Few cities have romantic legend in the bag as much as Verona. Sure, Paris is still the capital of Lurve with a capital L and New York is the home of cinematic lovefests from An Affair to Remember to Sleepless in Seattle, but Verona has Romeo & Juliet and no rom-com can trump that.
As well as being the stomping ground for Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, Verona is actually a beautiful, lesser-spotted Italian city that’s well worth a visit, whether you snoozed through Romeo & Juliet at school or not.
Here’s my tips for what to see and do in Verona, with a little sprinkle of romance along the way:
Casa di Giulietta – numero uno on your Verona checklist has to be Juliet’s Balcony. Despite an attempt a few years ago to cut down on it (and that woeful Amanda Seyfried movie which was enough to kill Juliet’s letters for me FOREVER) throngs of tourists make a pilgrimage here every day to pin lustful love notes to the walls. Dating back to the 13th century, the balcony belongs to the former abode of the family dell Capello, allegedly the inspiration for the Capulets. Couples get papped kissing on the famous balcony and inside the courtyard tourists queue to pose with the bronze statue of Juliet and local legend urges you to cop a feel of her boob to, er, help you find the love of your life. Hmmm…
Verona Arena – For Verona’s young things, the arena’s claim to fame may be as host to One Direction when their 2013 world tour rolled into town. Located off Square Bra (LOL) this impressive Roman amphitheatre drew around 30,000 punters back in the day who came from miles around to watch the games. Estimated to date as far back as 30 AD (wowzers) it’s rare to see Roman structures in such good nick and the Arena is incredible up close. For another fix of Roman architecture, check out Teatro Romano dating from around 1AD. One Direction aside, today the Arena still hosts big name performers and world-renowned opera performances, some of which take place by candlelight. Atmospheric.
Via Mazzini – Italians are big into their brands and along this bustling thoroughfare which runs between Piazza Bra and Piazza Delle Erbe you can load up on labels including COS, Max Mara and good ol’ Zara and this is the best place to snap up gifts. It’s Verona’s largest pedestrian zone and the busiest street in the city so…brace yourself.
Piazza Delle Erbe – A former hotspot during Roman days, this unmistakably Italian square is framed with tall townhouses now with modern restaurants on the ground floor bursting with all kinds of pasta and gelato (AKA the stuff you go to Italy for). At the centre of Market Square (everything sounds sooo much better in Italian, doesn’t it?) you’ll unsurprisingly find a busy, busy, busy market where you can pick up everything from sizzling hot pizza slices to all the tacky ‘Made in China’ Verona souvenirs you could ever wish for. Check out the Mazzanti houses which boast faded frescoed walls, the Torre del Gardello clocktower watching over the thriving market and the baroque beauty of Palazzo Maffei. Photo ops don’t come much better than the square’s famous fountain complete with Madonna statue (sadly not Ms Ciccone) which harks back to 380 AD. Take your pick from the many restaurants offering dining under the canopy – the people-watching is terrific.
Duomo – No one does churches like the Italians and, even though there are impressive churches all around Verona, if you can only visit one, make it Duomo. Its intricate mix of romanesque and gothic styles makes this 12th century cathedral one of the city’s most visited landmarks.
Tomba di Giulietta – Yes, more Juliet! Fictional she may be but tucked away inside the monastery of San Francesco al Corso is allegedly where the real life heroine (not Claire Danes) gulped the poison. Inside the dark crypt under the church you can pay homage to a red marble tomb which is believed to be the real-life Juliet’s resting place. The old monastery has now been transformed into a gorgeously decorated Museum of Frescoes G.B. Cavalcaselle and you can even take ‘Juliet’s Love Promise’ and get hitched here. Swoon.
Castelveccchio – The medieval, cryptically titled Old Castle is, like all things historical in Verona, immaculately preserved. If you really want to find out more about the city’s past, check out the Museum or you can just stroll around the grounds and marvel the gothic castle (for free). Stroll across the bridge and climb up the walls to take in views across Verona’s other bridges. Hard as you may try, it’s impossible not to think of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy as you gaze across Verona’s surprisingly lush green hills and terracotta rooftops.
I visited Verona as part of a press trip to Lake Garda with Travel Department. For more information on holidays to Italy, head on over to www.traveldepartment.ie or click on my pics below: