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Il Circolino: Dining in an Old Prison in the Heart of Bergamo

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Last Updated on 8th February 2018 by Sophie Nadeau

When travelling through Italy, there are fewer moments more special than dining in an out of the way restaurant that has seen centuries worth of history and where the food is an out of this world experience. Well, on our last night in Bergamo, we dined in Il Circolino, a former prison on the fringes of the old town.

After asking at our B&B for the best recommendations in town, the owner suggested the locally popular Il Circolino. We were staying in the very heart of the old town and wanted to visit a place where the food was great, the prices weren’t overly inflated by tourism, and the wine flowed well.

And so, after a quick look on Google maps, we set off in search of the restaurant. We wandered past the main Piazza and its ever-flowing fountain, past the intricate Duomo, past the ancient chapels that are found abundantly through the Citta Alta, and down the little and cobbled lane that led us to the restaurant.

No signs point you in the right direction and the eatery largely relies on word of mouth. But around one more corner and we arrived at the door. Candlelight flooded the dimly lit street and the smell of pizza wafted out into the cool night air…

Il Circolino: Dining in an Old Prison in the Heart of Bergamo, Italy: entrance

Once inside, we were ushered through the back. Although the first dining room we entered was only half-full, we soon realised that Il Circolino is a large complex comprising of at least four dining areas, almost all of which were occupied by local residents.

Good for pizza, great for pasta, and even better if you want to attend a restaurant together with your four-legged friends, we saw plenty of families, couples and solo diners both on their own and with their dogs. The restaurant is open every day of the week and right through ’til late each night.

Il Circolino: Dining in an Old Prison in the Heart of Bergamo, Italy: dining room

Il Circolino: Dining in an Old Prison in the Heart of Bergamo

The restaurant is located in the Sant’Agata, the old prison complex of Bergamo. 18th-century frescoes adorn the ceiling, a risotto perfumed with truffles and fabulous wine is available à la carte: if you were expecting the old prison to be dreary, the repurposed dining experience is anything but.

Located in the well-worn walls of the Città Alta, Il Circolino boasts views onto the town below and the mountains beyond. In the summer months, it’s possible to dine outside en plein air. The Città Alta Cooperative, where Il Circolino is based, was first founded in 1981 by Aldo Ghilardi and fourteen others. They took the abandoned and dilapidated prison complex and breathed new life into the buildings, transforming them into the restaurant, bar and rooms you see today.

Il Circolino: Dining in an Old Prison in the Heart of Bergamo, Italy: ceiling fresco

Review of Food and Drink at Il Circolino

Putting our Italian skills– as well as Google translate- to the test (the menu is exclusively in Italian), we selected a starter to share, two main courses, and a dessert to share. When it comes to drinks, the wine list is expansive and inexpensive; even some very tasty wines were priced at just a few euro a glass.

If you want to drink something else, there is also a long beer and liqueur list to choose from. And considering how busy the restaurant was, the service was incredibly fast. Almost as soon as we’d finished one dish, the next was whisked out to us quicker than you could say ‘pizza’.

Il Circolino: Dining in an Old Prison in the Heart of Bergamo, Italy: wine glass and wine cellar

I opted for the risotto flavoured, or ‘perfumed’ if you will, with locally gathered truffles. My rich dish tasted even better considering the settings, and I couldn’t help but snap a few photos (or a few dozen). And so, if you’re ever in town, consider giving Il Circolino a visit…

Il Circolino: Dining in an Old Prison in the Heart of Bergamo, Italy: risottoBergamo Travel: Il Circolino Review, dining in a former prison in the Citta Alta old town of Bergamo, Lombardy, Northern Italy. Risotto, wine, pasta, pizza and more of Italian cuisine.

About Author

Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, Paris, pizza, and history, though not necessarily in that order. A fan of all things France related, she runs when she's not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming her weight in sweet food. Currently based in Paris after studies in London, she's spent most of her life living in the beautiful Devonian countryside in South West England!

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