Roman ruins, romance, risotto… it’s an alliterative dream.
I was dubious about ‘Fair Verona’. I’ve read the poetry. I’ve seen that Amanda Seyfried film. If I’m perfectly honest, I thought I was going to find a city packed full of couples, gates littered with colourful locks and am-dram performances of Romeo and Juliet. Yet, whilst it is a sort of mecca for the romantic, there’s a lot more to this city than Shakespeare’s tragic young lovers.
It’s easy to navigate yourself around the cobbled streets, fifteenth century palaces and pointed arches and it doesn't take long to acclimatise either. After a couple of days you’ll feel like you’ve lived there for a week.
Its not difficult to find Rome in Verona. Verona Augusta once stood as the great crossroads at the heart of this ancient empire, and three of the most important roads are still in use today: The Postumia (Corso Borsari), The Cardo and Via Leoncino, which meet at the forum in Piazza Erbe. In the Piazza you’ll find the Madonna of Verona, dating back to 380AD and now one of the most prominent symbols of Verona. Porta Borsari, the ancient gateway to Verona looms impressively on the outskirts of the city, and it's not difficult to imagine the sort of gladiatorial games and spectacles which went on in the Arena, the single most impressive relic of Verona's ancient past. The Golden Ages of the 13th and 14th Centuries have left an equally distinctive print on the city, from Dante’s exile to Shakespeare’s inspiration; the city is littered with references to star crossed lovers,
WHAT TO SEE
The Roman Arena: Surely Opera’s most atmospheric venue. The summer opera season kicks off on 24th June and runs through to September. Tickets can be purchased for as little as €5. Even if you’re not a fan of opera, it’s difficult not to be awestruck by this ancient Roman relic.
Giardino Giusti: These romantic renaissance gardens are well worth the walk to the other side of the city. The gardens were built in 1570 and were lovingly restored in the 1930s. Each tier reveals a new layer of the city, and offers a fantastic panorama of the skyline. Legend also tells that if you enter the garden maze with a lover and meet in the middle, you’ll stay together forever.
Casa di Giulietta: You’ll need to elbow quite a number of teenagers out the way to get a good view of this house and you should expect to stay poised for a good five minutes to get a good shot of the balcony. Visits to the balcony, tomb and museum cost €6
Castelvecchio and Castelvecchio Bridge: architecture aficionados will be blown away by this castle-come-museum which is well stocked with works from some of the greatest Venetian and Veneto painters of the period. The bridge crosses the River Adige and was originally built as a means of escape for Cangrande II della Scalla as in the event of a rebellion to his tyrannical rule. The bridge offers some excellent views of the city.
Churches: It’s no surprise that Verona is bursting full of churches, from romanesque to humanist. For an excellent example of the Romanesque triumph head straight to Basilica di San Zeno - a red and white striped stone structure or Duomo di Verona.
Museums: From Civic History to Natural History, Verona boasts and impressive, though small, array of museums. Arena Museo Opera is currently hosting a well curated exhibit on Opera super-star Maria Callas
WHERE TO DRINK
Piazza del Erbe: Located in the heart of Verona, this piazza is surrounded by Renaissance archictecture. A market site by day, it’s the best place to take an apperativo by night.
Piazza Bra: Once you get over the fact that it is an unashamed tourist trap, complete with mammoth menus covered in pictures of lasagnas, this parade makes for a lovely place to people-watch with a drink in hand.
Wine: Verona is justly proud of the splendid wines produced in the region, from Soave to Bardolino, and the city is brimming with small wine bars offering cheap, but high quality, caraffes. Try Vini Zampiera la Mandola, Il Burgiardo and Bottiglieria Corsini for some truly excellent tastings.
WHERE TO EAT
Food in Verona is rich and heavy, usually prepared with lashings of butter and cream. Bigoli, a sort of thick spaghetti, is the local pasta shape here and is traditionally served with a duck or rabbit sauce. Other regional specialities include Risotto all pilota or all’amarone (risotto with veal sausage or a robust red wine), polenta and baccala (a salted cod). The Veronese are also renowned for a partiality to equine dishes, so horse and donkey are readily found on the menu here.
Ristorante Greppia: Cheap and delicious, this huge restaurant is largely frequented by Italians. Expect to find regional Veronese food on the menu and an excellent selection of wines.
Locanda 4 Cuochi: Seasonal menus with flair.
Le Cantine de l’Arena: Tasty regional cuisine, a real steal in the more tourist heavy Piazza Bra. Excellent pizza, an impressive selection of wines and a splendid interpretation of Bigoli all'anatra
TRIPS TO TAKE
For a swim: Head to Lake Garda. Only 25km away, you can take the train or bus to Peschiera, or take a bus all the way to picture perfect Sirmione. The lake is full of pebble beaches, watersports, restaurants and shops.
For a wine tasting: Head to Valpolicella. There are numerous tours which wind through the hills, or alternatively you can organise your own route. You can find a full list of vineyards here, most will be happy to host you (providing you give enough notice).
For hiking: Head to Cascate di Moline. The outskirts of Verona are full of hiking trails but this one involves a rather excellent photo opportunity involving a waterfall.