“Hello, signorina, time´s up! We´re closing ....” says the house warden with a slightly embarrassed smile. I am standing in the entrance to Julia´s famous abode, high above my head the legendary balcony with the wind whispering all the wishes it has read while rustling through the letters affixed to the entrance wall by lovers from all over the world.
“Dear Juliette, please make her come back, I can´t live without her ...” “ ... My love, I want to breathe the same air and tread in your footsteps ...”
Perhaps you have been drawn to Verona by the tale of these unhappy lovers. But after a while you realise that the “Painted City” as it was known for the countless frescoes from the time of its greatest prosperity, has far more to offer. Graceful Verona is full of narrow alleys, hidden palaces, churches and balconies perhaps more beautiful than Juliette´s ... Strolling around here is simply divine and it is virtually impossible to lose one´s way. As early as 200 BC the Romans established a firm structure for the city. Its regular running streets, the Forum and the decumanus, or main thoroughfare, are by far not the greatest treasures. On the Piazza Bra you will see the best preserved and largest Roman monument of all: L´ Arena. Show it to someone on a photo, tell them it´s the famous Colosseum of Rome and provided he or she is not a native born Italian you will probably catch them out. Each time the amphitheatre comes to life (such as for performances by Roberto Benigni, the Pope or Bruce Springsteen) it is an indescribable experience. The arena fills up with twenty thousand people, each one of them holding a burning candle in his or her hand and before every performance there is absolute silence. You sit on steps which people used to sit on during the first century BC. Famous Scagliové, Venetians, the rich, the poor ... and suddenly, in the light of thousands of candles in that split second of silence, you realise that you are their continuation. You are the sum of their abilities, their experiences, their loves, their creativity and fantasy ... Barely has this crossed your mind when the lights go up and in the centre of the arena appears little big Roberto Benigni. The Divine Comedy can begin all over again. The Arena remembers everything: gladiator combat, people burnt at the stake, divine judgements, theatre performances, tournaments, fairs and even bull fights. Verona is a city of culture and from April to September the arena lives off opera, theatre and large concerts. But it is an equally great experience to simply sit on the steps when there is nothing going on. From the top you have a wonderful view onto the whole Piazza Bra and the never-ending red brick rooves of the surrounding palaces. In comparison to its more famous sisters such as Venice for instance, Verona has one great advantage: even if it is still a well-visited city you do not feel the stress of tourism or waves of gigantic groups of tourists. Beautiful Verona lives by its own tempo and one does well to simply immerse oneself into this current and succumb to its enchanting spirit. Wake up around nine, fit in a little sightseeing, don´t miss out on a church service, in the afternoon take a walk down the main street, in the evening have a glass of prosecca in a street-side café, indulge in an excellent dinner – and then melt in with the crowd in front of the Osteria to taste some wines from the famous regions: Valpolicella and Soave. Leave your car outside the city ramparts – not just because of the delights of wine tasting but also because the small centre is ideal for a walking tour. In fact, some parts are totally closed to traffic. From the arena make for the Piazza delle Erbe. To get there take the historic promenade Porta Borsari and then double back on the parallel shopping street Via Giuseppe Mazzini. Both are a terrific experience. Corso Porta Borsari will overwhelm history lovers and admirers of architecture and details, enticing you to look up high at the house facades, at the balconies full of flowers, frescoes, Venetian pillars and Gothic windows ...
You will probably become aware of the passage of time most noticeably on Erbe Square, arguably the most beautiful in all Verona. In Roman times this used to be the Forum, meaning that the most important political and economic events took place here. To this day the square has remained the centre of all activities, albeit in a slightly different form. Before stopping for an excellent cappuccino convince your own eyes just how justified the sixteenth century claim was that hailed Verona as the Painted City and take a good look at the Mazzanti House full of wonderful frescoes. In fact the whole row of houses leading to the 83m high Lamberti Tower is worth giving the eye-over. Piazzi delle Erbe contains an incredible number of dominant features including the Lady of Verona fountain and the Maffei Palace, an imposing Baroque building with statues of six gods crowning the facade. Topping the tall pillar in front of the palace you will discover the symbol of Venetian supremacy: the Lion of St Mark, commemorating the annexation of Verona by the Republic of Venetia in 1406. The Lamberti Tower, town hall and mercantile palace from 1301 are very typical of Verona, especially for their alternation of brick and sandstone layers which create multifariously coloured fields and stripes on their facades. Next to the town hall kindly note the arch with its unmistakeable decor – directly in the middle of the arcade leading onto Signori Square hangs a rib bone from a whale. Apparently during the 17th century there were many apothecaries in the vicinity and this unusual object was meant to draw people´s attention to them. However, I am convinced there must be tons of other legends and explanations why this gigantic cetacean had to be honed to the bone ... While on the subject of food, there have always been tons of it in the square. Markets have been held here since time immemorial. Today, along with fruit and vegetables, you can also buy pizzas here, focaccia (bread), cheeses and all sorts of refreshments and souvenirs. The entire square is dotted with large market sunshades and cafés but on Sundays everything changes in a flash. The stands vanish, the café tables are pushed to one side, everything is empty. Everything ready for this special day. The locals put on their Sunday best and set off for the local promenade. The whole world meets up on the Piazza delle Erbe.
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Montegue´s promise over the lovers´ grave: “For I will raise her statue in pure gold, That whiles Verona by that name is known, There shall no figure at such rate be set As that of true and faithful Juliet.” With these words Shakespeare concludes the powerful closing scene of his tale of these eternal lovers. Words which forever transformed Verona into the capital city of Love. You will find many couples here passing through the archway into Juliet´s house not far from the Piazza delle Erbe to stand beneath that famous balcony. You will see a miserable teenager on his knees scribbling his plea to Juliet, only to stick it a moment later with some chewing gum to a wall covered by hundreds of fluttering proclamations, laments and calls for help in the face of unrequited love. And then there is the fulfilled promise of old Montague: beneath the balcony stands a statue of Juliet. Most lovers long to touch her for it is said that she can fulfil every lover´s wish. But the most common question uttered by more pragmatic tourists is: “Don´t you have Romeo here as well?” What is the truth behind these famous lovers? William Shakespeare published his version in 1597 but the story itself is much older. In Italy the tale had been written down before the famous Englishman by Luigi da Porto. And once in Verona you will start thinking that this was more than just a figment of the imagination ... after you have visited Juliet´s house (with you ladies boldly stepping out onto the balcony) you can continue on to Romeo who is only five minutes down the road. The final traces of these unhappy lovers is Juliet´s tomb – Tomba di Giulietta – in the crypt beneath the Church of San Francesco al Corso on Via del Pontiere. The stone sarcophagus lies in a somewhat gloomy yet extremely moving environment. Just take a seat in a café and listen to Romeo whispering to you: “The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars As daylight doth a lamp. Her eyes in heaven Would through the airy region stream so bright That birds would sing and think it were not night.”
Dante and the rulers of Venice On palaces, bridges, pillars and elsewhere you will notice a coat of arms depicting a ladder, known in Italian as Scala. This was during the reign of the Scaligeri family which brought the city many years of peace and prosperity. It was during their reign (1263-1387) that the impressive castle Castelvecchio was built, along with its ramparts, the Scaligeri bridge and many other buildings. A regular guest of the della Scala family was the poet Dante – which explains why as an act of gratitude he dedicated Cangrande I the final section of the Divine Comedy. This particular ruler (along with other members of the family) is buried in Verona in a somewhat untraditional manner: his body lies in a decorated stone tomb several metres above ground level in the Via Arche Scaligere directly above the side entrance into the church of Santa Maria Antica. On the neighbouring two catafalques rimmed by perfect metalwork of the period complete with coat of arms lie Cansignorio and Mastino II. All three are guarded by stone warriors in full armour and by the eternal shadow of the emblematic ladder. With the demise of its great rulers Verona came under the rule of the Visconti´s for a short period and then under the Venetians who, thanks to their trading and political prowess, opened up new possibilities for the city and its surroundings.
Soave: culinary pleasures beyond the ramparts. About twenty kilometres from Verona you will find Soave, a small town beyond the ramparts embedded in that world famous winemaking region. Just the trip to the city with its dominant ramparts cresting a hill is an extraordinary experience: ubiquitous vineyards studded with tall cypress trees or cultivated rows of trees as precursors of well-concealed medieval villas, churches and villages. In Soave first take the narrow lane up to the castle. En route you can enjoy the view of the old palaces, including the Palace of Justice dating from 1375, or the Palazza Cavalli. This medieval town is surrounded by a two kilometre wall which is best viewed from the very top of the castle. Reaching the third courtyard you can examine the reconstructed part of the palace housing the living quarters complete with the ever-present dog clutching the coat of arms with the ladder. From the ramparts you can finally see the famous vineyards, a foretaste of the culinary delights which attract so many people to Soave ...
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Valpolicella – the art of living „Red Recioto“ is sweet like your lips and intoxicating like your eyes. And the colour? Dark red, like the blood which surges into my heart when you embrace me ...” Truth be known, all you need is to take a sip and your mind is flooded by philosophical, poetic or statesmanlike thoughts. Where better than here to taste one of the most famous winemaking regions in Italy. One comes to Valpolicella to spend a slightly lazy and indulge in pleasures of the palette – to visit at least two vineyards as well as a few villas which have survived from the golden age of the Venetians. Villa Serego in San Pietro in Cariano is a real beauty, as is the nearby Villa Gion which is located in the middle of an Italian style park. There too they will be only too pleased to serve you some wonderful wine to the bubbling of fountains amid the peace and quiet of coloured leaves and white marble statues. But it is certainly worth going straight to the vintner. The Tomassi family is into its fourth generation of vintners and according to Pierangelo Tomassi there is no alternative. The Tomassi family cultivates mainly Corvina, Rondinella and Molinaro grapes from which they then produce three denominations: Valpolicella, Amarone and Recioto. On no account should you miss out on a degustation or a purchase of the last two. Recioto is silky sweet and can sometimes remind you of port wine, while Amarone ferments through to absolute dryness, is relatively alcoholic and, as its name suggests, mildly bitter. If you reach for Tomassi´s Amarone Classico you will certainly not be disappointed. Maybe one autumn evening when your flat fills with its unrepeatable fragrance you will regret that your car did not have a bigger boot.
Back to Verona Slightly intoxicated not only by these excellent wines but also by Nature´s beauty we drive back to Verona. Because Verona is a place you have to return to. We did not have enough time to admire her churches – the most famous being San Zeno Maggiore which belongs to the most ornate Romanesque churches in Italy. Then there is Sant´ Anastasia and also the well-known Cathedral of Verona, Santa Maria Matricolare with Titian´s delightful Assumption. The local galleries certainly have a lot to offer but to gaze at a painting by Paola Veronese or Tintoretto directly inside the very church for which it was commissioned takes a lot of beating. As I sit on the opposite banks of the river Adige upon the seats of the ancient Roman theatre I look across at the capital city of love. It is as if the people who used to live here centuries ago have only just left ... the question arises: did they ever leave? The barber who was sweeping the pavement in front of his shop this morning or the elderly lady arranging fresh flowers on the five tables in her small café – they were surely here two hundred years ago. They too make up Verona. And perhaps it is they who are the reason why one feels as if one belongs here after only a single day. Verona welcomes you generously, intoxicates you with her modest beauty and then simply swallows you up. And to stand beneath her balconies is divine, even for someone intoxicated by love.
VeronaCard: During the period of the famous exhibition Mantegna you can acquire a three-day card for 16 Euros; normally it costs 12 Euros for three days, or 8 Euros per day. It is certainly worth buying since it covers entry into the churches (careful, there are entrance fees almost everywhere!), the arena, all the galleries as well as the public transport. More at: www.veronacard.it Restaurants: Ristorante 12 Apostoli, Corticella S. Marco, 3 A family-run restaurant dating back to 1900. More expensive but your culinary and other experiences here will make that worthwhile. Closed on Sunday evenings and Mondays. Dal Duca, Via Arche Scaligere, 2 This is one for the locals! Typical Veronese cuisine, excellent food, family prices. Open every day except Sundays and Tuesdays lunchtime. Wine degustation: Tommmasi, Pedemonte di Valpolicella This family enterprise processes exclusively grapes from its own 135 hectare vineyard. Under the guidance of the fourth Tommasi generation the business produces excellent wines such as Valpolicella, Amarone and Recioto. The family and their repertoire of skills ripen literally like wine – a visit and some purchases are really worthwhile. Tel. +39 045 770 1266, www.tommasiwine.it Oblast Soave Visit www.stradadelvinosoave.com to find a list of “cantinas” or wine cellars where you can taste local wines – and obtain tips on cheap accommodation. Cantina di Soave, Viale Vittoria, 100, Soave Degustation directly at the source! Make sure you try Il Recioto di Soave, a golden wine verging onto a desert wine. www.cantinasoave.it