“The gate is shut and there’s no way of getting in!”, I exclaim as we arrive back at our camper stop site in Bergamo, well after midnight, following a long weekend in Scotland. John was having a check-up for his clavicle and I had managed some extra cuddles with my grandson. There’s a code for the gate, but of course neither of us thought to take a note of it before we left. The site has excellent security (one of the reasons we left the van there) and is surrounded by a 7ft metal fence and cameras. For a moment I consider where the nearest hotel might be or do, we just sit it out till the gates open at 6am? John scours the perimeter and notices a small concrete wall near the recycling station. With the help of a plastic plant pot, we manage to use the wall to get a leg over the fence. We’re in…. Hallelujah! I just hope we’ve not been caught on camera. Thankfully the next day there is no mention of our midnight frolics.
We take the tram into Bergamo. We’ve been in this city before, when Ryanair flew from Prestwick, and it’s a hidden gem. We walk up to La Città Alta. Perched on a hill above the modern city of Bergamo, surrounded by 16th century venetian walls, in La Città Alta one steps back in time. We stroll along the narrow, cobbled streets into attractive piazzas with lovely shops, cafes and authentic Italian restaurants. We visit the Basilica of Maria Maggiore and the Cappella Colleoni, just stunning, before getting the San Vigillio funicular up to the top where castle ruins and spectacular views of the city and plains beyond, await. Back in La Città Alta we catch an early dinner. I order the Bergamo-style ravioli – amaretti cookies combined in a meat filling, creating a play on sweet and savoury, served in a sauce of butter, pancetta and sage – yum, yum.
Basilica of Maria Maggiore, views from La Città Alta, Bergamo
From Bergamo we go to Lago D’Otra, one of the lesser known of the Northern Italian Lakes. In fact, the locals have nicknamed it La Cenerntola (Cinderella). It’s just as beautiful as its bold neighbours but is often overlooked. After our time at Lake Garda, beautiful but incredibly busy, bursting with tourists, Lago D’Orta feels rustic, laid back and ‘off the beaten track’…. just my scene. When I tell my daughter this later, she says, “You’re so Hipster Mum” Hipster, that’s a new one on me. I’ll need to look that one up!
We stay at a campsite near Orta San Giulio, which sits on a small peninsula on the eastern side of the lake. On a hill above the town stand the ancient chapels of the Sacro Monte, a UNESCO World heritage site. The Sacro Monte site dates from the Middle Ages and eighteen chapels extend across the hillside in an enchanting landscape. Each of the chapels contain Baroque and Neo-classical fresco’s and terracotta sculptures celebrating the life of St Francis of Assisi. It is quite extraordinary; unlike anything I have seen before.
The chapels and fresco’s of Sacro Monte, Orta san Guilio
Next we take a boat across the lake to the peaceful island monastery of San Giulio. With only a handful of nuns living on the entire island to take care of the Basilica, and many houses now abandoned, the island feels like a step back in time. Around the church we walk ‘the way of silence’ (walk in an anti-clockwise direction for ‘the way of meditation’) and inspirational quotes provide snippets of wisdom.
The Island, Basilica and The way of silence, Lago D’Orta
Back on the boat Orta’s beautiful waterfront villas, with their faded pastel shades and peeling paint are reflected in the deep blue water behind misty mountains – picture perfect.
Lago D’Orta’s waterfront villas
In San Giulio we grab a gelato at Pino Vino, the best gelato shop in town, and enjoy artisan Sicilian lemon and strawberry ice cream whilst sitting on one of the waterfront benches.
Piazza, Pino Vino and narrow streets of San Giulio
On our last evening we have a meal at the campsite. A simple Lasagne (for John), Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni (for me), salad and una caraffa di vino rosso. This family run campsite, with its home cooking is very chilled and is definitely one of my favourites.
I am sorry to leave Lago D’Orta, but we are very near Switzerland, and I’m keen to visit having never been before. We plan a short trip and book a campsite near the town of Raron in the canton of Valais, very near to 2 cable cars (I am working on desensitising Johns fear of heights!). We are lucky; we have 2 days of glorious sunshine, blue skies and hardly a cloud in sight. We get the cable car o Unterbach, 1,200m above sea level, where we look down into the valley below. Beautiful green meadows and forests stretch out in front of us and wooden chalets dot the hillsides, just like a scene from the Sound of Music.
Views from Unterbach
Cow bells tinkle in the distance and we hardly meet a soul as we walk the trails. The sun glints on pockets of snow in the granite mountains on the other side of the valley and right at the top a small blue glacier sculpts the mountain in its path.
View from Unterbach
As we step out of the trees into a meadow full of wildflowers we are greeted with a crescendo of stridulating (that’s the noise crickets make) crickets which leap around our feet…. how amazing. A sight and sound I will defiantly remember. We stop at a mountain hotel for a coffee and I try an Apfelpunsch ……what a view.
Walking in Valais, switzerland
We stay for 3 nights and on our last night John’s keen for me to experience Swiss cuisine (he’s been on many school trips to Switzerland before), so we have a meal at the campsite. But as our waiter offers us the menu of the day “Chips or Cheese, as much as you want for 30 francs” (equivalent to abound £30), I’m astonished and John’s laughing. I will remember Switzerland for its wonderful meadows and mountains, but defiantly not for its food. At least the larger was good!
This trip has given me the privilege of journeying across many countries, and travelling as I have I have had the time to observe, to reflect, to think and to journey more into who and what I am. To work out my likes and dislikes, what I value and what type of person I really am. And so, it got me thinking about my daughters’ comments. Am I really ‘so hipster’? I look up the definition. Hipster – “a person who follows the latest trends and fashions” (definitely not me), “especially those regarded as being outside the cultural mainstream” (possibly me). The original Hipsters’ of the 1940s emerged with the bebop jazz movement and were described as a subculture ‘adopting a carefree, spontaneous cool lifestyle’(something a lot of us aspire to). Hipster’s of today are perhaps different again and are often referred to as ‘people who want to know things (yes), who are eager to learn (yes), to see and do things apart from culture as a whole (maybe), whilst still remaining within the culture’. I take a test, for a laugh, ( https://quizdoo.com/are-you-more-hippie-or-hipster/ ) and it turns out that I’m 50% Hipster and 50% Hippie…so maybe I’m a Hipsy. Those who know me well know that I am most definitely Ditsy, so I think Hipsy might be just about right. However, I believe more in the individual than subcultures and as an individual the reason I travel is to experience new things, to find both the familiarity and unusualness in the world around me and to connect the strange dots that make it so unique. I travel to discover more about the world we live in, to get lost and find myself in the process and to push boundaries which allow me to imagine the kind of life I want to lead. And so not only have I discovered some of the most beautiful “off the beaten track” places on my travels, I have also had the opportunity to get to myself just a little bit better…. a travelling ditsy, hippie, hipster…or am I, perhaps the journey continues!
Toadstool, forest near Unterbach