VeronaWords Katie Monk
Photography Andrew Montgomery
Do you believe in true love?” I ask our driver, Luca, as we circle the enormous Verona Arena at full pelt. He laughs so hard he nearly drives headlong into a lamp-post. “I am Italian! Of course I believe in true love! But don’t tell my mother.” He swings a sharp left and deposits us on a cobbled street in the Arena’s shadow. Our hotel, I notice, is two doors down from Hotel Giulietta e Romeo. It seems that most things in Verona have a connection to the Bard.
Apparently, Shakespeare never came to the city. But his spirit, and that of his star-crossed lovers, lives on – in the monuments, the place names and the brickwork. Quotes from the play are inscribed in stone all over town. At Casa di Giulietta, supposedly Juliet’s house, gaggles of tourists pose coyly for pictures clasping the bronze breast of Juliet’s statue. Around them, daubed on the walls in a blur of felt-tip pen, are myriad declarations of love. The fact that the balcony was placed here in the 1930s doesn’t seem to matter. Verona has claimed the story, and amore, for its own.
The city is crazy for romance. Everywhere I look there are wedding-gown boutiques, high-end jewellery stores, racy underwear emporia and that all-important paragon of love, the lace-trimmed, heart-shaped cushion. But even these are tasteful and well made.
I first came here one blood-boiling summer, backpacking with my sister. She had bleach-blonde curls and legs up to her eyeballs; I was her less-leggy sidekick. We were known as “Barbie e Barbie sister”. We left broken hearts all over town. But this time it’s different. I’m with a friend and we visit in mid-winter. Just two hours from London by plane, Verona is the perfect weekend getaway for Brits. It’s more peaceful and intimate than its nearest cities, Venice and Milan; cheaper too, with many osterie and trattorie serving excellent cucina casalinga (home cooking) that would cost twice as much back home. Although there’s no big food market per se, there are delicatessens and greengrocers, veritable Aladdin’s Caves of cured meats, cheeses, preserves and homemade antipasti to snack on or buy as gifts. Shelves sag with the weight of artichokes and asparagus, kaleidoscopic arrays of mottled pink radicchio, and bundles of rocket and spinach.
Set in the Veneto region, Verona is surrounded by fertile, arable land, so meat, poultry, rice, corn and mushrooms are plentiful. Fish arrives daily from the Mediterranean and Adriatic, as well as from nearby lakes and rivers. All this is translated into simple, earthy fare – artichoke fettuccine, nettle risotto, frogs’ legs, baccalà alla Vicentina, and dishes that star horse and donkey meat, pork and brasato (barolo-braised beef). Polenta features highly – eaten hot with salami, cured meats and cheese – as do gnocchi and thick tubes of bigoli pasta.
L’Oste Scuro is a good place to try the catch of the day. Proprietor Simone Lugoboni sources
his fish from all over Italy, from as far away as Sardinia and Sicily. “I have built up a good relationship with my supplier,” he says. “So I get first refusal on what’s brought in each day.” It’s one of very few places that serves fish carpaccio – “a Venetian invention” – alongside huge bowls of seafood, calamaretti and sea urchin.
In just one day, we tick off most of Verona’s major sights, punctuating our walking tour with hits of espresso and nuggets of crema fritta (bite-sized choux pastries filled with cream) from the many pasticcerie. Verona’s old town is compact and easy to navigate. Known as Piccola Roma (little Rome) for its importance in imperial days, it’s now a UNESCO heritage site, filled with honey-coloured townhouses, Roman ruins, Renaissance palaces and a medieval castle. An ice-blue river loops around the top of town and ancient city walls hem in the rest. The Dolomites provide the backdrop, and nearby lakes and vineyards supply recreation and refreshment. In short, the city has it all.
At Piazza delle Erbe, the site of the original Roman forum, the street opens out into a large square lined with cafes and market stalls. By late afternoon, the handsome buildings are bathed in the peachy light Italy is famous for, and we snag an outside table and order cognac-laced hot chocolate so thick you can stand your spoon in it. Towards early evening, the Veronese passeggiata (promenade) slips into gear. Nearby Via Mazzini turns into a catwalk of characters – couples sauntering hip-to-hip; elderly signoras teetering about in sky-high heels, swathed in mink and dripping with jewels; suave men pushing bicycles around polished-marble streets. It’s the very picture of elegance. A thin fog rolls in off the river as we cross the Ponte Pietra to the Teatro Romano, and climb to my favourite spot – the archaeological museum – just in time to see the sun set over the city.
Aperitivo hour kicks off around 7pm, and it’s a sophisticated, low-key affair – tourists, locals, young and old all rub shoulders together. We make a beeline for Osteria del Bugiardo, famous for its valpolicella, which is bottled on the nearby Buglioni estate. The vineyards of Soave, Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella, Bardolino, Custoza and Lugana are 20 minutes away and each spring Verona hosts a four-day wine fair – Vinitaly – that draws more than 153,000 people.
When it’s time for dinner, carnivores will die and go to heaven at Locanda di Castelvecchio, a cosy, opulent restaurant at the foot of the castle walls. Housed in what was once Verona’s first delicatessen, it specialises in bollito misto, the traditional dish of mixed boiled meats. Northern Italian cuisine is not for the faint-hearted – all parts of the animal are used. No sooner have we sat down than a trolley arrives brimming with beef brisket, cotechino sausage, beef, veal and pig’s heads. “Meat is here!” announces our waiter, brandishing two razor-sharp knives and a glint in his eye. Everything is deftly carved at our table, and accompanied by silver jugs of pearà (a thick sauce made from pepper, bread and bone marrow), salsa verde, grated horseradish and mostarda – which in Verona takes the form of a spicy apple and pomegranate syrup, and is found on counters all over the city. As a non-meat-eater, I smile politely and focus my energies on an excellent spaghetti dish and two of the region’s star wines – amarone, a rich, velvety red, and the sweet dessert wine, recioto.
Early the next morning, inspired to exercise, I climb the 84-metre-high Torre dei Lamberti. Piazza delle Erbe lies directly below, empty, save for a few elderly gentlemen sitting around the fountain, their faces to the sun. I have the whole place, and the view, to myself – out over the city, and to the snowy Dolomites beyond. Shakespeare doesn’t know what he missed.
Viaroma 33 Via Roma 33; +39 045 59 1917. A relaxed aperitivo spot at the foot of the castle walls, with a good selection of valpolicella, killer cocktails and comfy sofas.
Cappa Caffè Piazzetta Brà Molinari 1a; +39 045 800 4516. This vaulted Moroccan-style café on the Via Sottoriva has enviable views of the Ponte Pietra. It’s popular with the locals, who come for the music and the Aperol spritz cocktails.
Osteria del Bugiardo Corso Porta Borsari 17a; +39 045 59 1869. Cosy, central osteria serving wines bottled on the nearby Buglioni estate. A good bet for aperitivo hour, when the tables are candlelit and the valpolicella is flowing.
Enoteca Istituto Enologica Italiano Via Sottoriva 7;+39 045 59 0366. This wine shop is the best place to learn about and sample some of the region’s finest viticulture. Run by the Italian Wine Institute (which also has a shop in Soave).
Casa Mazzanti Caffè Piazza delle Erbe 32; +39 045 800 3217. Good people-watching in the main square, and an impressive wine and cocktail list. Come early for coffee and pastries, or wait till later for aperitivi, veal carpaccio and boozy hot choc.
Gelateria Savoia Via Roma 1b; +39 045 800 2211. This family-run gelateria has been producing dozens of flavours since 1939, and sells the best amaretto semifreddo.
Osteria Sottoriva Via Sottoriva 9a; +39 045 801 4323. A locals’ local, tucked under the arcade near the river, with tables outside. Good value, excellent fare, with lots of prosciutto and horse meat.
Caffè al Teatro Via Roma 10a; +39 045 803 5594. Immaculate cafe near the Arena. Come here first thing for fruit juice and espresso at the brass bar and a parade of well-heeled locals.
Trattoria I Masenini Via Roma 34; +39 045 806 5169. Famous for suckling pig and skewered meats. Order the parmesan, spinach and potato purée, which comes in glass jars. An equally good sister restaurant, Pescheria I Masenini, at Piazzetta Pescheria 9a, specialises in seafood and fish.
Trattoria L’Oste Scuro Vicolo San Silvestro 10; +39 045 592 650. Atmospheric and convivial fish restaurant down a side street near the castle, famous for its seafood platter, baccalà and fish carpaccio. Owner Simone sources the best catch of the day.
Locanda di Castelvecchio Corso Castelvecchio 21a, +39 045 803 0097. This cosy, wood-panelled locanda in the historic part of town has views of the old castle. Known for its bollito misto and wines. For true intimacy, book the tiny side room off the main restaurant.
Trattoria Al Pompiere Vicolo Regina d’Ungheria 5; +39 045 803 0537. This Veronese institution serves northern cuisine at tightly packed tables. Try the guanciale ravioli, risotto all’amarone or the sardine bigoli. The aged salami, sopressa and translucent prosciutto are hand-sliced in the corner and brought to the table by expert carver, Natalino, who travels Italy sourcing his meat.
Ristorante Perbellini Via Muselle 130; +39 045 713 5352. The Perbellini pasticceria in Bovolone has been going strong since 1891, but the Perbellini restaurant followed nearly a century later in 1989. Serving flawless food and an impressive wine selection, the two-Michelin-starred restaurant is worth the journey – a little way out of town to the small town of Isola Rizza – and the cost.
Salumeria Albertini Corso Sant’Anastasia 41; +39 045 803 1074. This wonderful deli has been in the Albertini family since 1939. It’s a treasure trove of edible souvenirs and picnic supplies such as wine, olives, cheese, oil, prosciutto crudo, bresaola, sopressa and mortadella.
Lazzari Piazza delle Erbe 9; +39 045 800 9260. Women’s boutique with three other stores around the Veneto, selling high-quality, retro-chic attire for that Audrey Hepburn moment.
Tipografia Via Santa Maria in Chiavica 3c; +39 045 800 3392. Old-fashioned typography and paper emporium with printing press. A good place to order fancy notepaper and business cards.
Pasticceria Flego Via Stella 13; +39 045 803 2471. This sophisticated pasticceria-cum-cafe opened in 1947. Come in the morning for coffee, then arm yourself with torte alla crema (custard tarts) and zaletti (traditional biscuits) to nibble on during the day.
Fazzini Via Mazzanti 8; +39 045 800 0193. These kitchen outfitters, in operation since 1897, stock it all, from salami slicers and espresso machines to old-fashioned juicers.
Caffè Tubino Corso Porta Borsari 15d; +39 045 803 2296. Diminutive coffee bar selling more than 100 types of coffee and tea, as well as an array of interesting pots and cups. Perfect for souvenir buying.
Pasticceria Bar Cordioli Via Cappello 37/39; +39 045 800 3055. A stone’s throw from Casa di Giulietta, Cordioli trades in baci di Giulietta (Juliet’s kisses) and sospiri di Romeo (Romeo’s sighs) – little dolci to remind you of the city of love.
The Duomo complex Piazza Duomo; +39 045 59 5627. Built on the site of a Roman temple, the 12th-century cathedral combines Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance styles, and contains Titian’s Assumption.
Castelvecchio Corso Castelvecchio 2; +39 045 806 2611. A riverside fortress built by Cangrande II della Scala II in the 14th century, and renovated by Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa in the 20th. It’s now a museum housing the city’s art collection, which includes works by Tintoretto and Rubens.
Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s House) Via Cappello 23; +39 045 803 4303. Graffiti-clad courtyard and love mecca, home to a medieval house-turned-museum and an imitation Juliet’s balcony. You can also see her ‘tomb’. Far more romantic spots are to be found elsewhere in Verona.
Torre dei Lamberti Via della Costa 1; +39 045 927 3027. This 84m-high bell tower, standing directly over Piazza delle Erbe, offers sweeping views of the city and the Dolomite mountains.
Giardino Giusti Via Giardino Giusti 2; +39 045 803 4029. A leafy, romantic spot east of the river, built in the 15th century and perfect for a picnic.
Arena di Verona Piazza Brà 1; +39 045 800 3204. Goethe called the Arena ‘’the first great monument of the ancient world”. Dominating Piazza Brà, this vast Roman structure is third in size to Rome’s Colosseum, second to the arena at Capua. It was once a venue for gladiatorial combats and wrestling matches, but today it’s summer operas and pop concerts.
Teatro Romano Via Regaste Redentore 2; +39 045 800 0360. Another place that was a hive of activity during Roman times, and now only comes alive in summer for al fresco music, dance, and the annual Shakespeare Festival. Visit first thing or wait till sunset for magical views from the museum above.