Penny Wainwright combines a trip to see an Adele concert with a tour of the Verona of Romeo and Juliet, and a day out in the vineyards of Valpolicella…
Verona, La Città dell’Amore, the City of Love, is known – to English-speaking visitors at least – first and foremost, for Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare’s ill-fated young lovers lived (and died) here and there is a never-ending queue of visitors to Juliet’s house and the famous balcony in Via Cappello – even though she never actually existed and therefore never actually lived here. They come to add their names to the wall of graffiti that runs alongside the entrance to the courtyard. They come to rub the right breast of Juliet’s statue in the courtyard, hoping that this simple act will bring them luck in love. So many have come to do this that recently they have had to replace the statue – the old one now stands inside the building. They come to stand upon the balcony where Juliet was wooed by Romeo. In fact, it’s not actually a real balcony – it’s a converted sarcophagus – but that doesn’t matter, still they want to be photographed upon it.
And they come to get married. The new ‘Marry me in Verona’ is a City of Verona initiative to promote wedding ceremonies in venues of different styles and sizes across the city. The room opening onto the balcony at Juliet’s house is a popular location for vows to be taken. But there are other places. The tapestry room, la Sala degli Arazzi, in Palazzo Barbieri, the city hall, with its wooden panelling and two large 16th-century tapestries is an impressive and more formal wedding venue than Juliet’s house.
During this visit to Verona, I was keen to try to see as much as I possibly could in one day, as I had intended to get out of the city on the second day of my stay to go and see the vineyards of the famous Valpolicella wine-growing region, which lie just to the north of here, up the River Adige, to the east of Lake Garda.
A map and a guide book are necessary items if you want to make the most of your time here, but so too is a Veronacard, the all-inclusive city pass that provides free entry to 16 of the city’s main attractions, and reduced-fee entry to five others. The card is valid for either 24 hours (€18) or 48 hours (€22). It can be purchased at many of the sites of interest, and also at tobacconists, and by following the links on the city’s tourist office website at www.turismoverona.eu.
Needless to say, it is well worth getting your hands on a Veronacard if you want to see all that the city has to offer – and there is a lot to see, beyond the Shakespearean connection! Not only will it save you a lot of money, it will also save you all the bother of having to pay in cash.
The opera season in Verona runs through high summer. The Arena is one of the most atmospheric places in the world to see musical performances of every kind, but opera is its speciality. Note that the stone seats can get uncomfortable after a while, though cushions can be hired, or you can take your own. Shows usually start around 9pm. www.arena.it
Having visited Juliet’s house, I set off to Romeo’s house in Via Arche Scaligere. Now, Romeo is also a fictional character, but there are strong grounds to believe that his family, the Montagues, did exist – and we even know where they lived. Unfortunately, unlike Juliet’s house, Romeo’s house is not open to visitors. All you can see of it are its crenelated walls. The house, however, stands near the tombs of the Della Scala (or Scaligere) family, which are impressive in themselves, with statues and ornate ironwork surrounding them.
The Scaligere family ruled Verona from the late 13th century through the 14th century and made a major contribution towards developing the city. The Palazzo del Podestà, next to the Loggia del Consiglio in Piazza dei Signori, was the family’s seat of power. Around the corner from Piazza dei Signori are the family tombs, in the grounds of Chiesa di Santa Maria Antica, the family’s private chapel on Via Arche Scaligere. The three tombs have elaborate carvings and sculptures, surrounded with wrought-iron fencing depicting the family’s ladder symbol.
Palazzo della ragione
Another place worth seeing while you are in the area is the Palazzo della Ragione, which stands between Piazza della Erbe and Piazza dei Signori. This was the home of the Municipality of Verona.
The Chapel of the Notaries on the first floor of the tower is dedicated to St Zeno and St Daniel. It is a small, wood-panelled chapel with paintings depicting the miracles of the two saints. In the Museum of Frescos, next to the Torre dei Lamberti, the Guarienti room is a reconstruction of the interior of a 16th-century palazzo with frescoes on the walls.
The final location I visited was adjacent to the 14th-century monastery of St Francis, where Romeo and Juliet were married by Friar Laurence, and where Juliet is supposed to be buried.
Towards the edge of the historical centre, near the River Adige, are two impressive churches: the Duomo Santa Maria Matricolare, in Piazza Duomo, and the Basilica di Santa Anastasia. The Duomo di Santa Maria Matricolare is Verona’s cathedral, built on the site of a Roman temple; and in Piazza Sant’Anastasia is the church commissioned by the Scaligeri family in 1290.
From here it is a short walk to the river. Crossing the Ponte Pietra, the ‘Stone Bridge’, over the River Adige, I visited the Roman theatre and, above it, the Archeological Museum, with Roman statues and artefacts. Climbing up to Castel San Pietro provides further views across the river towards the city.
Tocati is an international festival of street games which was founded in 2003 to share traditional street games, such as playing with spinning tops. Tocati takes place in September in the centro storico. Each year, a different country is invited to present and teach a traditional game. This year Tocati takes place between 15 and 18 September.
Everywhere I walked in Verona I saw frescos and decorations on buildings, especially in Piazza dei Signori and Piazza della Erbe, a square full of market stalls.
Vinitaly is a major international wine show held in Verona every April. Though primarily a trade fair, they also put on a two-day event called ‘Vinitaly and the City’ in Piazza dei Signori during the week, where wine lovers gather to taste new tipples and make new friends. Next year’s dates are 7-12 April. www.vinitaly.it
I spent one day in the Valpolicella region, visiting three wine cellars, two villages and two restaurants. I tasted 16 wines and ate many local specialities in one amazing day! My guide for this day of exploration was Antonella Bampa, a wine guide for the region, who opened my eyes to the production of wine and, more importantly, gave me the chance to meet some passionate winemakers.
Le Maragnole vineyard is in the Marano Valley. Fabio Corsi started as a winemaker in 2004, although the family has worked the land for a long time. For Fabio, the main investment is time and ongoing contact with the grapes and the winemaking process. The grapes are grown using the pergola system as this keeps them high above the ground and the canopy protects them from harsh weather. Grapes are stored and dried in wooden crates in the fruttaio. The original cellar is around 300 years old, with wines stored in French oak barrels, known as tonneaux or barriques, depending on their size.
A short stop was made at Zyme, Celestino Gaspari’s cellar in San Pietro in Cariano, to see the old cave wine cellar, where Gaspari had started in 2003. The cave opens into the modern building and creates a natural humidification system.
The final vineyard, Villa Spinosa, is located in the Negrar Valley. Enrico Spinosa has developed many aspects of his estate, from arranging cultural events to creating two holiday apartments. The villa has a beautiful formal garden, with a raised terrace overlooking the vineyards and countryside. Enrico’s favourite roses and lemons are incorporated in the garden. The wine cellar, however, is Enrico’s passion. He is continually developing the cellar with an emphasis on the quality of wine. There we tried a Jago Valpolicella Ripasso Classico, made from the grapes that had been grown on the Jago cru vineyard.
Lunch was taken at El Pendola in Fumane, run by Anna Maria Cerodini. As we ate, we sampled Bianc’Anna, Valpolicella Classico and Anna Maria l’Amarone created by the family. Anna Maria lavished food on us with three antipasti and three pastas, plus cheese and a dessert with cakes. In the evening we visited Bottega de Corgnan in San’Ambrogio for dinner. Gaetano Zanella’s restaurant was established in 1954 and aims for good-quality local food with the ‘excellence of simplicity’. The dinner was an ever-changing range of dishes accompanied by wines from another small winemaker, Marcello Vaona, from his Novaia cellar.
In San’Ambrogio, I visited Palazzo Bassani, a 13th-century villa which is owned by the town and is being restored. It has become a school of art and a professional institute of marble. The cellars are to be renovated and made into a museum of wine.
From San’Ambrogio, I travelled to San Giorgio di Valpolicella, which in November 2015 was named one of the Borghi più belli d’Italia, Italy’s most beautiful villages. It is located on top of a hill and has a spectacular view over the countryside and Lake Garda.
At sunset the village takes on a red glow, with its stones taking on the colour of the sun. Outside the church, lines etched onto the marble path indicate the location of Roman ruins. In the basement of the church there is a museum where prehistoric and Roman archaeological finds are kept.
In my short 48 hours in Verona, I realised I had experienced a lot of the main sights of the city, stayed in a beautiful bed and breakfast, and spent a fascinating day in the Valpolicella area. My parting thoughts turned again to Romeo, for whom there would be “no world without Verona”, and I know that Verona has now also found a place in my own heart.