Sipping an espresso in Verona’s grand Piazza Bra, the mammoth marble roman arena towering above me, the glamorous veronesi bustle around me on a post-lunch walk, dressed every-so-daringly for the summer season, I think; ‘You can’t really can’t get more Italian than this’.
As an Italian-Australian I’ve always wanted to discover more about the country my grandparents came from. When I moved with my partner back to her hometown to teach English, the pieces just fell into place. Verona invariably conjures up in the mind the setting of the famous doomed lovers Romeo and Juliet. However, the city and its surrounding region hold so much more that one can appreciate Shakespeare’s lustful obsession.
Sometimes this part of northern Italy is wrongfully bypassed by travellers on the way to other more touristy cities like Venice or Milan. Others come solely for the day, hoping to see the balcony where Juliet once cried out ‘wherefore out thou Romeo?’ A hint: the building was actually a stable and the balcony was probably added about 400 years after the star-crossed supposedly lovers lived.
Instead the viscerally rich history of Verona deserves at least a long weekend’s stay. Even a quick glance at the ancient overlapping structures of Verona’s historical centre reveals the city’s long and fascinating past. The medieval belltower stands on the site of the old roman forum, with the streets lined with boutique shops and artisans selling their wares.
Verona has been passed between empires many times during its 2500-year history. From the Romans, to the French, the Austrians to the Spanish. But it’s the Romans that left the biggest mark. If Rome had a little northern cousin, Verona would surely be it.
Sitting about midway between Venice and Milan, Verona is the guardian of the meandering Adige river, which snakes around the UNESCO heritage-listed town centre. Across its northern banks sits the one the oldest Roman bridges, Ponte Pietra, some of whose long stone arches were blown up by the retreating German troops during the end of the war, only to be meticulously rebuilt using the original materials. Along Via Mazzini you’ll find top brands and small boutiques nestled into old Renaissance palaces. Some saying Verona is like a mini-Milan – albeit thankfully with fewer banks and skyscrapers – and it’s here that you’ll satiate your shopping cravings.
Of course no trip to any Italian region would ever be complete without a thorough sampling of the world-famous delicacies of Italian cooking. The options throughout Verona are a mixture of the pan-Italian pizza (northern style thin-crust or the South’s puffed crust are both well represented) and more traditional dishes of the Veneto region: horse or mule meats, chicken with a breadcrumb sauce la peara, corn meal polenta, and a variety of mouth-watering risotti.
A short taxi-ride eastward brings to the ever-popular Osteria Mattarana. This converted villa serves fantastic Northern-style pizzas, and a selection of local favourites such as bigoli pasta and risotto all’amarone. But like most of the country, the culinary landscape of Verona is changing. The influx of migrants from North Africa and south Asia are bringing new delectable choices to sample and the once Italian dominated choices of restaurants are now enhanced by spicy Moroccan tagines and Bengali rice dishes.
Verona is truly to be enjoyed any time of the year. The early-Spring weather spurs me to finish my coffee and wander on over to my favourite Gelateria La Romana for a pistachio gelato – a taste of ‘la dolce vita’.
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