Verona: A Gem off the Beaten Path
Verona is a pleasant mix of old Roman history and modern Italian culture, located about halfway between Milan and Venice. It is a relaxing but vibrant alternative to more conventional destinations, and is easy to reach by train or plane. The historic city of Verona in northern Italy is best known as the home of Romeo and Juliet. Couples and tourists alike can stand on Juliet’s balcony, rub her statue’s breast for luck in love, and scrawl their own names in love graffiti on their way out. But there is far more to Verona than this tourist spectacle. For a true Italian cultural experience Verona is the place to go.
Just off a grand piazza in the heart of Verona’s historic city center stands an unimposing building with quaint green shutters, the Hotel Bologna. Traces of an ancient fresco, and flower bedecked balconies are everything one might expect from an old Italian inn. Start your first day with breakfast in the hotel’s attached Restaurant Rubiani. Sitting at one of the outdoor patio tables with a view of the Roman Arena and a frothy cappuccino in hand, you’ll begin to understand why Italians enjoy a slower pace of life.
You’ve been dying to see it ever since you got here, so walk out into the open air piazza with its crowning jewel, the Roman Arena. At one time, Verona was a major trading city in the Roman Empire, and this stadium was constructed outside what were then the city walls. Today it marks the center of town, or il centro, in the middle of the pedestrian-friendly Piazza Brà.
This is the perfect place for sitting and people watching, an activity Italians take seriously. There is far more to see in Verona, so when exiting the piazza head up Via Roma towards the river, enjoying the old world cobblestoned streets. Castelvecchio, or the Old Castle, looms before you, a gothic fortress built by Verona’s ruling family in the Middle Ages. A bridge extends out over the River Adige where one can peer between the imposing battlements for a peek at the rushing water below. Right next door is the Arco dei Gavi, a Roman arch now covered in modern graffiti like so many other ancient monuments. Graffiti is an Italian word for a reason.
Back on the main street, meander towards the ancient city gate Porta Borsari, once the entrance to Roman Verona. Around the next corner is restaurant San Matteo, the doorway practically hidden in a small stone courtyard. This former church was converted into a restaurant that now boasts one of the longest pizza menus in town, including the popular quattro stagioni , or four seasons. Each quarter of the pizza has its own ingredients including fresh mozzarella, tomato, artichokes, mushrooms, cooked ham, and black olives. Check out the book-sized menu by the door, since you’ll be returning here for dinner.
Continuing down the main drag past all the high-end shops like Prada and Mariella Burani, you’ll come upon another large square. With an altogether different vibe, Piazza delle Erbe is the hangout for a younger crowd, and also the place to buy your knick knacks and souvenirs. Stop at one of the many outdoor cafes for a light lunch and savor the bustle of people against a backdrop of frescoed walls and ancient stone facades. A column with a lion capital stands at the north end of the square, a symbol of Venetian rule.
Since Romeo and Juliet are this city’s namesakes, the Casa di Giulietta is a tourist’s most obligatory stop in Verona. Entering the gate of the Capulet house, you’ll perhaps be surprised to find the walls covered in love graffiti, full of names and hearts. Inside the small courtyard stands a small statue of Juliet. Get your picture rubbing her breast for good luck in love, or smiling from her stone balcony just above.
Now begins an afternoon of serious shopping. The crowded, pedestrians-only thoroughfare Via Mazzini is the place to see and be seen, and contains Verona’s trendiest shops. And as the city of love there is no end to lingerie stores; Intimissimi is Italy’s answer to Victoria’s Secret. While away the afternoon in high style, being sure to stop for a gelato and shamelessly check out what everyone else is wearing. Take Via Mazzini all the way back to Piazza Bra and drop off your purchases at your hotel.
Dinner tonight at the San Matteo restaurant is an education in what pizza should be. Surprising even yourself, you can manage to eat an entire pizza, and still have room for dessert. The waiter may tempt you to try some limoncello after your meal, a popular lemon flavored liquor made in southern Italy. The after dinner passeggiata, or a walk around town, makes for the perfect end to a delightful meal. A glass of wine in Piazza Bra, and you’ll wish this dreamy night could last forever.