The Falcon of Italy
At only 54 km east from Bergamo (our base), and the very same distance to Verona; the city of Brescia is greatly located in the most populated area of Italy, also very near Milan and equidistant to the beautiful lakes of Iseo and Garda, right at the foothills of the Alps. For us this was one of the few important cities that was still pending for a visit, so in combination with Bergamo and Crespi d’Adda that we visited the day before, made another great weekend, and looking forward to just in a few more weeks time until the next trip to the north of Italy, flying to Verona to be the base for continue visiting the places we’ve not yet been of Vicenza, Mantua and Sabbioneta, all of which UNESCO World Heritage Sites listed.
It takes a short time if you drive from Bergamo to Brescia, otherwise it is only 1 hour by train, and even less on a bus, both of which options are quite frequent. There is also no need to have a very early wake up in order to start sightseeing the city because in a day you can enjoy everything without any rush. The medieval city centre is very compact where distances in between the sights are short, yet still, we are talking about a city where almost every building is a sight on its own; but that’s something repeated at almost any city in Italy. Brescia is often bypassed by tourist, so while you find hordes of tourists in Milan, Bergamo or Verona, here the city is much peaceful and quiet, although trends are quickly changing as the city is been “rediscovered” and transforming itself into a strong tourist pole.
Brescia’s fame is not due to its architecture and history (which is impressive nonetheless), instead is eclipsed by its strong and powerful industry and manufacture, something that is still as of today the core of its economy. In the other hand, some of the city’s monuments have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the wider listing: “Longobards in Italy, Places of Power”. The growth over the past 50 years have been such dramatically fast that a second city was built south of the historic one; this is commonly known as Brescia 2. Another interesting (and unique for now) fact, it is the smallest city in the world with a full metro system.
We did not expect to find ourselves in a city where absolutely every building was a sight and historic. Countless palaces and churches one after another, making it hard to even decide what to list for this travel guide as the core monuments, but otherwise it would be pointless and boring if having to list every single one. So as you walk the streets in search of the major landmarks, you will be also passing hundreds others of almost equal beauty. Honestly I do not recall any other country from the 82 I’ve been so up to today where every city I go is like an open air museum; and then when combined with one of the best cuisines in the world all you will want is actually more time to enjoy.
There is something great about generally any city in the north of Italy and it comes towards the afternoon. Dinner time. So while of course you have countless restaurants of any kind anywhere, you also have the “happy hour” places where you buy a drink, and get a food buffet included! They call it apericena. Ok, do not expect having a huge choice of food, but it is great enough. For around 5 Euros for a cocktail as an example, then you can eat until you wish, although the general will be around 8 Euros. A fantastic alternative to an otherwise expensive business that can be finding a nice restaurant, and a much better way to chill out with friends or rest after a long sightseeing day.
That’s all for this brief introduction to the city, however for more information about Brescia check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Italy’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Brescia
- Cidneo Hill Castle Known as the “Falcon of Italy”, was built between the 13th and 16th centuries at a vantage point overlooking the Alps and city down below. In the 16th century it was fortified by the Venetians becoming one of the largest castles in Italy. Nowadays it is home to the Museums of Armoury and of the Risorgimento.
- Roman remains Are the best preserved Roman public buildings in northern Italy, and are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site listed structures in Brescia. Located together around the southern slope of the Cidneo Hill, the Roman Forum.
-Capitolium of Brixia Built in 73AD, and buried after a landslide of the Cidneo Hill sometime in the past centuries, was rediscovered in 1826, restored and opened as a new archaeological area of the city.
-Republican Sanctuary Built in the 1st century BC, the oldest structure of the forum and one of the best preserved from all the remains in the city. Located under the Capitolium area.
-Theatre East of the Capitolium, built in the 1st century AD was one of the largest in northern Italy.
- Roman Forum Square Only the original shape remains as a square, immediately south of the Capitolium, now fully surrounded by palaces, most of which galleries and museums as are the: San Zeno al Foro Church, Palazzo Martinego, o Palazzo Lana Ghidella.
- Monastic complex of San Salvatore-Santa Giulia UNESCO World Heritage Site listed, it deserves a special mention here. Composed of 4 different structures, it is not any longer a monastery, but a huge museum home to works of art and thousands of archaeological finds. Located along Via dei Musei, few meters east from the Capitolium and Theatre.
-Basilica of San Salvatore The oldest in the complex, built in 753, one of the most important examples of High Middle Ages architecture in Italy.
-Church of Santa Maria in Solario Built in the 12th century has outstanding paintings and the most precious treasures of the monastery; the Brescia Casket (small ivory box from the 4th century) and the Cross of Desiderius (made of silver and gold plate, studded with 212 precious gem).
-Nuns’ Choir Built between late 15th and beginning of 16th century in between the Basilica and the Church of Santa Giulia, to both it has direct access via corridors.
-Church of Santa Giulia Built between 1593 and 1599 in very noble marbles and stones, inside-wise there are no decorations nor paintings left. It is used as a conference room, not part of the museum.
- Palazzo Broletto The former city hall, the seat of the Province of Brescia. Was built in the 13th century and from its balcony the medieval city officials spoke to the public. Located at the western end of Via dei Musei. Along this street you will also pass many palaces and historic buildings.
- Piazza Paolo VI The heart of the city, in the very centre of the historic old town. It’s right behind the Palazzo Broletto.
-Tower of the People In between the square and the Palazzo Broletto that sits behind, was used for alerting the people on news and dangers with the bells call.
-New Duomo Built between the 1604 and 1825. Inside it is guarded the treasure “the Ark of Saints Apollonius and Filastrius”, from 1510.
-Old Duomo Next to the new one, this pre-renaisance structure was built in the 11th century, and known as La Rotonda for its circular shape.
- Via Trieste One of the major thoroughfares back in the Roman times, running parallel to all other streets. Starts by the Old Duomo heading towards the east end of the old town.
- Teatro Grande “The Great Theatre”, built and rebuilt during the 17th and mid 19th century. It receives this name (the Great) in honour of Napoleon Bonaparte. South from the Piazza Paolo VI between Via Trieste and Corso Magenta.
- Corso Magenta Another of the major streets, parallel to Via Trieste. The eastern end is by the Piazzale Arnaldo, same terminus as Via Trieste and other streets.
- Piazza del Mercato Few meters west from the Theatro Grande on Corso Paletro is the next historic square.
- Piazza della Vittoria A masterpiece example of Italian art-deco architecture, built by Marcello Piacentini between 1927 and 1932. Its construction came at a price, demolishing part of the medieval town to make space for it. It’s adjacent to Piazza del Mercato linking both by the northeast corner. Among the buildings are:
-Palazzo delle Poste Post Office building marking the northern side, with the high porch covered in a two tone marble band that protects the two tone glazed wall behind
-National Insurance Institute Commonly known as the Torrione, the first “skyscraper” built in Italy. The building has reinforced concrete clad in brick that back then was also a novelty in the country.
-Torre della Rivoluzione Conceived as a triumphal arch that also defines the street towards piazza Paolo VI, aligning with the south aisle of the New Cathedral.
- Piazza della Loggia The City Hall square, the next architectural feast. Located north of Piazza della Vittoria
-City Hall On the western side of the square, built by the Venetians from 1492 consists of a porch on the ground floor, a hall on the first and its dome.
-Astronomical Clock Dating from the 16th century, the bells are rung by two automatons from 1581 called “i macc de le ure” (the crazy hours).
-Monti di Pietà These Christian lending houses along the south side of the square date from the 15th and 16th centuries. Their façades are embedded with ancient Roman tombstones, making it the first Italian lapidary museum.
- San Giuseppe Church Dating from the 16th century, has beautiful frescoes and it’s the burial place of Gasparo da Salò, one of the inventors of the modern violin, and the Baroque musician Benedetto Marcello. Inside you can also admire one of the oldest organs in the world. From the northeast access to the Piazza della Loggia you will reach this church.
- Torre della Pallata Located on Corso Goffredo Mameli, west from Piazza della Loggia. Originally built in 1254 as part of the medieval fortifications, was enlarged in the 15th century with the addition of the clock, merlons and turret.
- Monumental Cemetery Known as Vantiniano, was designed in 1813 by Rodolfo Vantini becoming the very first monumental cemetery in Italy. At its centre is one of the highlights, the Lighthouse of Brescia. This 60 meters tall column was the inspiration for architect Heinrich Strack to design the Berlin Victory Column. From Torre della Pallata continuing along the road, then named Giuseppe Garibaldi and then Via Milano you will reach the main entrance gates.
The nearest airport to Brescia is Bergamo’s Orio al Serio, 50 km west, which is one of the 3 international airports that Serves Milan. The Autostradale buses run directly from the Airport to Milano Centrale station and Brescia frequently through the day. The next nearest airport is 60 km to the east of Brescia, in the city of Verona. Once again, it is good connected in between the cities via buses.
Alternative airports (nearer to the city of Milan) are Malpensa, the largest of them all with most of the international and intercontinental routes. Between T1 and T2 there are free buses though not very reliable, therefore count with enough time should you need to switch between terminal. Trains to Milano Cadorna Station or Milano Centrale all depart from Terminal 1, so if you happen to land or depart from T2, the best would be a bus and not the train. You can take any train and continue your journey by metro or tram from the train stations. A single ticket costs 12 Euros and must be bough and validated at the station before boarding. The last trains run few mins after 23.00pm, thereafter buses operate the same route. Buses are a great option too, especially if you arrive at Terminal 2 as you will save the time in not needing to get to T1 by the free shuttle bus to the train station. With frequencies every 20 to 30 minutes it takes around 1 hour to reach Milano Central Station with single tickets costing 10 Euros and 16 for a return.
Linate Airport is only 7 km from Milan. Reaching the centre of the city is easy with bus number 73 direction San Babila, where you can connect with the metro line 1. A single ticket is 1.5 Euros with unlimited interchange during 75 minutes after validating the ticket, therefore you can easily connect to trams, metro or other buses to your final destination. Should you arrive on a weekday, you can benefit by saving time if taking the express bus X73 which does the same route but with only one intermediate stop. The cost is the same.
From both Malpensa and Linate airports you can go directly to Brescia without needing to get first to Milan downtown and change there. There are shuttle buses from the arrivals terminal connecting all the airports, and the airports with Brescia downtown.
If coming by train there are great connections across the whole of Italy and other European countries, including cities as far as Nice or Barcelona. Brescia lies in an strategical location on the pan-European rail and road networks, and the main west-east line that links the major cities of Turin, Milan, Bergamo, Brescia, Verona, Padua and Venice, and the north to south with direct trains to Florence, Rome or Naples and all the cities in between.
Within the city there is no need for taking any public transportation at all. Distances are not too big and the historic core of the city extremely compact with majority of the streets pedestrian friendly for what there is no other way than on foot; the best choice anyway.
With an endless choice around this region, counting from nearby Milan on the west and Verona to the east, it will be hard not to secure a good deal. The prices are very similar between staying at one of the larger cities or Brescia itself, however, staying anywhere within the city centre can be a expensive business, especially when visiting the city on key dates as summer months. If you are having your own transportation then consider a hotel a bit more outside the city centre, this will save you quite a lot honestly, and don’t worry on thinking you have to drive if you are planning to go out and come back late, there is a good network of public transportation so a bus stop will rarely be far from you.
A good tip to consider is doing a search for a flight+hotel in combination on the British Airways website. This might surprise you and can lead you to a great deal altogether. We are doing this as much often as we can (or work for us) on our weekend trips, and this weekend was another good example of this, where we booked flights to Milan and our hotel in Bergamo to make there the perfect base to reach the cities we intended to visit. This is now the second time we do it with the Milan route. Not only that we managed to get the perfect flight times, but also earn Avios and Tier points for flying with our preferred OneWorld Alliance member, and also managed to get a nice hotel all less than half price than if booking separately and flying with a low-cost carrier.
Now when searching for hotels, the best point to start is by checking some of our preferred hotel search engine sites such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers. Some of these offer a search combination of flight+hotel.
In our most recent trip to Milan, we stayed at the Executive Hotel Bergamo, east of Bergamo in Via Nazionale 67. As explained before, we selected this city on purpose for being the perfect place to set our base to visit the cities we planned ahead. It worked great; the hotel was very nice, with very friendly staff and most important, comfortable and quiet overnight. Breakfast was included in the rate and was unexpectedly bigger than we though as it’s a full hot buffet and not just continental style.
Should you wish to read more information and feedback on the hotels we did stay when visiting Milan, check the guide here.