are seen clutching giant Aperol spritzes or Campari sodas, accompanied by a tray of flavoursome snacks to get the appetite going for dinner. In Bergamo, the best place for both aperitivo and people watching is at the Piazza Vecchia, or one of the pop-up venues dotted along the winding road to the Old City. 

 

The most talked-about hotel in Bergamo is the newly-opened Relais San Lorenzo. Its construction was halted when architects found Roman ruins on site, and these are now incorporated into the new design and proudly on display throughout the premises.

 

The boutique hotel's distinctive facade is almost a metaphor for Bergamo as a city – old world sandstone with new world rust-effect medal panelling. The rooftop terrace is pure magic, offering a private hideaway with scenic vistas and waiters with trays of delicious things. The discreet spa also has a salt crystal room, limited to just four guests at a time, where you can recline and reap the benefits of this ancient remedy.

A short drive away from Bergamo is the Albini mill, a sort of powerhouse when it comes to Italian fabrics – a multi-million Euro facility where thousands of metres of fabric are designed and manufactured for the world's fashion houses, ranging from Tom Ford to Zara and everything in between. A tour of the mill isn't available to the public, but the business benefits of this industry on the region are obvious for all to see – and chances are if you do indulge in a spot of shopping in Bergamo, your garments will most likely have that local touch.

 

Things you should know

  • Bergamo is a city easily explored by bicycle or scooter, the Tourism Office can provide sample itineraries free of charge (www.comune.bergamo.it)
  • The Bergamo Art Passport is a project that started in 2013 and gives tourists a fun and artistic way to stamp off the major cultural attractions of the city as you visit them. Free. (www.visitbergamo.net)
  • Even if you're not a religious type of tourist, do pay a visit to the Catholic Church Sant'Agata Nel Carmine in the old town for stunning frescoes.
  • Love Sanpellgrino mineral water? The mountains of Bergamo are one of the main sources for this well-loved Italian product.

Princess on a Plane is an Australian-based writer, obsessed with travel, arts, fashion and fine food. Follow her adventures here http://primaryideas.com.au/.

Instagram @primary_ideas, Twitter @primary_ideas.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.