Il Circolino : Citta Alta : Bergamo : Lombardy

Il Circolino : Citta Alta : Bergamo : Lombardy

On trips to Bergamo, we’ve regularly meant to eat at Il Circolino, just off Via Colleoni, up in Citta Alta. But, we’ve never done it. It’s always looked interesting. The menu has always appealed. It’s definitely inexpensive. But, in such a small city, with just so many options to explore, there’s always somewhere else to go. We always say, “We must go!” but every time we’ve decided to go, somewhere else turns our heads. Until our last trip, a couple of weeks ago.

And, do you know what, we’ve been missing out on one the best experiences we’ve ever had in Bergamo. That is how good it is!

Once through the big old wooden front doors, you enter a large-ish dining/bar area. When we visited – a Wednesday lunch time, in early January, this room was packed with locals. Some eating. Some drinking coffee and reading the day’s paper. Some with a glass of wine. Because we’d decided that this time we had to eat here, we were a bit crest-fallen, as it didn’t look like we’d be getting a table anytime soon. However, we were immediately whizzed through this room, and around a corner and into a number of cavernous dining areas. We simply hadn’t expected anything of this size – and again, all areas were packed, largely with locals – and we were lucky to get a table for two. Once seated, we were able to appreciate the amazing surroundings. If I’d had been told the building used to be a convent or a monastery or a church, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Ancient frescoes, which had clearly been uncovered during a renovation phase, were clear to see on the ceilings…

Frescoes : Il Circolino, Citta Alta, Bergamo, Lombardy

And under the frescoes, tables and tables of chatting Italians, all clearly completely familair with the surroundings. (Tourists, like us, were easy to spot, with phones held aloft, snapping away at the interiors and the food and the general buzz).

Proof they are locals – no-one else taking photos. Il Circolino, Citta Alta, Bergamo, Lombardy

This bar/restaurant is a co-operative, founded in 1981 by Aldo Ghilardi and fourteen others. According to the Bergamo website,

Il Circolino is the historic headquarters of the Città Alta Cooperative, born as a meeting place and then became a real social enterprise with the aim of keeping the community united in the light of the new economic and social transformations. Il Circolino is recognised as an Aggregation Centre for Seniors, who can frequent without any obligation to consume in a climate of conviviality. The Cooperative is committed, with the profits made from the restaurant, to multi-sport activities, job placements, cultural events, and volunteering.

We really liked this and dug a little bit deeper, to find out what the building had actually been. And what a surprise. Not a church, or a covent. A prison! And even more ticks, when the menus arrived, as just a look at them, told us that they were DagStyle menus. A bit of We Are Life Design geekiness, there – but we just know that if a restaurant has DAG menus, the food will be good. We’ve never been disappointed so far!

Italian DAG Menus – this bodes well…

The menu, it’s fair to say, was absolutely fabulous in terms of choice and price. All produce is local – I’d guess the provenance could be traced to almost the immediate locale – and we were amazed at the prices. In fact, so amazed, that had the food been a bit average, we’d still have been impressed. But, it was AMAZING. And judging by the turnover of diners, we’re not the only ones who thought this. A daily set menu is available, but I like a little bit more flexibility sometimes, and so we ordered off the normal menu. A huge basket of warm fresh bread and delicious olive oil was delivered quickly, with the house wine we’d ordered. And when I think what we paid for this house wine, compared to the rubbish you get back in the UK, for a comparable price, it makes me so happy that we can get to experience things like this, as the norm, now.

Polenta Taragna with Porcini Mushrooms // Scarpinocc de Parr with Melted Butter & Sage

Says it all really…

The turnaround in this restaurant is incredible. We certainly didn’t feel we were being rushed, and so it was clearly testimony to the efficiency of the operation that as soon as one table was finished, it was cleaned down, set up and the next diners seated. Sometimes lunchtime meals can be a bit soulless, especially if in a cavernous setting – but the buzz of chatter (no music) meant that this was a lovely experience. In fact, so lovely was it, that we didn’t want to leave. Even though tables were being turned around quickly, the staff never made us feel as if we couldn’t just savour the moment. So, more wine was ordered and the dessert menu perused. We’re not greedy, mind you. It was only lunchtime (and we still had evening meal to consider!) so it was a dessert with two spoons…

Apparently, in the summer, this place is just even more wonderful, with a fabulous outdoor terrace. So, whatever time you might go – day/night, summer/winter –  we cannot recommend this hidden gem any more highly.

Il Circolino, Vicolo Sant’Agata 19, 24129 Bergamo Italy

Bergamo : Lombardy : Italy : 2015

Bergamo : Lombardy : Italy : 2015

Bergamo, located west of Milan, in the region of Lombardy, is beautiful. Often overlooked for the more glitzy (and possibly more brash) Milan, it has everything. There is the lower, more modern town (Citta Bassa) – although, as well as your retail therapy kicks, you can still soak up the history of the town. Wide thoroughfares are home to a host of familiar shops and stores – Benetton, Zara, Coin etc – as well as churches, grand residences now converted into boutique style hotels, theatres, museums, elaborate government buildings, and many, many coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Like many Italian towns, it also has a fortified upper town, Citta Alta, reached either by a very pleasant walk uphill or by the easier Funicular, which is great if you want expansive views of Bergamo and way, way beyond, to the snowy peaks further north.

Citta Alta is a walled town in its own rights – more than 4kms of walls, built by the Venetians. A couple of days of leisurely strolling and you’ll be familiar with Piazza Vecchia, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, next to it the Cappella Colleoni, and next to it, The Baptistry. You’ll walk through the impressive entrance to Citta Alta at some point – Porta San Giacomo. You’ll also inevitably walk along the main cobbled thoroughfare – Via Bartolomeo Colleoni, from Piazza Vecchia to the arch which takes you to Piazza della Cittadella and beyond to the next funicular, up to the upper upper part of Bergamo – San Vigilio.

But, you also need to take the time to look up and look around you – because as well as the more obvious beautiful sights, you’ll start to see some real hidden treasures…

Vineria Cozzi, Citta Alta, Bergamo

City Walls Topiary : Citta Alta, Bergamo

Religious iconography – make sure you look up as these pieces of artwork are all over Citta Alta, Bergamo…

Original exposed frescoes under the eaves, Citta Alta, Bergamo

I love these huge, wooden doors, with the tiny door and the big wrought iron knocker, Citta Alta, Bergamo

This wall is on a back street, in Citta Alta – just look at what has been revealed as the plaster & render falls off…

Letter box : Citta Alta, Bergamo

Gorgeous Juliet Balconies, above eye/street level. Always look up! Citta Alta, Bergamo.

Gothic glory… Citta Alta, Bergamo

Even in restaurants, you need to look up!

Through a doorway in Citta Alta and this…

More exposed frescoes : Citta Alta, Bergamo

One of Bergamo’s many, many churches : San Vigilio

Hope you’ll agree that Bergamo is pretty special – and if you’ve not been before, that maybe we’ve inspired you to investigate it, especially as it’s the perfect destination for a weekend break. Previously, we used to catch a later afternoon flight out on a Friday from Manchester and return early evening Sunday. The airport is only about 6kms from the city, so you can really squeeze out every single minute!

flights booked

flights booked

So, flights booked. We hope there’s no turning back now. Come the beginning of December, we hope the deal has been sealed. We hope that as well as those UK National Insurance numbers – which you *always* remember – we’ll also have Croatian ID, and the ownership of a Croatian farmhouse. We hope that the electricity and water and gas will have been transferred to us and that we will have a phone line and super-duper broadband all ready to go.

We hope this will be our Christmas present to ourselves and the beginning of a massive adventure…

All booked and on our way...

All booked and on our way…

Vineria Cozzi : Citta Alta : Bergamo : Lombardy

Vineria Cozzi : Citta Alta : Bergamo : Lombardy

We love Bergamo in Northern Italy. It’s often overlooked as a gateway to its more showy neighbour, Milan, as lots of flights land here with easy transport links to the bigger city. But, you are really missing a trick if you just land in Bergamo and hop on a transfer, without ever experiencing this beautiful medieval, fortified city. As well as being crammed with historical treasures around every corner, the eating and drinking scene is pretty spectacular, too. In Citta Alta, the higher, and older, part of the city, the choices for dining are extensive.

Vineria Cozzi, on via Bartolomeo Colleoni, the beautiful cobbled thoroughfare off Piazza Vecchia in the old, upper town, is just stunning. It’s a family run restaurant, that is just an utter delight, decor-wise. And that’s before you’ve seen the menu…

It's a gin bar, as well as a restaurant, so that's a win-win...

It’s a gin bar, as well as a restaurant, so that’s a win-win…

Window displays are sometimes pretty eccentric, but always beautiful...

Window displays are sometimes pretty eccentric, but always beautiful…

The bar area is a feast for they eyes...

The bar area is a feast for they eyes…

Gins of the day...

Gins of the day…

Eccentricity at its best...

Eccentricity at its best…

The menu is innovative, and like the decor, sometimes a bit on the eccentric side – although not pretentious, so you do feel as if you actually being served a proper hearty meal. Given the standard (and quantity) of it, it’s also pretty inexpensive.

Christmas does seem to be a favourite time of year for us to be in Bergamo, and Vineria Cozzi is always way ahead of the festive game. Sometimes quirky, sometimes traditional but always super gorgeous, in the attention to detail.

This restaurant is most definitely a magical experience – and when visited on a cold, crisp December night, it’s even more magical. As is Bergamo, itself.