Standing majestically on the Adige river in the Italian region on Veneto, Verona is one of the highlights on any trip to the northeast of the country. It may be overshadowed by its neighbour Venice, but make no mistake, it has just as much to offer. The city, which has been awrded World Heritage Status by UNESCO, is arguably most famous for being the city in which Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet is based and there are indeed a number of references to this masterpiece in the city, although totally fictional and highly touristic. Far more interesting is the city's Roman and Medieval past, personified by the architecture and piazze, or squares, as well as its cuisine and festivals. Verona and its region is perfect for a romantic weekend getaway.
Arguably the star attraction of Verona is its Roman arena, or amphitheatre at the Piazza Bra. Built in the 1st century AD, its exterior was almost entirely destroyed during an earthquake in 1117 but the rest remained in tact. Originally it was used for shows and gladiator combats but today it is most famous for hosting opera as well as other popular concerts.
There are a number of notable churches in the city, including the Basilica of Saint Zeno, named after the patron saint of Verona. The Romanesque edifice is famous, amongst other things, for its Wheel of Fortune window and its separate bell tower. The city also has a cathedral, il Duomo, built in 1187 to replace a church destroyed during the 12th century earthquake. Also of interest in terms of places of worship are the churches of San Lorenzo, Santa Maria Antica and Sant'Anastasia.
Other architectural highlights in Verona include the Porta Borsari, the façade to a 3rd century gate to the Roman city, Lamberti's tower, the tallest in the city, Castelvecchio, a 14th century fortified castle with an art museum, library and original ramparts, and the Castell San Pietro, a former Austrian barracks from which there are fabulous views of the city.
Two of the main piazze in Verona are the Piazza delle Erbe, where you will find le Arche which pay tribute to the Scaligero family who once ran the city, and the Piazza dei Signori, where there is a statue of Dante (who mentions the San Zero Basilica in his Divine Comedy) and which was the centre of political and administrative life in the city. Still today you can see evidence of this in features such as the Scala della Ragione.
If you must visit the Casa di Giulietta we cannot stop you, however know that there is absolutely no connection between the house and Shakespeare's character and the famous balcony was added in the 20th century. There is very little of interest there within and there is a huge amount of graffiti around. You would be best off keeping the entrance money for an ice cream!
One of the biggest events of the year in Verona is the carneval on the last Friday of February. Locals called this day vernerdi' gnocolar as it is a tradition to make gnocci. The day also sees the procession of floats as well as the election of Papa del Gnocco, the festival's mascot. The award of this title is taken extremely seriously with contenders from each one of Verona's districts campaigning for a whole year to be elected!
In the summer months a trip to Lake Garda is a must. From the Venetian side to the Lombardian side there are many places to relax, cool off or enjoy the sun. Many resorts popped up during the 60s and have long attracted Germand tourists especially (to the point where many signs were indicated first in German then in Italian). Today the clientele is more international with the Dutch, French and British all enjoying the lake and its surroundings. If you wish to swim in the waters, those higher up are much cleaner. Renowned also for its current and winds, Lake Garda has become a paradise for windsrufing, sailing and other watersports. Just make sure you are prudent and take precautions.
If the mountains are more your thing then head up to Mount Baldo where in winter the snow that falls is the closest to the city. The Lessini peaks are also a great hiking destination and the perfect place to head to escape from the relative hubbub of Verona.
Another event to note down in the old agenda is the Tocati, meaning 'your turn' in Veronese dialect. This festival is dedicated to street games of yesteryear and is held on the last weekend of September. Atmosphere guaranteed.
If you are in Verona sometime between the end of June and the beginning of September then make sure you book (in advance) to catch a show at the Roman amphitheatre during opera season.
Gardaland is around 20 miles from the city of Verona and is easy accessible by both car and train (20 minutes to Peschiera and then a free shuttle bus to the entrance). One of the most popular amusement parks in Europe, people come from all over Italy thanks to its many attractions for kids and babies.
A visit to the thermal baths of Villa Quaranta can turn the rainiest of days into one of relaxation. Situated around 20 mins by road from the centre of Verona, this complex, which also boasts a luxury hotel, has a number of different pools as well as an avant garde wellbeing centre which offers massages using typical products from the region, including wine!
Amongst the Veronese region's curiosities is the presence of a people called the Cimbri who live mainly in Lessinia and Giazza. This small ethnic group is known for having preserved its own language, tauc. With components of German, this little known language is still taight in some of the area's elementary schools.
The historic centre of Verona is a protected area and thus the amount of traffic that can pass through is restricted. If you do drive into the centre without having paid you run the risk of being hit with a hefty fine.
In the rest of the city it is extremely difficult to find a parking space so the best thing to do is to leave your car outside of the centre (at l'Arsenale, the stadium or il Lungadige) and complete your journey by public transport. The historic centre lends itself perfectly to a walking visit and there is no need for a car at all.
If you choose to visit the supposed courtyard and balcony of Juliet, do not stick a piece of chewing gum on the walls with your little love message. The entrance is covered with gum and not only is this filthy and unhygenic it is also pointless as your message will be wiped off as soon as the bin men come along. Best to leave your romantic tendancies to the bedroom!
Italy is renowned for the diversity of its cuisine and with few exceptions, each region has its own, unique variety of dishes and wines. Verona and its region has specialities aplenty. Rice and polenta are very much the cornerstone of Veronese cuisine. Risottos are widespread and come in many forms, for example with red chicory, or even with meat, such as the famous autumn dish risotto all'isolana, named after the thr Isola dellla Scala, the island from which it hails. Polenta is also served in a variety of ways, with cod fish, different sorts of beans, game and fowl.
There are of course some well-known pasta dishes, with gnocchi being especially favoured, particularly around the period of the festival. Tortellini stuffed with meat are also popular (tortellini di Valeggio) as are other fresh pastas such as papparedelle.
Horse meat is eaten widely in Verona and its region and one popular dish is pastissada de caval, a horse meat stew often served with polenta. Il lesso con la pearà, a veal dish with a peppered sauce and la regna, smoked and salted herrng, are also worth trying.
If you happen to be in Verona at Christmas time you should definitely try two famously Veronese specialities: pandoro and nadalin. The former is a type of sweet yeast bread which takes the form of a mountain peak and is sprinkled with icing sugar so as to recall the snow, while the former is less precise in its shape and is shallower, more compact and sweeter.
One cannot talk about Veronese cuisine without mentioning its wine too. The region produces a number of quality wines both red (valpolicella, bardolino, amarone) and white (soave and the sparkling proseco). If you have enough time you could also do a tour of the wine routes and sample the output of the different wineries on the way. The first week of April sees Vinitaly come to town, a huge wine trade fair with thousands of movers and shakers and of course the chance to taste as many wines as you can manage!
The best places to sample all the above are the osterie and enoteche of the city. We recommend Al Carro Armato and Da Rapeton.
To bring back
Amongst the most important local products you could list furniture, wood, red marble and stone from Lessinia which is characteristic of Verona. The towns of Dolcé, Volargne and Sant'Ambrogio di Valpolicella are the most important in its pproduction. They are still studios that exist today which specialise in the fabrication of objects in leather, fabrics and ceramics.
Alternatively, you could go for something along gastronomy lines to bring back home from your visit to Verona. During all the winter festivities, the production of traditional pandoro and nadalin goes into overdrive. There are also a huge number of enoteche in the centre of Verona where an expert can help you choose some great wines to bring back.