San Vigilio, Valverde and da Ambrosio

l-art-caffe-torrefazioneThe walk

It was a day of pleasant discoveries—starting with the new  Art Caffè tucked away in a corner of Piazza Pontida (now the centre of pleasant city life in Bergamo). The bar at the entrance leads to a narrow vaulted room with tables where we sat to have an excellent coffee. But the surprise is that the entrance and this space form two sides of a sixteenth-century courtyard defined by columns and glazed-in arches. It was too chilly for us to sit out, but the little square tables and coloured folding chairs seemed to hold the promise of memorable conversations in pleasant company.

The actual walk was two and a half hours up to Città Alta and San Vigilio, over to the other side of the hill and then back to near the starting point. First we walked up Via Nullo and then went up the old stepped way, Via S. Lucia Vecchia—shallow steps climbing between old houses and garden walls with hints of greeenery. The ordinary street below, and then the experience of this different world (and it’s free).

From Via Tre Armi at the top we went on to behind Città Alta (Porta S. Alessandro), up the hill to S. Vigilio and then (it being a clear day) up more steps to the open space of the former Castello to admire the Alpine panorama from Monte Misma to Monte Rosa. Then down again, and via the modern steps to Via Cavagnis (we were now on the other side of the ridge from Via S. Lucia), where, at the third hairpin bend we took the pedestrian path Via Sotto le Mura and shortly after reaching Via Beltrami went down a thinly-wooded path (Via Roccolino—’via’ usually ‘street’ also means any public ‘way’) with wild spring flowers scattered casually about,  occasionally constellating a whole grassy bank.

Itinerario ad anello in Valverde di Bergamo

Valverde (photo: Cristian Riva, www.cristianriva.it)

This took us to the pleasant Valverde area at the foot of Città Alta. It was another discovery to be able to walk up to Porta San Lorenzo and Città Alta with green fields and trees on either side. From there we walked along the top of the city walls to Porta S. Giacomo, down Via S. Alessandro, and  down some more steps to Via Nullo. At the corner of Via Statuto we stopped to admire the Art Nouveau Villa Bracciano and were amused by another discovery: the flowery, organic Art Nouveau letters redolent of ‘art for arts sake’ and the supreme importance of plant and flower forms in life and art, spelling out the motto of the industrialist owner: Labor omnia vincit (work achieves (or even: conquers) everything). On this fine spring morning, we were not in total agreement.

ingresso-trattoria-da-giulianaLunch

At a few minutes to twelve we were waiting outside the Osteria d’Ambrosio (also known as ‘da Giuliana’) on Via Broseta close by our starting point of Piazza Pontida. They clearly didn’t open till 12 and there were soon about a dozen other people waiting too, including four building workers with white boots (painters or plasterers) and thick tartan shirts (slightly different, but all white blue and black). Some minutes after 12, when they were all ready inside (we later understood why everyone had to be at action stations), the door was opened and we went in—through the entrance with its old wooden tables and paintings, plates and doubtless many other things on the walls, through to the courtyard, covered over in this season but still luminous, where we took two places at a long table that soon filled up with other people. In five minutes the whole place was pretty full and then completely full.

It wasn’t chaotic, I’d say more very lively, a variety of people all content to be there. That it wasn’t chaotic was thanks to the efficient staff and Giuliana herself, the lady in the white rimmed glasses who clearly enjoyed the daily challenge. She came up to our table and asked (or told) everyone ‘Will you be finished by one?’ And then, ‘You’ll have to be out [gesture] by 1.10: I’ve got a group of 50 coming’. (The gesture was left hand flat facing down, right hand below this, flat but vertical, and brought up to hit the left palm with the base of the thumb.) This was her style—familiar and in control. But just think, she had actually accepted a group of 50 people and agreed to fit them in—most people would have said it was impossible.

So this was our last pleasant surprise of the day. My gnocchi with saffron and flecks of bitter trevigiana lettuce was delicious, the salad bar was the best and most varied we’ve ever come across, our slice of perch was excellent with largish crispy breadcrumbs, and all (with wine and water) for €10. We chatted with the man sitting next to us. Coffee was only at the bar, in small glasses, with grappa and sambuco bottles there for those so inclined. We were indeed so inclined: a fitting end to an excellent morning.

 

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Astino and Ciccio Passami l’Olio

 

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wrought ironwork, Via Sudorno

The Walk
We met at 9 in Bergamo lower town near Piazza Pontida, the lively meeting point of  multicultural Via San Bernardino, the swish shops of Via XX Settembre and the historic borgo of Via S. Alessandro. We went to the upstairs café in the Legami bookshop to have a coffee (the best place in town to meet someone for a long chat). There we decided to go to the hills behind the city; so, after coffee, we set off up the gently-rising Via S. Alessandro (the old road to Milan), then up its cobbled continuation to the walls of Città Alta.

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Astino Monastery

Via Tre Armi skirting below the impressive city walls took us up to just behind the upper city, where we took Via Sudorno, which winds flat along the contour line—past the wrought ironwork of the former Belvedere café—to the Sudorno church. Here an archway marks a transition from one side of a spur to the other and into the wide bay-like valley of Astino beyond. We took the road going down to the old Monastery: this has recently been done up, as part of a project to dedicate the valley to biological farming. Opposite the Monastery an old farmhouse is being restored; we got into conversation with the caretaker and she told us it’s to be a cookery school. Interesting developments.

We then started to return by turning back round the Sudorno spur, going up (but at a lower level than before) along the old mule track of Via Pasqualina Ripa and the curiously named Via and church of S. Martino della Pigrizia—St. Martin of Laziness. (Not the patron saint of the idle, but a church of St. Martin in an area where, because shaded by the hill, crops ripen more slowly.) From there we climbed up the narrow Scorlazzino steps, to Via Sudorno, then back and down the way we had come, magically walking from hills to busy city centre in half an hour.

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Lunch

For lunch we went to ‘Ciccio Passami l’Olio’, a taverna at the end of a a long entrance alleyway off Via S. Alessandro, with an entrance room and two vaulted rooms beyond. The name (which means ‘Frankie, pass me the olive oil’) is unusual and I asked the young proprietor who came to take the order about whether they had any connection with the restaurant in Entratico ‘A Tavola con Ciccio’, which has ‘Ciccio’ in the name and a similar unusual, eclectic décor. ‘No,’ he said, ‘they had just taken a similar name and used the same interior decorator’.

Subsequent searches on the internet revealed a restaurant in the centre of Rome with live music called ‘Giulio Passami l’Olio’ founded in 1988, and ‘Tano Passami l’Olio’ in Milan from 1995, while the Bergamo name dates from 2001. The name suggests an alternative place, suitable for groups of young people: in fact, I remember coming here when it had a different name and I was both in a group and young. However, at lunch time it’s OK for a quiet meal at any age.

There were only a few people for the €10 lunch: you get a first, a second, water, coffee and a glass of wine (no salad buffet): the pasta was al dente, the cubes of sautéd egg-plant in my pasta ‘alla Norma’ made my choice very tasty. Richard S gave it 7 out of 10: a good lunch deal in the centre of town.

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Monte Isola: Santuario della Ceriola and the Ristorante Vittoria

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Peschiera Maraglio, Monte Isola, from the path up to the Santuario

The Walk

It was a morning of sparkling sunlight and still slightly (and delightfully) chilly at 8:15 when I got out of the car at Sulzano. Richard S soon arrived on his motor scooter and we went to wait for the ferry (along with two nuns). The crossing is short, but enough to separate you from the normal world, and induce a sense of calm as you contemplate the cluster of houses of Peschiera and its pastel-coloured church. After coffee at the lakeside, smiling and waving at the barwoman’s baby cradled on one of the tables, we set off to the Sanctuary church built right on top of the mountain.

After walking up through the narrow streets of the village we got to the road above the cemetery and turned right to pick up the trail that would take us to the top. A couple of minutes took us to the start of the path, indicated by a small information panel with a map of the path. This was marked by some yellow cirles for ‘media difficoltà’ and three red circles marking stretches of ‘difficoltà estrema’, translated into English as ‘maximum difficulty’. This was a lesson in the need to take the context into consideration when interpreting language: maximum difficulty for me is normally a narrow ledge, a long drop, and apparently insecure foothold. Then I remembered we had been at this very spot the last time we came to Monte Isola and after seeing this map I had preferred walk up the road to the top—and now we were here again and I didn’t want to take the same route as before. So we talked it over a few minutes and finally concluded: look, this must be an old path for pilgrims—it was going to be steep and maybe in need of repair but it wasn’t going to be dangerous.

And so it was: ‘maximum difficulty’ in the context meant a long steep part, at the end of which you feel like you’ve had a good work-out. Now here’s a good Italian word that doesn’t exist in English: dislivello, the difference between the height of two places on the same trail. Anyway, the dislivello between Peschiera and the Sanctuary is over 400 metres, going up fairly steep, it takes an hour, so you do feel a sense of achievement when you arrive.

It’s an interesting walk because you go from Mediterranean olive groves, through deciduous woodland, to evergreens at the top, with good views especially of the western shore of the Lake (we spent some time discussing and identifying places we had previously walked).

The Sanctuary church was open this time and we were able to see the naif ex voto paintings donated by those who had had a narrow escape from death thanks to the protection of the Virgin: a man falling off a ladder, another falling into the lake, and even German planes machine-gunning the ferry during the War.

After that we walked down the roads through Cure and Menzino to Sensole, finding more holidaymakers as we got lower, but never crowds (this is modest local tourism), and enjoying the peace and tranquility. There are no private cars on the island; so everyone has a motor scooter, and just behind the ferry jetty is the world’s only multi-storey motor scooter park. (When we were waiting for the ferry back, we saw two scooters each with a rider, a child and bag and a dog.)

Lunch

2006-01-01 00.00.00-3There being no pranzo di lavoro places in the island, we decided to make an exception, and went to Ristorante Vittoria in Sensole. Down some curving steps from the road and there we were in a world of tranquility, light and colours—with lunch to accompany it all. Fizzy white wine, crusty bread, pasta with a delicious sauce of tomatoes, black olives, zucchine and and lake fish (I had sauce with coregone, Richard S with sarda).

The secluded shady terrace, the colours of the lake, little birds hopping around the tree by our table, 2006-01-01 00.00.00-4the festive and fizzy white wine, the wine in glasses catching the light softened by condensation, the sauce from the produce of earth and water, the easy conversation, the commenting on people at other tables, the rest after the walk—and let’s end the list there. Life sometimes is just lovely.

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Crema and Trattoria Le Villette

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photo by Massimo Carradori http://www.flickr.com/photos/maxdori/

The Walk

Most people outside Italy have never heard of Crema—let’s keep it that way. It’s a town with an outstanding architectural heritage and a fascinating urban texture of quiet winding cobbled streets and outstanding town houses from the 16th and 17th centuries; add to this a fine pedestrian street with shops, running from one side of the basically circular old town to the other, passing through Piazza Duomo with its 13th century cathedral and pavement cafés where you can sit, sipping an espresso or an Aperol spritz, and watch people passing by—and there you have it:  the essence of Italian dolce vita.

And yet you never see a tourist group, or people photographing anything: just ordinary local people walking or on bikes, stopping to chat, having a coffee—and all within this superb urban space.

Richard S. and myself started our urban walk by walking the kilometer along the main street and then did the semicircle just within the old city walls back to our starting point. With the help of a map, we then tried to fulfil an ambition of mine: to walk along all the streets of Crema without repeating the same street. We didn’t succeed, as when we got to Piazza Duomo and it was 11 and we couldn’t resist sitting down to have a coffee. After this we walked just outside town to the interesting Renaissance church of Santa Maria della Croce and then went for lunch.

Screenshot 2014-09-29 07.47.47Lunch

Le Villette is behind the station among an old development of railway-workers’ houses. Indeed this charming place must have been an old dopolavoro, workers’ club, judging by the old bocce runs for Italian ‘boules’, unfortunately no longer used.

We sat outside among people who seemed to be well known to the waiters. I had fusilli with cockles and then plaice with the thinnest, perfectly golden breadcrumb batter. A great place to eat for €10 in the beautiful town of Crema.

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Carobbio degli Angeli and the Ristorante Agora

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Cypress tree, façade of S. Stefano, Carobbio, and a very pale moon

The walk

South of Bergamo, between the Brembo river in the west and the Oglio in the east, lies a continuous swathe of industrial villages that have expanded to touch each other and are linked by many roads old and new. These roads are not provided, however, with any reliable system of road signs, and a driver unfamiliar with the area sooner or later finds himself lost among workshops, small factories and low office-buildings, stopped at the side of a grey road with indifferent cars passing by.

So it was that, looking for Carobbio degli Angeli and finding no indication at all that I was on the right road, I drew into a petrol station with a bar and asked a man at a table with his morning coffee where it was. ‘It’s here,’ he said. ‘Quale azienda volevi’ (Which company were you looking for?—using the familiar ‘tu’ form of the verb: something which, in the circumstances, I considered an honour, as he was thereby classing me as a person like himself, a fellow worker). In this area of dozens of companies, that seemed the more sensible question, rather than asking what street I was looking for.

2014-09-12 07.30.51I turned off the road where he told me and followed the signs to S. Stefano, our meeting place. The contrast was immediate: I found myself in an old centre with cobbled streets hard up against the hillside with vinyards. It was a fine early September morning, the air washed clean by the rain, and it all seemed miles away from the depressing main road.

After a coffee at the bar next to the Town Hall—in Italy even villages have town halls—with locals starting their day, we set off from S. Stefano (an interesting Baroque church) up Trail 650, along a mule track and then into the wooded hillside.

We tried a soundwalk: not talking for 10 minutes and paying attention to every sound—it’s not easy when in company; we heard cocks crowing, the trickle of water, our own footsteps on varying terrain and our breathing, birds chirping near and far, and a strange bird cry coming from the wood. An interesting experience that also makes you look more intently.

We reached Monte S. Stefano then went along a muddy link path to the muddier ridgetop path of the long wooded spur that marks the south side of the Zandobbio valley, and so back to S. Stefano.

Lunch

A place to go on another occasion would be the Castello degli Angeli on the hilltop among vinyards over the village: it’s an elegant place with an amazing hall for wedding breakfasts, but they also do an €18 pranzo di lavoro. But we wanted to stick to our €10 budget and decided on l’Antica Giasera (the old ice-house), a promising name—but in the urban maze away from the village and the hills we couldn’t find the street. We had no choice but to go to the Albergo Ristorante Agorá, on that very main road where I had got lost earlier. A busy tried-and-tested lunch place, efficient waiters, more than reasonable cooking, and an interior made of a variety of rooms and spaces looking a bit like village exteriors. At the cash desk, groups of colleagues with luncheon vouchers. Not bad, but the context counts in the meal experience.

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Monte Bronzone and Ristorante Forcella above Sarnico

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Colle di Oregia, meadow with wild flowers

The Walk

Approaching Lago d’Iseo from the south, I turned left just before Sarnico in the direction of Colli San Fermo. Then just a short way along, I turned off right to Viadanica, a collection of quiet hamlets among green fields, strung out along a winding road in a rising valley. I met Richard S by the church and we went on together to the end of the road and continued up the cement road (saying a little prayer against meeting a tractor coming the other way), ending up in the little parking place for the hang-glider platform. (However you can park anywhere and carry on in a upward direction.)

Path 701, is clearly indicated and takes you up to green hills like Colle di Oregia, dotted with thousands of wild flowers and with glimpses of triangles of Lake Iseo between hillside shoulders. It then goes through woods and up to Monte Bronzone, from where you get a broad view of the Lake and Monte Isola. On the way back we met a friendly man from Sarnico who gave us a ‘homie handshake’ (hands raised, gripping thumbs)—it was only the second time I’ve ever done it, I  just about got it right—and with whom we shared our thoughts about Italian politics. Shortly afterwards, along the same woodland path, we met a young couple who did not offer to shake hands—two young professionals working in Paris in multinational organizations, back home on holiday. To this retired teacher, they seemed distant, in occupation and age.

ristorante-la-forcella-2.aspxLunch

Returning from Viadanica towards the San Fermo road, a turning left is indicated as leading to Pizzeria Cascina Boneta and Ristorante Forcella. Carry to the very end of the quiet rural road and you come to the Forcella where various trails meet. The Ristorante Forcella with its fine views of the lake is the kind of place specializing in wedding breakfasts and banquets, but it also opens at lunchtime. We arrived at twelve along with the staff (they were in the car following me along the winding approach road): a woman of about forty or so who may have been a beauty when younger, a trim young woman in her early twenties and a slightly gauche girl of about fifteen. The male owner or whoever chose the series of paintings of female nudes (one a full length ‘state portrait’ of a naked beauty nonchalantly holding a strategic peacock feather) was not present; they slightly spoilt things, but everything else was fine. And the three ‘girls’ run the pranzo di lavoro by themselves excellently.

2014-05-30 11.29.20Both times we have been there there have been only a few other people (it’s a bit out of the way), but the staff still dedicate admirable care to the meal. We had trofie alle verdure: the pasta just right, al dente, and the vegetables tasty and fresh and well bound together with the pasta. We pronged appreciative forkfulls. The coltish girl served—quite amusing in her youthful graceful lack of grace—the older woman had a floating supervising role and the middle girl must have been in the kitchen. I had chicken for main course and it was baked and then sizzle fried to give it a delicious extra crispiness. The care in serving was shown by the accompanying strips of aubergine, gently fried and delicious.

After a while a group of ten or twelve men arrived: too neatly dressed to be workmen, yet too casually dressed to be ordinary office workers, casually dressed in ironed jeans. Richard got it right when he supposed they were managers in some innovative enterprise. I thought they might work for the Riva luxury motorboat factory down in Sarnico.

We enjoyed the food, mediated over the view while sipping wine, were puzzled by the kitschy paintings and amused by and admired the female staff. A great lunch, much to be recommended, and outstanding value at €10.

 

 

 

 

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Entratico and A Tavola con Ciccio

The Walk

2014-05-09 08.41.55ENTRATICO lies at the ‘entrance’ of the Val Cavallina as it narrows after Trescore and continues up to Lake Endine. The hills on the left have the Medolago Albani vinyard, on the right is perched the little town with its narrow streets and above that a line of wooded hills. We met and went for a coffee in a bar with two framed glamour posters, one of them featuring a young woman in a wet T-shirt, below which sat a group of unglamorous male pensioners glumly reading newspapers. A funny thing happened: someone came up to Richard, thinking he was his cousin, and when he replied with his American accent, he at first thought his cousin was making fun of him.

The we set off from the Cemetery in the direction of ‘Buca del Corno’ (a cave going into the hillside), past a little church up a steep cement road, then right up trail 616. It was a beautiful morning: the early morning sunlight lay softly across the rounded hillsides, the folded woodlands and ancient terraces; woodland paths were dappled with light; birds twittered, wild flowers blew, and a persistent cuckoo added to the general effect.

We met a youngish woman looking after a herd of cows. Richard with his farm background was able to discuss the various breeds, she was happy to talk but—speaking in a strong Bergamo accent, though not needing to slip into dialect—she wasn’t into terminology: ‘They’re mostly those red ones; that’s what my husband prefers!’

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Foresto Sparso

Up beyond ‘Buca del Corno’ we reached a ridge with views down to Foresto Sparso: a group of hamlets scattered around a green valley, surrounded by wooded hills. We walked down to the nearest part with a couple of old stone-built farmhouses; with only one road in from the outside world it was indeed sleepy and peaceful. I told Richard a story often repeated by Alda’s family of the woman from Foresto Sparso who used to visit once a year on her bike with a car inner tube looped around the handlebars—one pictures her pedalling with it along country roads like a character in a Fellini film—then, in a nearby courtyard, for a modest price, she used to dispense, from the inner tube, bootleg grappa! Well, we got back to the ridge and found a man doing some brickwork on a house; we got talking and I started to tell him the same story: “a woman from Foresto Sparso who used to cycle down every year—”, “—with grappa in an inner tube? Yes, a lot of them used to do it. Some went as far as Milan.”

At the end of the ridge road is a meeting place of trails and we went back down the 616A to Entratico.

Lunch

2014-05-09 12.34.33 On the main road opposite the entrance to the village and just below the vinyard is ‘A Tavola con Ciccio’: stone built, with arched entrance, tables in the courtyard for when the weather’s good, several rooms inside, all with an extravagant décor (‘molto particolare’ in Italian), that somehow fits in with the unusual name, the abundance of varied spaces, the friendly service and the care taken with the cooking. They do a pranzo di lavoro but it is a cut above most: thick cotton tablecloths, cloth napkins, care taken in the dishes and their preparation; rather more expensive: €10 for one dish (first or second) and no salad bar (but wine, water and coffee). There were tables of workers, the odd office2014-05-09 12.00.17 worker alone with a mobile phone, and a party of women who went in one of the other rooms. We had pasta and erbette that was a pleasure to savour.

Sitting in such a pleasant place who could resist a desert, and the tiramisu served in a bowl was a wonder of creamy taste sensations. Equal first for a Val Cavallina pranzo di lavoro along with La Trisa in Valmaggiore.

 

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