Kirsty reports from Verona18.01.19 | Kirsty
Anyone who knows me well is more than aware of my deep love for all things Italian. The delicious food and drink, the amazing culture, the wonderful architecture and, of course, the history – reasons for my love seem to be endless. For me, Italy has everything anyone could ever desire from a holiday and so much more.
Every year my teenage daughter Freya and I like to have a short break in the October half term school holidays, usually visiting a city. Having already explored Florence, Sicily and Portofino, we put our heads together and brainstormed ideas of destinations. Luckily, Freya is also a fan of all things Italian, and together we decided on the city of love (no, not Paris!) – Verona.
After a short flight of under two hours, we were in the hometown of William Shakespeare’s ill-fated lovers, Romeo and Juliet. There are a number of airports in the UK, including Birmingham, Manchester, East Midlands, London and Leeds, operating flights to Verona, which makes it a very accessible destination.
Our adventure in this truly stunning city began as soon as we stepped out of our airport transfer, at the magnificent Piazza Bra, home of the world famous Arena di Verona. Piazza Bra is the largest piazza in Verona, and thought to be the largest in the whole of Italy. As well as the magnificent arena, Piazza Bra is lined with numerous restaurants and bars, Palazzo Barbieri (town hall) and a gorgeous little park which was well used during our stay by both locals and tourists alike.
However, the star of the show is most definitely the Arena di Verona. Unbelievably, this amazing structure was built in the first century, and even more unbelievable is the fact that it is still in use today, albeit for various concerts and operas rather than gladiator battles!
The Verona Opera Festival occurs every year between June and September, with performances taking place in this most unique setting. Andrea Bocelli holds a special performance here every year, usually in September. I visited the arena in the daytime while it was practically empty, and I can only imagine how breathtaking the venue is when it is filled with people as the sun is setting, waiting to experience an amazing performance. For only €10 per adult, and just €1 per child, you can spend as little or as much time as you’d like in the arena during your visit, and imagine it being filled with 30,000 people at the height of its popularity.
Here at RB Collection, we can arrange a wonderful escorted trip to the Verona Opera Festival, which would also include a guided walking tour of the city, and a visit to the AMO Museum where you will find a vast amount of operatic history including costumes and photographs of some of the greatest singers to have graced the stage at the arena.
For reasons unbeknown to me, Verona often gets overlooked as a city break destination in its own right. Maybe it is for this reason that it didn’t feel like a tourist destination – the only attraction I encountered which was dominated by sightseers was the dramatic balcony at Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s house).
Whether you are a Shakespeare fan or not, it is well worth a visit to this special venue to witness the hundreds of thousands of messages of love which have been left by lovers from all around the world. Rumour has it that if you touch the right breast of the statue of Juliet, which takes pride of place in the courtyard, you will receive luck in love. Of course, I had to give it a go – Freya on the other hand was a little more reluctant! It is not just at Casa di Giulietta that you will find love letters and love locks, the whole city is filled with them and love is literally all around wherever you go.
Verona is also a shoppers’ paradise, with the most famous shopping street being Via Mazzini. Here you will find every designer store under the sun, cleverly infused with more realistic priced high street names. Via Mazzini is pedestrianised at all times throughout the day which made for a very pleasant shopping experience. If you’re not a big shopper like me, it also helps that there are several amazing gelato outlets dotted amongst the shops – delicious!
For a flavour of Italy, Piazza delle Erbe is a must, here you will find a daily market (except for Sundays), full of fresh fruit and vegetables. There was even a stall selling hot roasted chestnuts which took me straight back to childhood memories of bonfire night! Piazza delle Erbe is a large square surrounded by the most beautiful historic architecture, probably the most predominant landmark here is Torre dei Lamberti, an 84 metre high tower. Originally constructed in 1172, the tower is the tallest in Verona and, if you are feeling energetic, you can climb the stairs to the top to experience the most jaw-dropping views of this wonderful city; there is also a lift if your legs aren’t quite up to the climb!
More fantastic views of Verona can be found at Castel San Pietro, which interestingly is the exact point that Verona was founded. Here you will find remains of the first settlements dating back to the 7th century BC, and if you are prepared to climb quite a few steps, the views across to the Adige River and the city beyond are simply stunning. A little local secret that I learnt is that the best time to visit is at dusk. Watching the sunset over the red rooftops of Verona with a loved one would be an experience never to forget.
Verona is a walking city, small and compact enough to experience all of the major sights on foot. The historic streets are lined with the most amazing restaurants and bars, and an outdoor way of life is in abundance here. People-watching while sipping on a glass of locally produced Soave or Prosecco and sampling various cicchetti (savoury Italian snacks very similar to Spanish tapas) is a standard pastime in Verona and my idea of absolute bliss! Sweet toothed visitors will be in their element with the most tempting dessert and macaron delicatessens and, of course, as you would expect in Italy, the coffee is amazing!
I found the food and drink in Verona to be very reasonably priced, and if you wander away from the main piazzas you will find the most amazing eateries with fantastic prices. Another tip, and to blend in with the locals, is to drink your coffee standing up at the counter – you will pay as little as €1 for a delicious cup of your choice! I discovered a wonderful little wine bar and eatery called La Tradision, tucked away in a quaint side street just off the Piazza Bra. Every drink you could imagine, both hot and cold, was served here and the Aperol Spritz was to die for, a bargain at just €2!
To experience a little more of Italy, I think Verona would make the perfect base for a longer holiday duration, because of its location and Italy’s excellent rail networks. Within an hour and ten minutes, myself and Freya were in Venice, a complete contrast to Verona. The short journey was taken in comfort and I was amazed by the standard of the trains in Italy, they really do put ours to shame. Verona is, of course, the gateway to Lake Garda and you can be transported from the city to the Lake by either car, bus or train. The quickest way is by car which takes around 30 minutes to the nearest town at Lake Garda or, if you don’t fancy hiring a car, there is a regular daily bus service from Piazza Bra to various resorts. A 90-minute train ride will take you into the heart of Milan, giving the opportunity to sample an alternative Italian city. Using Verona as a base is the perfect solution for those who don’t enjoy packing and unpacking a suitcase several times while on holiday.
Out of all of the Italian cities I have visited, I think it’s safe to say that Verona is my favourite so far. Everywhere I looked was a feast for the eyes with the most beautiful and historic architecture all across the city. I particularly liked the fact that it didn’t feel too touristy, and there was just the right amount of sightseeing to enjoy at a leisurely pace over our three nights’ stay. Verona definitely lives up to its nickname as the city of love – and it most certainly captured my heart.
VERONA EXAMPLE PACKAGE
3 nights from £598 per person. Includes: flights, return private airport transfers, 5* hotel with breakfast & Kirsty’s top tips to enjoy Verona.