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Highs and lows in Italy; It's not often that you're invited to rub a soldier's testicles for good luck. ETTRICK SCOTT gets to grips with a private's privates in the Italian town of Bergamo.

Byline: ETTRICK SCOTT

IF, when you first arrive in Bergamo you find you're on flat land, my advice would be to look up. This is because being on the level means you're in the Citta Bassa, or lower town.

Tilt your head back and, perched 1000ft above you, you'll see the stunning architecture of the Citta Alta, or upper town, protected by high walls and seemingly clinging precariously onto the steep cliff-faces.

Our hotel, the Excelsior San Marco, was in the lower town, which meant we had to access the upper part by using a funicular - a cable railway car - up the steep incline.

At the top of the funicular is the most beautiful art deco cafe, with huge Gothic windows looking out across the urban sprawl below.

Bergamo is in the Lombardy region of Italy, right on the edge of the Alps and close to the Swiss border.

Although it lies only 25 miles from the hustle and bustle of the city of Milan, the old part of town gives off the feeling of being in a different century altogether, the overall vibe being positively medieval.

Just off the piazza lies the Colleoni Chapel, the final resting place of one of Bergamo's most famous sons, the renowned soldier-of-fortune Bartolomeo Colleoni. He commissioned the building of the fabulously ornate 15th century chapel as his tomb.

One of the British perceptions of Italian men is that they are keen on displays of machismo and Colleoni's tomb does little to dispel this. On the bronze entrance gate, you'll find his crest - a shield displaying three testicles!

The Italian word for testicles is 'coglioni' so I suspect that this may well be a visual pun. You're invited to give them a good rub for luck.

If you find yourself chock-full of all this medieval finery, the ultra-chic city of Milan is less than an hour up the motorway.

If, like me, you're not used to the Italian approach to driving, you might just find the journey a little on the fraught and perilous side.

Milan has long been regarded as the fashion capital of Italy and perhaps of the whole of Europe. If you've got a keen interest in what the likes of Gucci and Prada are making this year then this is the place to be. After a relaxing few hours pretending to be chic and cosmopolitan, we headed for the hills surrounding Bergamo for my favourite part of the trip - a visit to the vineyard and restaurant owned by the Tallarini family.

This place is a real labour of love and it shines through in the quality of the foods and wines on offer.

We spent three hours eating a four-course meal while one of the family poured the wine - a different one for each course - and waxed lyrical about the joys of the grape.

I've been to wine-tastings before where they've basically shoved a succession of plastic tumblers into my hand and then quickly steered me in the general direction of the till.

This was nothing like that. I left with the impression that the Tallarinis make wine mainly for themselves to drink and if anyone else happens to like it, that's a bonus.

If I had any gripes, I'd have to say that two days wasn't nearly enough time to take in everything the region has to offer, so I'm already planning a return visit towards the end of the summer season.

TRAVEL FILE

Ryanair flies daily to Milan Bergamo, with one-way fares starting at pounds 5.99 excluding tax. For further information and bookings visit website www.ryanair.com

Ettrick SWcott stayed at the Excelsior San Marco Hotel. For details and prices visit the website at www.hotelsanmarco.com
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jun 5, 2005
Words:621
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