February 2017: La Scala, Frida Kahlo in Bologna, EAsT Lombardy

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Welcome to the Hidden Italy February 2017 newsletter:  cheap seats at La Scala, Frida Kahlo et al in Bologna, a year-long celebration of northern Italian gastronomy and a weekend snow-shoeing in the Lombard Alps.

Hidden Italy walking tours 2017:

Hidden Italy walking tours 2017:

Before the walking season gets properly underway in Italy, we are going on a road trip up to Brisbane to present the Hidden Italy 2017 offerings with our partners at The Adventure Traveller:

Wed 22 March, 6.30 for 07.00 pm.
The Adventure Traveller
197 Latrobe Terrace
Paddington (Brisbane)

If you would like to join us for a glass of wine, some nibbles and to day dream about walking in Italy, please contact Glenda at The Adventure Traveller on 07.3369 0799 (Free call 1800 181 020) or send her an email at glenda@theadventuretraveller.com.

Events in Italy in March:

Events in Italy in March:

Open rehearsals at La Scala, Milan, until 21 May (www.filarmonica.it/proveaperte).  This is the 8th annual edition of the open rehearsals, a project to raise funds to support the musical studies of disadvantaged youth in Milan.  The rehearsals of four concerts at the Teatro La Scala (including that of the pianist Maurizio Pollini conducted by Riccardo Chailly) will be opened to the public.  Tickets from 5 to 35 euro.

The Palermo of Letizia Battaglia, Museum of 21st century Art (Maxxi), Palermo, until 17 April (www.fondazionemaxxi.it).  Subtitled ‘For Pure Passion’ this extraordinary exhibition is an anthology of of two hundred photos shot over a forty-year career of this Sicilian artist, who is famous for images of the mafia.

EAsT Lombardy, European Gastronomic Region, 2017 (www.eastlombardy.it).  With twenty two Michelin-starred restaurants (including two three-starred) eight ‘wine routes’ and over twenty agricultural products protected by European decree (DOP and IGP), it is not a surprise that the eastern half of Lombardy has been declared the gastronomic capital.  The year-long celebrations provide a perfect excuse to visit such gorgeous, charming and off-the-beaten track centres as Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona and Mantova.

Exhibitions in Italy in March:

Exhibitions in Italy in March:

The Gelman Collection: Mexican Art in the 20th century; Palazzo Albergati, Bologna until 26 March (www.palazzoalbergati.it).  The Gelman is the largest collection of art works of the ‘Mexican Renaissance’ from 1920 to 1960 in the world.  It includes paintings, clothes, photographs, jewellery and drawings, the star-turns though, of course, are the masterpieces by Frida Kahlo and her lover Diego Riviera.

Contemporary Caravaggio; Omar Galliani and Lorenzo Puglisi, Palazzo Belmonte Fino Riso, Palermo (www.palazzoriso.it) and Pio Monte della Misericoordia, Naples (www.piomontedellamisericordia.it), until 30 April.  This fascinating exhibition presents works by two contemporary artists who drew inspiration by following the trail that Caravaggio (1571 to 1610) travelled in the last four years of his life, from escape from his condemnation for murder in 1606 to his death on the road from Naples to Rome in 1610.

Atelier Bellini, Palazzo Sarcinelli, Conegliano (Treviso); until 18 June (www.mostrabellini.it).  To celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of the great Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini, this extensive exhibition brings together not only work by the master himself but also those of the young artists and collaborators who were part of his workshop (hile you are there, be sure to enjoy a chilled glass of prosecco, Conegliano’s most famous product, after Alessandro Del Piero of course, www.prosecco.it).

Hidden Italy weekend: snow-shoeing in the Lombard Alps

Hidden Italy weekend: snow-shoeing in the Lombard Alps

Although only fifty kilometres north of Milan, Bergamo was a Venetian stronghold for over four hundred years, the western most outpost of La Serenissima, which undoubtedly accounts for the beauty and elegance of the town.

The Venetians were here for strategic reasons but also to guard the mines that were found deep in the mountain valleys behind Bergamo, especially the iron ore which has been extracted since prehistoric times  It was produce not only some of the finest armour, swords and weaponry in the Middle Ages (the firearms company Beretta has been operating here for over 500 years) but also the prows of the Venetian gondolas.

Ginami castle is a gloomy remnant of these times: an eight-hundred-year-old fortress that guarded the mines and trade routes along the narrow valley of the Serio River.  Today the castle and Gromo, the little village that clusters around its walls, have a much cheerier role as the starting point for hiking paths and snow-shoeing trails that go up into some of the most spectacular mountains in the Alps.

It is a perfect place to spend a snowy weekend far from the madding crowds, but first, of course, you have to spend at least a night or two in marvellous Bergamo.

How to get there:

By car:  Bergamo is reached by the A4 Milano-Venice autostrada.  From here you take the regional highway #35 to Ponte Nossa and then the #49 to Gromo.  By train: take the train to Bergamo station.  SAB buses run regularly to Grom, with a change at Clusone.  By air:  The closest airport is Orio al Serio, 47 kms from Gromo.

Where to stay:

Hotel Spiazzi, Piazzale Avert, Gromo.  A classic 3-star hotel of long standing next to the chairlift up tp the Rifugio Vodala.  It has sixty rooms, a panoramic bar, a solarium and its own private skating rink.  Doubles from 80 euro b&b.

Locanda del Cacciatore, Via Roma 9, Gromo.  This simple hotel in the centre of the village offerings large comfortable rooms.  It has an excellent restaurant that serves traditional ‘bergamasca’ specialities.  Doubles from 80 euro b&b.

Albergo Antica Locanda, Piazza Uccelli 1, Clusone.  Set in a 17th century palazzo, the Antica Locanda has been operating since the 18th century.  Several of the ten wood lined rooms also including sitting rooms.  There is a good restaurant.  Double from 70 euro b&b.

Where to eat:

Posta al Castello, Piazza Dante 2, Gromo.  This elegant restaurant set in the 13th century Ginami castle offers a very refined version of the local cuisine, including exquisite ravioli with fresh mushrooms or local alpine cheeses, braised beef with taragna polenta and roasted veal shanks.  Dinner from 30 euro per person.

Rifugio Vodala, Alpe Vodala, Gromo.  Sitting at 1650 mts on a sunny plateau at the top of the chair lift, this friendly mountain hut serves an extensive buffet lunch with a wide selection of local specialities, especially meats and polenta.  It is open three evenings a week, with access from the village via a snow bus.  A meal costs around 15 per person.

What do do:


Having sent a day or two exploring Bergamo, jump into your car or take a bus up the dramatic Serio Valley into the heart of the Alps to Gromo, 35 kms away.  Gromo is a small village but there is quite enough to explore to fill in the afternoon, including the Museum of Steel Weapons and Parchments, set in a 16th century palace in the centre of the village.

There is also an Eco-museum that presents the flora and fauna of this parts of the Alps, as well as the castle itself, Castello Ginami, which dominates the village’s main square.  If you have some free time, you can taste some of the valley’s specialities, including a variety of cheeses found at the Caseificio Paleni and the local sausages and hams, including the celebrated Ca’ del Botto prosciutto, at the Macelleria Bonicelli.

The classic cake of the region is ‘maiasa’, made from cornmeal, onions, dried figs and apple, dressed with oil and cooked in the oven.  The best place to try this Ol Pastesser, on Piazza Sandro Pertini, the main square of the village, also the perfect place for an aperitif before dinner.


Pull on your snow shoes and head up the slopes to the top of Mt Timogno, 2099 mts, a classic route.  The first step is to drive the winding road from Gromo up up to Spiazzi, 1164 mts.  It’s an easy to 3 hour climb up to the peak, following a straight-forward, well-marked path, with the Timogno clearly in front of you all the way.  To save some time and effort you can take the cable car from Spiazzi up to Rifugio Vodala, 1650 mts, a charming mountain hut that serves an excellent buffet lunch.  From here to the peak takes around 1 hr 15 mins and offers breath-taking views over the Alps.

An alternative, and less demanding route suitable for the whole family, can be found on the other side of the valley, leaving from Valcanale, 987 mts, and following the snow covered road, clearly marked with walking signs 220, up to the Rifugio Alpe Corte, 1140 mts, closed during the winter.  Many people stop here, however, it is worth pushing on, following the markers for walking trail 218, passing through forest and the ‘baitas’ (chalets) of Neel Bassa, 1565 mts, and Neel di Mezzo, 1613 mts.  From here it is a short, sharp climb up to the frozen Lake Branchino, 1784 mts, which is a natural amphitheatre surrounded by walls of the Corna Piana and Arera Peak.  With one last effort, you can make it to Branchino Pass, twenty minutes further, a spectacular setting that separates the Serio Valley from the Brembana Valley.


Downhill ski was pioneered in the early 19th century in the mountains behind Bergamo and there is some excellent skiing in the Serio Valley.  There are over 18 kms of runs fanning out from Spiazzi di Gromo (www.spiazzidigromo.it), 1164 mts, which is particularly interesting for the variety and its wonderful views but the heart of the skiing in this area is centred around Vodala, 1650 mts.  The most enjoyable is the red Croce Blum, with the more challenging Testa variant.  The best skiers head for Orsini, which is also used for international competitions.  There are also some slopes for beginners at Campo Scuola.

There is an interesting alternative a bit further up the valley at Lizzola-Valbodiadone (www.nuovalizzola.it) which has seven different runs, including two blakcs and one which is illuminated every Saturday evening, for a total of 20 kms of runs.

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August 2021: Impressionists, Damin Hirst and a weekend cycling around the heel of Italy

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