Imagine being able to step inside a five hundred-year-old historic family home in the foothills of Bergamo and be welcomed as if you were an old friend of the family. There are over four thousand historic homes or dimore storiche, as they are called in Italian, that are privately owned throughout the country and have been handed down from generation to generation since time immemorial, some of them opening their doors on occasion to show their invited guests around personally and share stories of their heritage and family anecdotes, while taking a casual turn around the house and gardens.
It’s a heavenly way of allowing visitors to take a peek into unique and often spectacular homes that are steeped in history, and offers a wholly personal experience that can feel as culturally enriching as visiting a monument or museum, but with a human touch that makes all the difference and provides truly unforgettable memories that are very often the highlight of a holiday.
Last year, the Association of Dimore Storiche in Bergamo introduced a brilliant brand-new initiative called “Domeniche per Ville, Palazzi e Castelli…” with the 14 participating residences organising a series of guided tours of their Villas, Palaces and Castles over different Sundays programmed throughout April and May. This resoundingly successful event is to be repeated this year, with guided tours of the properties in Italian taking place in and around the Upper Town and surrounding areas.
Here To Stay is proud to present additional opportunities to enter these historic homes by prior arrangement throughout the year, for personalised private VIP visits in English in the company of the owners and descendants themselves. As well as being able to explore the frescoed interiors and reception rooms together, it will be possible to stroll around the gardens and chat with the family, who will be pleased to tell you about their heritage and the personalities who have peopled the living history of their home.
VILLA VITALBA LURANI CERNUSCHI & THE CONVENT OF SAN NICOLA
A spacious eighteenth-century family building with a tranquil position close to the historic convent of San Nicola with its antique cloisters and frescoed church, this inviting Villa is located in the tiny hamlet of Almenno San Salvatore and has family archives reaching back for generations. Surrounded by the sweeping Bergamasque hills and the vineyards of the Lurani Cernuschi winery, the Villa is perfectly situated for visits on foot or by bicycle to the nearby Romanesque churches of San Tomè, San Giorgio and the Madonna del Castello, while the central Piazza Vecchia in Bergamo’s Upper Town is just 20 minutes’ drive away.
As well as welcoming visitors for private tours of the house, gardens and convent in English with Here To Stay, Carola and her husband Lorenzo are also glad to host English-speaking cooking lessons in their ample kitchen with its large oval table and original walnut cupboards, and to offer wine-tasting experiences at the Lurani Cernuschi vineyards just at the end of the drive.
Anyone keen to practise their conversational Italian or include a structured lesson during their visit can benefit from incorporating a native Italian specialist as part of the experience. It is also possible to sleep over at Villa Vitalba Lurani Cernuschi, depending on availability, or hold small book group retreats, as well as planning a gastronomic week of cooking lessons combined with private visits in Bergamo and at other private historical homes.
VILLA PESENTI AGLIARDI & PALAZZO AGLIARDI
The Agliardi family has been in residence in Bergamo for over 500 years and are direct descendants of one of the three most important names in the history of the town, with strong links to one of the most celebrated and much-loved captains of Renaissance times, namely Bartolomeo Colleoni. His resting place in the Colleoni Chapel next to the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore is in fact considered to be one the single most beautiful places in the whole of the Lombardy region and is an absolute Must See when visiting the Upper Town.
Still inhabited by the family members, the expansive Villa has a stunning country setting in the midst of Bergamo’s “Parco dei Colli” hills, but is just 20 minutes from the town centre and train station. As well as containing beautifully appointed reception rooms full of original paintings and frescoes indoors and its own private chapel, the ample English-style gardens are a sight to behold. Projected by landscape architect celebrity of the times Leopoldo Pollack, you can see why so many spouses choose to exchange their vows outdoors in the presence of the Temple of Silence and the Najade Fountain: it’s very much the stuff of A Midsummer Night’s Dream…
The Agliardis are very happy to extend a private invitation to VIP guests keen to experience a taste of their heritage, by showing them around the extensive house and gardens at the Villa in Sombrero, and their townhouse Palazzo closer to the Upper Town with its picturesque hanging garden and former stables. Most excitingly, it is also possible to prolong your visit and stay for dinner: you will experience traditional Bergamasque dishes presented on the family’s porcelain seated in the private dining room and dining by candlelight.
For more details of this dreamy unique experience, email [email protected] for further information. Weddings groups and special celebrations can also be reserved for small parties; ask us for more details. Read more about visiting the Villa Pesenti Agliardi and Palazzo Agliardi in our blog article here.
CASTELLO DI LURANO
Being warmly greeted by Count Lanfranco and his wife Federica at the entrance of Castello di Lurano sets the tone for this wonderfully personalised private tour of the remarkable residence that has been home to the Secco Suardo family since the 1500s, with documents in the archives testifying to the castle’s presence as early back as 1216.
Walking through the ancient gallery loggia with its splendid arches, it is easy to imagine stepping back in time and visualise the original towers and the moat that would have surrounded the fortified stronghold in the fourteenth century. The castle used to represent the border outpost between the Venetian Republic and the State of Milan, and you half expect to see knights and their ladies appear around a corner at any given time! There are examples of family paintings and fabulous frescoes throughout the mansion: Federica and Lanfranco are so completely at home sharing the story of the Castello over the centuries, and recounting priceless anecdotes about their ancestors, that guests easily feel part of the family themselves, and in fact many return year on year to visit Lurano.
Perhaps the most extraordinary part of a personalised tour with Here To Stay is the possibility of entering the private library to look at the family’s cherished historical archives. Ancestor Giovanni Secco Suardo was considered to be one of the ‘fathers’ of Italian Restoration, and Lanfranco is now in charge of the Association in his name which preciously conserves this cultural patrimony. Having the opportunity to examine examples of documents dating back to the 13th century in the library is a very special experience, and one that could not come more highly recommended.
As well as touring the house and private chapel, it is possible to stay on after your visit and enjoy a meal in the dining room or even the atmospheric original stone kitchen adjoining the main house. The Castle can also be reserved for special celebrations and for private screenings for small groups gathering to watch a film with the owners, or meet for book presentations, literary gatherings, historical discussions, and so much more besides. For more details of a unique visit to Castello di Lurano, email [email protected] for further information.
TENUTA CASTELLO DI GRUMELLO
Nestled in a tiny village just an hour’s drive from Milan and Lake d’Iseo, or 30 minutes from Bergamo by car or train, the Castello di Grumello is an absolute jewel waiting to be discovered, for a unique wine-tasting experience in a truly exquisite setting. Producing over 100,000 bottles every year from the winery’s own grapes, this private historic home offers an opportunity to taste the Tenuta’s red and white Valcalepio wines, as well as their renowned Moscato Passito and special Il Castello Reserve, all under the roof of the ancient family dwelling and in the comfort of their welcoming reception rooms.
Originally built as a military fortress in the eleventh century and subsequently transformed into an aristocratic manor house with its own private chapel dating back to the 1700s, the Castello used to be inhabited by none other than Bartolomeo Colleoni, that illustrious Bergamasque military leader from Renaissance times. It has belonged to the Milanese Reschigna Ketlitz family since 1953, and Cristina and her team have succeeded in giving a whole new impetus to the wine-making tradition of the area, producing prestigious quality wines for all to enjoy.
Visiting the Knights’ Hall, Guelf battlements’ tower and medieval fortress is a perfect introduction to stepping inside the working cantina for a guided tour of one of the oldest wineries in Italy. Built in 1200, the cellar has preserved all of its original architecture with large vaulted ceilings and stone walls, and the traditional wooden presses and barrels stand side by side next to modern stainless-steel fermentation systems. The wines are all produced using the Tenuta’s own grapes, under the consultancy of expert oenologist Paolo Zadra, and once the visit of the cellar is complete it is possible to retire to the Castello for an exclusive wine tasting session and to purchase wines to take away with you or have sent home on your behalf.
In addition, the Castello du Grumello invites small groups to partake in special cultural events at the Tenuta, such as musical evenings and themed “Amicincucina” cooking classes. For more details of a wine-tasting experiences and incorporating a visit to the Tenuta Castello di Grumello as part of your itinerary, please email [email protected] for further information.
All photos by Nicola Collarile unless otherwise indicated. Featured photo of interior at the Castello di Lurano.