VIDEO: With flights from as little as Â£9.99 '˜untouched' Bergamo is now in easy reach
With Ryanair flights now going direct from Belfast International to Bergamo, Northern Italy for as little as Â£9.99 each way - the once hard to reach, rich and historic area is now within easy grasp of local adventurers.
And unlike Rome or Milan, where a visit can be like a weekend of crowd navigation training, Bergamo and its surrounding valleys, mountains, lakes and picture-box villages remain relatively untouched by the droves of travellers so many try to escape.
The area, with its medieval villages - in which people still live - sumptuously decorated churches, cathedrals and basilicas, wide open piazzas in towns surrounded by mountains and meandered by rivers, truly has something for everyone.
Within just over three days in Bergamo province, we packed in everything from visits to a family-run agri-tourism complex (Ferdy in Lenna) that offers everything from spa facilities to horse riding, and where everything is made by hand and from the land, to dainty mountain villages, nestled among peaks capped with snow and showered by gushing waterfalls.
We explored winding streets between piazzas containing Bergamo’s untouched historic buildings - which miraculously escaped both world wars unscathed - and saw the treasures hidden beneath them when the Romans came to town.
In truth, Bergamo, where the city centre is a short train journey from the airport, is where you will land when you visit this wonderful area - but by no means should you spend your entire trip there.
When you arrive, visit Turismo Bergamo in airport arrivals, explain your interests and let them help you fill your days. And after you take in the delicious wines, cheeses and local fare on offer in the city’s many top class eateries - I highly recommend Da Mimmo and M1.lle Storie & Sapori - have seen its museums, art galleries - Caravaggio lived here - had ice cream in La Mariana near the train station or journeyed through boutiques along Via Bartolomeo Colleoni and taken in the view from the caffé atop the funicolare, venture further into the province.
There you will find hotels such as Cocca Hotel, Predore which is almost carved into the mountains around Lake Iseo, and further along its shore towns like Sarnico - and soak up that feeling that your are in one of the most beautiful regions you have ever had the pleasure of visiting.
But if boutique shopping, lakeside walks and long evenings over heavenly dinner courses and bottles of the finest of Italian wine at restaurant 40-58 are too easy going for you, maybe you want to venture out on the lake, give boating a try and perhaps visit the island at its centre - Monte Isola?
Although we visited in cold November, I imagine it would be a real treat in the summer, with beaches dotted around the lake and cycle/ walking paths to beautiful Sarnico - it could really be the romantic choice.
Further into the mountains there are villages like Bratto - from where you can hike, ski and further explore Seriana Valley. On our visit, we were told the town’s population grows at an astonishing rate in winter as it’s so popular with skiers - and its not hard to see why.
In Bratto we stayed in one the best hotels I’ve ever experienced. Hotel Milano, with its giant wooden bath, panoramic views and fresh, modern decor; was simply magnificent.
Sipping tea on the balcony, while taking in the surrounding peaks as snow flurried and milk-cows jingled in nearby fields, was an experience so serene it will stay with me for a long time - as will the splendour of the ski resorts we visited that day - Presolana and Monte Pora. I have never had lunch (at Pain del Termen Mountain Refuge) with a more pleasant view, and the food was to die for.
But the experience wasn’t to end there, next we took in the medieval town of Clusone, which contains the oldest working astronomical clock in the world, as well as stunning views and buildings dating back to the 1300s. Nearby Cornello dei Tasso is also worth a visit, as people still live in homes built in the 1200s.
But no visit to this wonderful part of the world would be complete without a trip to the town made famous by its water - San Pellegrino. There we toured its famous casino before a beer at Birre Via Priula - which as well as every bite, or glass of wine we consumed in the area - was absolutely delicious.