Few places live up to their reputations as the City of Romance does.
By Carmen Hawkins DeCecco
The atmosphere indulges passions, the senses, and stimulates the intellect. The difficulty lies in choosing what to see when planning a trip to this Roman Civitas, established in the 1st century BC, where each piazza and structure has unique history, architectural style, and original art.
Fortunately, for those traveling from the Lowcountry, the new Friendship pact signed between Hilton Head Island and Verona has resulted in the added benefit of the personal attention of World Tours Studio director Richard Collins. His team of professionals organizes travel programs for both recreational groups and university organizations. Here are a few insider tips.
Where to Stay
Hotel Leon d’Oro
This lovely hotel is just outside the original walled city of Verona, fifteen minutes walking distance to the Piazza Bra, the main city square.
Hotel due Torri
Within the city, this most scenic and luxury hotel offers a rooftop view second to none. Known around the world as a regular stop for celebrities, it has a rich past dating back 700 years.
Corte San Mattia, Agriturismo Verona (Inn)
For those seeking nature, spectacular views, cooking classes, and authentic, farm-to-table Italy, this is the place to stay. An organic family-owned vineyard (CorteSanMattia) has grown into a 14-room inn including cottages that sleep up to 6. It offers patio dining and wine tastings.
What to Do
The Arena di Verona, built in 10 AD for gladiatorial games and military practice, is the only amphitheater of its size and age still in use. An absolute must for sightseers, this crown jewel offers monumental staging with seating up to 14,000. Take a day tour or see an opera at night, if at all possible. Also, one must take in a Shakespearean play, whether the Traveling Romeo & Juliet show, or the Roman Shakespeare Festival performing the Bard’s best at the Teatro Romano. Verona theater is outstanding in all its forms.
Verona is the number one producer of wine per square acre in Italy. Wine tastings are a regular part of most hotel and restaurant attractions. Two fabulous local vineyards are Zeni, in Bardolino, and Valpolicella, known especially for its dense, velvety, Amarone. Both offer comprehensive tours and wine tastings.
Squares and Shopping
• Piazza dei Signori
It’s easy to see how a literary classic such as The Divine Comedy was inspired by the mood of Verona. Dining in the squares under the watchful gaze of sainted statuary, or men of letters such as Dante Alighieri in the Piazza dei Signori or the physician Girolamo Fracastoro, one understands how “civil” is part of civilization.
• Piazza Bra
From the south side of the city, one enters the city’s largest square through the Portoni della Bra, a double-arched entryway built in the 14th century, on marble-paved roads, attesting to Verona’s enduring position as a city of wealth even during times of political unrest. Piazza Bra is home to the Palazzo Barbieri, (City Hall), the Arena di Verona, and the Palazzo della Gran Guardia. The irregular fourth side is dedicated to a long promenade of restaurants and cafés.
• Via Mazzini
No trip abroad is complete without shopping. Via Mazzini shoots off to the left of the Arena, and is the main drag for international haute couture. However, the Veronese guides at WTS suggested ilGabbianoJ, the perfect alternative at Via Carducci 2 (street address), east across the Adige River, and one block past the San Tomaso Cantuariense church, where a young Mozart once played the Baroque organ during Christmas season 1769. ilGabbianoJ is where a true Italian leather maker handcrafts his products in a corner shop the size of a closet. He opens at 4 pm because after creating leather goods, he also operates the shop. Each handbag, belt, and leather-bound journal is meticulous in its design.
Verona Annual Events
Verona is internationally renowned for many annual cultural and sporting events. The following is a sampling of the most popular:
• CentoMiglia (The Regatta of 100 Miles) a sailing competition is held on Lake Garda every September.
• Fieracavalli in November is an international horse exhibition and competition, featuring dressage, jumping, art works and more.
• Verona in Love, is a week-long annual Valentine’s Day festival hosted by the city. Verona transforms itself with heart-shaped lights and free concerts to celebrate love.
• Vinitaly is the world’s largest wine fair and takes place in April.
• The Roman Shakespeare Festival is held June through July at the Teatro Romano built towards the end of the 1st century.
• The Arena di Verona is world-famous in the summer for Verona’s annual Opera Festival season, June through September.
Where to Go
For a day trip, definitely spend some time at a town on Lake Garda, the largest, most crystal clear lake in Italy, around 20 minutes away. Sirmione and Lazise are two ageless lakeside towns, perfect for casual sightseeing or taking a boat tour of the magnificent lake. As a fortified port on the southern peninsula, one enters Sirmione through a medieval castle with the town square opening out to the lake. Lazise, 45 minutes east around the lake by car, is another lovely walled city that is delightful for its intricate walkways, outdoor cafes, and spectacular view of the Alps. Dining tip: Try the Carpione, (a salmonid) exclusive to Lake Garda.
It is impossible to cover Verona’s treasures and charms in one tour. All the Hilton Head guests who made the trip in June look forward to returning for more theater, wine-tastings, strolls along the marble-paved roads, outdoor café dining, boat tours, museum visits, and church tours. Truly, it is an extraordinary place that enriches the spirit, while educating and entertaining the mind.
WTS tour expert, Ilaria Bonamini says, “Having Hilton Head visitors here in my hometown Verona was delightful. I was proud to show them around. I will never forget the magical look on their faces when they made pasta from scratch, and when we enjoyed good wine on the hills, telling stories, and learning from one another. I can’t wait to welcome more Hilton Head friends here in Italy!”