Plan ahead for springtime in Verona
Here’s the perfect April treat: Verona, Italy. The medieval city, in the province of the same name, sits in the region of Veneto and is an easy train trip away from Switzerland. The food and wine are wonderful, there’s a wealth of art and architecture and history and the streets don’t yet have summer crowds. Weather: expect a bit warmer than Switzerland, and an earlier spring. April 7-10 sees one of the world’s largest professional wine events, Vinitaly, which means that wineries, restaurants and hotels have come out of their winter lethargy, and any time after this is good. Easter is late, 21 April in 2019, so if you’re locked into school holidays, or looking for cheap fares outside them, keep that date in mind.
Summer in Verona
Spring aside, Verona is magnificent in summer, once the outdoor operas begin to play in the amphitheatre, which is one of the best preserved arena Roman ruins anywhere. You can sit in the bleachers until midnight with only a light wrap and marvel at Italy and the popularity of classics like Aida (and of course, beforehand, the food and wine). Verona is known to most of us in the English-speaking world because of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but a visit to the region expands to so much more and can easily include Lake Garda on the western edge of the Veneto, over to Venice on the east. You have the opportunity to explore vineyards from one end to the other, and you’ll probably find wines you were not expecting. I certainly did. There is a wine, or two, for every local dish, and there is a multitude of those, starting with the famed tiny little gnocchi.
My own first trip to Verona took place in June; I was invited as a member of the Swiss delegation to Lausanne’s welcome into the Great Wine Capitals of the World group, which includes Verona and other wine luminaries such as Napa Valley and Bordeaux. I accepted because I was intrigued to learn about this network, but also because I love Amarone wine and knew too little about it, and I’m an avid fan of Donna Leon’s crime novel series featuring Inspector Brunetti. She recently moved from Venice to Valais in Switzerland, which made me feel even more attached to the Brunetti world. The stories (and again, the food and wine that make you long to be in northern Italy) take place mostly in his hometown of Venice, but the Veneto, including Verona, appears often enough that I finally checked the geographic relationship.
It became clear to me that I should have gone to the Veneto and especially Verona years ago, then gone back scores of times. Don’t make that mistake!
What’s to love
Here’s what’s to love, in brief: the narrow streets of the old centre, the crisp white Soave wines from east of the city at lunch or to kick off the evening, the rich tapestry of its history, from the Romans whose arena is the city’s symbol, to Verona’s “spontaneous delivery” to the Serenissima of Venice in 1405. Venice lost the city to Napolean’s troops in 1796, but the Austro-Hungarian Empire contested the win and was awarded the city at the Congress of Vienna, making Verona an Austrian town until 1866, when the new Kingdom of Italy claimed it. Italian, yes, ever so much so, but cosmopolitan, even more so, and no wonder, with that string of city bosses.
Back to what’s to love: the cobblestoned very narrow and twisting passages, immense palaces, smaller 16th century houses. And I haven’t even mentioned the balcony of the lovers, which really exists. Or the thimble-sized food and wines shops where I could have spent my entire visit.
If Verona is a Wine Capital, there must be wine
This blog is mainly for wine-lovers, so please do read my post about Verona’s wines and wineries, which like elsewhere are going through a re-birth of quality. If you wrote off Valpolicella in the past (I did), give it another try. Be open-minded about Amarone, which to my surprise was invented only a century ago, and whose quality varies from the heavy and too-strong stuff that is easy to find abroad to lusciously rich table-mates for meat dishes. The province is Italy’s biggest wine exporter (hence, sadly, the reputation for many years for washed-out Valpolicellas). It is also home to many excellent wineries whose focus is quality rather than quantity. Wine matters here.
Remind yourself that Bardolino from the Lake Garda area can be a lovely light red to have with a meal. Be brave and try wines you don’t know, a Custoza, for example.
Consider getting the Verona card, a pass for buses and museums, monuments and churches
Ask about and look for vestiges of the Roman period: the amphitheatre’s architecture deserves more than a nod, and visiting the ruins of a Roman house in the basement of the city centre Benetton clothing store, where contemporary clothes and ancient fireplace co-exist, reminds you of how much Italians treasure and live with their antiquities.
Walk as much as possible to get a real feeling for the city, but older travelers note: if someone has hip or knee problems, build in time for café and winebar stops (no shortage of these).
Be sure to try each of the region’s main wines: Soave white, Valpolicella (Classico) red, Ripasso red – sometimes paired with rich red wine risottos here, Recioto sweet red for dessert and the somewhat more bitter Amarone, often best sipped like a port after dinner, for the alcohol content can be high for a wine.
Swiss rail, 6-7 hours from Geneva on the Eurocity (comfortable, good wifi), change in Milan, tickets for about CHF110 return (roundtrip), Swiss reductions count to the border. Alternatively, Easyjet flies from Geneva to Venice, and Verona is about 2 hours from both Milan and Venice by train.
Verona Tourism office, agenda
Arena opera programme for 2019
Villa Cordevigo, above Lake Garda, 33 luxury rooms, spa and beautiful old grounds (winner, Great Wine Capitals award)
Agriturismo Valpolicella Buglioni wine estate, 15 charming country rooms (winner, Great Wine Capitals award)