Tried and tested – Verona, Italy

by Traveleads | January 23, 2019 | Reviews

Thanks to three plays by William Shakespeare, Verona was famous long before it became a UNESCO world heritage site. The Taming of the Shrew, Two Gentlemen of Verona, and possibly the most famous of all … Romeo & Juliet.

But Verona is much more than just a love story!

The city is a beautiful eclectic mix of bygone times, with architecture dating back to the Ancient Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance – right up to the 21st century.  The awe inspiring 2,000 year old amphitheatre is the city’s focal point, older than even the Colosseum in Rome! Originally built to hold gladiatorial games, it was created and designed to entertain the masses.  It’s almost unbelievable to discover the amphitheatre still serving its original purpose two millennia later.  Thousands of people flock here to be entertained on an almost nightly basis during Verona’s famous opera season.  Performances such as Aida, La Traviata and Turandot make this year’s offerings every bit as dramatic and captivating as the gladiatorial events of ancient times.

As the orchestra strikes up and the thunderous applause of the crowd fills the arena, it’s almost impossible not to find yourself thinking about the ghosts of antiquity that once sat on these very same marble steps.  The most expensive seats for the opera are located on the arena floor, they are sold with a strict dress code (elegant evening wear) and come pre-assigned with seat number.  Surprisingly the cheapest seats offer the best overall experience. They are located on the higher levels of the amphitheatre, allowing the audience to appreciate the magnificence of the arena – best of all you can sit wherever you like.

We chose to sit on the very top tier to watch the epic production of Aida – a visual and musical feast for the senses.  As the sun set and the sky darkened, oil lanterns and Roman torches blazed above the stage, casting flickering shadows around the arena.  The Giuseppe Verdi masterpiece performed in four acts transported the audience back to Ancient Egypt, for a moment the modern world ceased to existed.

For La Traviata we opted to sit close to the stage.  Whilst we didn’t get the same birds eye view, the sound quality and acoustics were much better. There isn’t a bad seat in the house!

Verona sits either side of the Adige River in northern Italy.  A turbulent past has seen the city occupied by the Romans, the Ostrogoths, the Austrians, and the French.  Today Verona is one of the main tourist destinations in northern Italy, due to its artistic heritage and a history that has left behind a wonderful melting pot of eclectic architecture.  Ancient monuments, medieval castles, 12th Century churches, and intriguing narrow streets entice visitors to explore the beautiful courtyards and piazzas that open up.

As you wander in the footsteps of emperors, artists, writers and kings, it’s easy to see why Shakespeare wrote of Verona: ‘There is no world for me outside the walls of Verona, except purgatory, torture and Hell itself.’

The best way to discover the city is to take a guided walking tour. We enlisted the help of Veronality to make sure we got the most out of our visit. They select their tour guides as much for their personality, as for their expert in-depth knowledge of the city.

Our guide took us on a journey that combined humour with historical fact …and a little bit of romantic fiction, thrown in for good measure.  She offered interesting archaeological evidence to prove and disprove many stories that have been passed down through the ages. We certainly got to discover a side of the city we would never have found using only a guide-book.  Did you know for instance, the famous balcony where (according to Shakespeare) Juliet would lament the return of Romeo, is possibly a carved tomb?  A stone sarcophagus modified and fitted to the window long after the play was written.  Who’d have thought that one of literature’s most enduring symbols of love might be little more than an empty grave – but a must see nonetheless!

If you want to do something different, why not immerse yourself in all things Italian by signing up to a local cookery class?  Italy is famous for many things, cuisine always ranks high on the list.  After just one lesson at the brand new cookery school, you’ll be able to make homemade pasta from scratch, a delicious Bruschetta, and your very own Tiramisu.

Our instructor and chef offered expert tuition, delivered in perfect English, with lots of tips on how to become a wiz in the kitchen.  At the end of the lesson we got to eat the wonderful meals we’d prepared, washed down with locally paired red and white wines.  I would highly recommend this as a great way to spend the morning. Perfect for all ages, families, small groups and anyone travelling alone.

Summers in Verona are hot!  Temperatures regularly exceed 30degrees, which is why it’s no surprise that on the weekends locals head out to the nearby lakes and mountains. We wanted to give it a try, but we didn’t want to hire a car or navigate unfamiliar roads. As it turned out it couldn’t have been easier!

A regular bus and train service operates between Verona Porta Nuova (The main station) and Peschiera del Garda.  By bus (Number 164 – which during the summer also stops at the airport) the journey takes approximately 50 minutes, or you can reduce this to a mere 20minutes if you travel by train. We took the bus one way (3 euros) and caught the train back (5 euros)

Peschiera is one of the most characteristic towns of Lake Garda: It stands on the low shore of the lake, where waters flow into streams and lots of little canals. The best way to experience the stunning beauty of the great lake is to hire a boat.

Don’t have a boating license, or sailing experience? No problem!  We rented an ‘Open 570 40HP’ motorboat, suitable for 7 people.  With just two of us on-board it felt extremely spacious.  Simple to operate and no prior sailing experience was required, it was without doubt the best way to see the lake from a new perspective.

The scenery is simply breath-taking.  Lots of pretty Italian villages dot the mountainsides.  When it comes to choosing a spot to stop and moor for lunch, you really are spoilt for choice.

Gargnano is a sleepy village of lemon trees and olive groves where, in 1912 D.H Lawrence wrote ‘Twilight in Italy’.  Planted with Oleanders and lime trees, fin-de-siecle hotels are painted in shades of butterscotch, peach and cream.  Wander the stepped, cobbled alleyways, rich with aromas of traditional Italian dishes and full bodied wine.

The little visited Torri del Benaco is a charming, atmospheric one street village.  The hotel Gardesana has hosted the likes of Churchill, King Juan Carlos of Spain and even Laurence Olivier, who holidayed here with Vivien Leigh – yet it wears its history without pomposity.

To make the most of our time at Lake Garda we hired our boat from Peschiera boat rent – they offer a choice of different models on hourly, half day and full day rental options.  Having spent a day on the largest lake in Italy, it’s easy to see why this region is such a popular year-round destination.  With fantastic ski resorts operating nearby during winter, it’s hardly any wonder visitors from all over the world flock here 365 days a year.

Verona proved to be so much more than we expected and was a superb introduction to a region we will definitely visit again.

Staggeringly grand – In the words of Giuseppe Verdi …‘You may have the Universe, if I may have Italy’

 

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