We’ve been taking our Poggio Verde Country Villa groups to Bergamo, a beautiful (very) old hilltop city about an hour from the villa for several years. We have been hearing from our wonderful Bergamo guide, Elena Marchesi, and again recently from another friend, that we should visit Castello San Vigilio, which is a walk or funicular ride on up the hill from the Cittá Alta of Bergamo.
So the last couple times we’ve been there we’ve been trying to figure out a way to squeeze it in, with no luck. This time, though, we were quite determined to go so we adjusted a few things and found a new lunch spot in Bergamo, which turned out to be an outstanding restaurant right next to the funicular going up to San Vigilio. (More about that restaurant in another post…) Most of the group was up for an adventure after lunch so we hopped on the funicular and went up.
The funicular up to San Vigilio
The view from the top of the funicular
Funicular from the Bergamo Citta Alta to San Vigilio
Map of the Castello S Vigilio
Turn right for the castle
As we departed the funicular and headed toward the exit, we checked out the views to the left, which were wonderful, and then looked around for signs for the Castello, which we easily found. We turned right, following the sign, walked a few minutes up the cobblestone path and rounded the corner to see the walls of the medieval castle. (The first mention of the castle is actually in the 6th century but it’s undergone changes through the centuries, of course.) Our favorite memory of that trip up, though, was when Frank left the main path and disappeared into a doorway in the rock… and didn’t come out. We all followed, maybe to make sure he was okay, maybe not to miss what he was getting to see/do. We found ourselves in a narrow tower with winding stone steps and started up, hoping to find Frank and hoping there was an exit somewhere… and wondering how many more steps there were.
Arriving at the castle (see the door on the left?)
The door where Frank disappeared
Up we went…
The view part way up the winding stairs
Eventually we found ourselves on a gorgeous plateau with views ALL around the countryside (and we found Frank!). Stupendous!
We found Frank!
Exploring and discovering is just the best! We’ve added San Vigilio to our Bergamo itinerary going forward, that’s for sure. 🙂
It was with a decided mixture of sadness and delight that the group greeted the last day of Be Charmed, 2015. After another nice Italian continental breakfast around that lovely table, it was time to board the bus for Milan.
We love our breakfast table!
Boarding the bus for our last day of Be Charmed 2015
The driver dropped the group off near the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, where they met their guide for the day, Francesca. She told us about the masterpiece we were about to see, the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. It is a remarkable work of art and it is a miracle that is has survived (roughly since the time Columbus sailed to America!). Photos are not allowed to be taken inside, so see the link for some photos and fascinating history, including of the original technique used to paint the fresco, the many restorations attempted over the centuries and the astonishing survival of the fresco after the bombing of the church and convent during World War II.
A beautiful alleyway near the Santa Maria delle Grazie church
Francesca explaining a bit about the Last Supper
Who’s who in the Last Supper
Santa Maria delle Grazie church
In to see the Last Supper
The Last Supper, exposed to the elements after World War II
After the allotted 15 minutes visiting the sublime fresco (be sure to walk to the back of the room for the best perspective!), the group walked around to see the inside of the church and then the beautiful cloister.
Outside the exit from the Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie
Inside of Santa Maria della Grazie
Cloister of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Cloister of Santa Maria delle Grazie
Cloister of Santa Maria delle Grazie
From the church they walked along a street toward the Piazza Duomo that has some of the oldest archaeological sites in Milan.
The side of Santa Maria delle Grazie church
A detail on the side of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church
Francesca telling us about the Roman walls
One of many beautiful doorways and entrances along the streets in Milan
The Archaeological Museum
A map of some of the archaeological sites
There was a stop at the surprising little San Satiro church with the marvelous trompe l’oeil choir by Brunelleschi (he only had a depth of 3 feet to work with)…
Inside San Satiro church
The marvellous trompe l’oeil choir of San Satiro by Brunelleschi
… and then the group continued on to the Ristorante Arengario at the top of the Novecento Museum (museum of 20th century art) on the Piazza Duomo, where some typical Italian dishes were thoroughly enjoyed in a dining room with an extraordinary view, including of the truffle being shaved at the next table!
Pasta, tomatoes and basil. Italian through and through.
A semifreddo dessert
Enjoying one of many amusing moments on the Be Charmed trip
The view of the Piazza del Duomo to the Galleria from the restaurant
In the Museo Novecento (900)
In the Museo Novecento
The ladies left the Museo Novecento and crossed the Piazza Duomo in front of the magnificent Duomo (cathedral) of Milan, walked through the Galleria (one of the world’s first and most beautiful covered shopping centers). They continued to the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, a former palazzo that houses a private collection of art, and then on to the famous Montenapoleone shopping street for some window-shopping.
The bus picked up the ladies near the Piazza della Scala and took them to the brand new Piazza Gae Aulenti near the Porto Garibaldi train station to see the once-in-a-lifetime 360-degree, 16-screen video of the extraordinary beauty of Italy from its geography to the arts and design, and even its cuisine, over the millennia. The video link we’ve provided is not official but it’s the best example we found of what it was like to stand in the room and watch and listen to the 15-minute presentation. It was a profoundly beautiful and moving experience. The group then walked up the block or two to the pedestrian walking street, Corso di Como, and popped into Number 10, an eclectic small mix of shops and restaurant. Just before boarding the bus back to the villa, the group got to observe a photoshoot in process!
The Piazza della Scala
These gentlemen keep watch around the corner from the Piazza la Scala
The entrance to the Panorama 360 in Piazza Gae Aulenti
The entrance to 10 Corso Como
This way to 10 Corso di Como
The courtyard in Corso di Como
A photoshoot in process
The stairs up to the Piazza Gae Aulenti (there are elevators!)
On arrival at the villa, the ladies went up to pack and take a pause before celebrating a wonderful last evening. They began with a celebratory bubbly (Franciacorta, of course!) and hors d’oeuvres, and a toast to the wonderful Riza whose cooking and general assistance and very sweet spirit they had enjoyed all week. Gretchen and Luigi, the villa hosts and owners were also toasted, then the group adjourned to the dining room for their final dinner together. Favorite moments from the week were shared, questions about the villa and its history were asked and answered, and general merriment ensued, extending the evening as long as possible.
A final toast to Gretchen and Luigi, and to Riza!
Perfect accompaniments to the Franciacorta bubbly
Riza, the wonderful Riza
The next morning, the early risers came down for their final cup of Italian coffee and Fumagalli pastries and everyone boarded the bus for Malpensa Airport. As of this writing, two of the ladies are returning for a Be Charmed trip in October of 2016 and other groups are in the planning stages. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly during this week and look forward to hosting guests for Be Charmed,Painters Retreat, Golf/Gourmet,Food/Wine,Italian Gourmet Cookingor other custom-designed trips.
What a glorious day!! The beautiful blue sky and balmy October weather couldn’t have been better for the day trip to Lago Maggiore and two of its beautiful little islands, Isola Bella and Isola Pescatori.
First glimpse of Lago Maggiore
On the road to Stresa
Upon arrival in Stresa, a private boat was engaged for the day, beginning with the 5-10 minute ride to Isola Bella (aptly named: “beautiful island”), home of the magnificent Palazzo Borromeo.
Arranging the schedule
Sailboats on Lago Maggiore
View from near Stresa
Approaching Isola Bella and the Palazzo Borromeo
The tour through the palace was very interesting…
Ready for our tour
Armor in the entrance of the palazzo
Borromeo Coats of Arms
…and afforded stunning views of Lago Maggiore and/or the park and gardens around the palazzo.
Gardens of the Borromeo Palace
Upper and lower terraces
View from the palazzo
View of the upper terrace
View from a palace window
The lower level of the palazzo (the grotto) was fascinating and beautiful. Cobblestone and shells made for a cool place for the family to retreat to in hot weather.
The grounds on the east side of the palazzo were very… interesting. Quite decorative. Edith Wharton devoted an entire chapter in her 1904 book on Italian villas to the palace and its unique gardens.
Photogenic garden resident
Walkway in the gardens
Enjoying the gardens
East end of the gardens
From there the group walked back to the waiting boat for the five-minute ride to little Isola Pescatori (fisherman’s island).
Back onto the boat
Looking from Isola Bella to Isola Pescatori
Heading toward Isola Pescatori
Approaching Isola Pescatori
A lovely lunch was enjoyed on the terrace of the Ristorante Unione Superiore.
Serving the table’s appetizer
Waiting patiently for the food to arrive
Lunch at Isola Bella (Lake Maggiore)
Grilled veggie plate
Beautiful lunch spot
From there the boatman made a circle the long way around Isola Bella for a good look at the island and the Palazzo, then it was back to Stresa, where the coach was waiting for the drive back to the villa.
West side of Isola Bella and the palazzo
The northwest corner of the Palazzo
Chatting with the captain
View of the palazzo
Gardens of the Palazzo Borromeo
Taking the boat back to Stresa (Lake Maggiore)
The group arrived home in time to enjoy some lovely late afternoon sun before another wonderful dinner at the villa.
Our delightful driver arrived after breakfast to take the group on yet another wonderful adventure.
The very comfortable Cazzaniga bus
Our view leaving the villa every morning
First stop was Mantero, a silk outlet outside of Como. On first glance the shop looked small but the longer the group was there, the more they realized there was to choose from. In addition to the wide variety of scarves, there were some lovely ties. The ladies made many circles, picking things up and trying them on and eventually settling on a few things. On the way out the group noticed there were workers inside touching up some of the beautiful fabrics by hand.
From there it was a short drive to the restaurant for a nice lunch. After lunch the driver delivered the group to a spot where they could walk through a beautiful old square and along the lake to the funicular. The ride up the side of the mountain provides a beautiful view over Como and the Lake and ends at Brunate, a surprisingly pretty little village above Lake Como.
Brunate turned out to be a lovely little village and on a nice day or with a bit more time it would be worth spending more time exploring the area. It appears there are a number of excellent hikes from there (with stunning views, no doubt). After walking around a bit and visiting the lovely little church, the group decided to stop for a cup of hot cocoa or tea and was happy to find an outdoor cafe with blankets for the customers.
House in Brunate
Getting our bearings
Taking a pause
Floor of the church
Interior of the church
Enjoying some cocoa
After a funicular ride back down (before which a certain 82-year-old female was observed jumping back over the turnstyle when she realized she’d gone through too early, and which happened so fast and so unexpectedly it was not be captured on camera), the group walked back along the lake and reconnected with the bus. A quick decision was made to visit Villa Olmo for a few minutes since it was so close. Despite the cloudy day it was beautiful.
At Villa Olmo on Lake Como
Luigi, whose family has owned the Poggio Verde villa for several generations, had arrived from Milan and he graciously fielded many questions over cocktails and then a lovely dinner of typical Northern Italian specialties.
The driver came to collect the group and they drove the hour or so to the Foxtown outlet shops, just over the border in Switzerland. After a couple of hours checking out the lovely merchandise at shops like Armani, Ferragamo, Loro Piano, etc., it was time for a bite of lunch.
After lunch the group made a stop at the beautiful Villa d’Este hotel in Cernobbio.
On arriving back at the villa, the ladies disembarked with their purchases in a fine mood. The day had been lovely but was not yet over… next up was the wine tasting.
Departing the bus with a few shopping bags at the front of the villa
Representatives of the Penati Wine Shop in Oggiono, a few minutes north of Barzanò came and provided a tasting of four Italian wines from different regions along with appropriate “affinati” (charcuterie or meat/cheese plate). At the end, the group voted on their favorites and a few bottles were kept to enjoy the rest of the week.