Have you ever been to a place that just completely enchants you? Takes you by surprise but simultaneously you almost knew it might happen? The moment I stepped foot in Verona, I was encapsulated. A city of romance, drama and delight, Verona has a certain air to it that captures even the most pessimistic of hearts. Home to the great tale of Romeo and Juliet, fictitious acts can be imagined around every cobbled corner, today lined with cool cafes, loud markets and designer shops.
Unfortunately I visited Verona before I knew I’d be writing this post, my one regret as a travel blogger – not taking enough photos or learning how to use my ‘Dad’s pro camera’ as it was in that time. So forgive the lack of photography and I will tell the tale with the simple use of descriptive language…
We’d travelled from Lake Garda, the second stop on our North Italian tour and after being dumped in the city centre off a bumpy bus ride, we dragged our cases along many busy streets to find our accommodation. Laura and I had chosen to rent a stylish apartment, owned by a trendy lady named Elisa who had served her years in the city and moved to the Italian countryside with her fella; oh every girl’s dream.
This spacious one bedroom flat became a home away from home for our few days in Verona. It was basic yet cosy, with clean comforting furnishings and a beautiful layout. One end of the double bedroom led into an empty white walk-in closet, asking to be filled with Italian designs. The other side opened out onto a rustic balcony, set with a sofa and table where I would spend many nights looking over the apartment’s fashion books with a glass of wine in hand.
In a time before I had packed up and moved to the city of London, this apartment was a vision for what I wanted to come home to – simple yet elegant comfort and a fresh breeze of style created by individual, personalised decor.
Stepping out of it’s secretive courtyard doors, Laura and I entered the historical streets of the city. It didn’t take long to discover that Verona is one of those places that just has to be experienced to be enjoyed. Don’t waste £10 on a guide book, just simply walk through the centre, stop off for a cappuccino and enjoy the atmosphere.
There are a number of beautiful churches dotted around the centre that are definitely worth a visit, each unique in architecture and interiors. You can pick up a cumulative pass that gets you in to the main four for 6 euros. We began with the San Fermo Maggiore Church, a truly beautiful 11th century building with stunning floor to ceiling paintings, grand archways and a stunning wooden ceiling.
The Sant’Anastasia was another majestic Gothic structure with impressive interior and a bell tower offering a lovely view of the city. It also contains the famous fresco, ‘Saint George and the Princess’, by Pisanello, one of the most notable paintings of the Gothic era.
If this isn’t your first visit to my blog, you’ll know that I love nothing more than to discover a new place by getting lost in its labyrinth (as I so lovingly did in Venice), and we did exactly that in Verona.
On our way to the next church, our noses led us to a nearby food market where we drooled over Italian meats, cheeses and hot pizzas. In the end we picked a tomato calzone with cheese oozing in the middle, oh yes, cheese porn. We sat on a step overlooking the square, watching those after us try and choose from the delicious range of fresh produce.
Alongside the rows of heavenly scented foods were also stalls upon stalls of beautiful crafts, from wooden puppets to leather goods. Laura and I both couldn’t resist the Italian leather handbags, each picking one that to this day reminds us of this moment.
Along our meanderings, we found ourselves at the Ponte di Castel Vecchio, an impressive arched bridge built over the River Adige. We admired the beautiful view of the city by the river before heading to the Basilica of San Zeno.
This striking church marks an important spot in Italian history preserving the memory of Saint Zeno. Originally from Africa, he was named bishop of Verona in the year 362. His body now lies within the crypt, his face covered by a silver mask. The crypt was also used by Shakespeare for the location of Romeo and Juliet’s marriage vows.
Throughout our trip we would seek comfort in the flat, going back to cook big Italian feasts using fresh ingredients we’d found in markets and groceries earlier in the day.
These evenings – spent cooking, sipping Prosecco and wine, singing along to Sam Smith – are among some of my favourite memories from my travels. I’ve written all about my adoration for Italian cuisine, yet it does not have to be served in a top restaurant or cafe to be enjoyed. The heart of Italian cooking is of course in the act itself.
On our first evening, after a hearty pasta dish and homemade garlic bread, (which I know from my Italian travels, is not a true Italian dish, but hey we were craving it), I took a pen and notepad to the balcony. Whilst in the city known for the most famous classic love story, we couldn’t avoid a visit to Casa di Giulietta. After seeing ‘Letter to Juliet’ (great film for the romantic traveller!) and sipping a few glasses of fine red wine, Verona’s got the better of me and my heart poured out onto the paper.
At this time I was a single lady looking for love, unbeknown to me that my man would make himself known just a couple of months later!
The next morning, I sealed the envelope with a heavy head, entering the tourist filled grounds below Juliet’s famous fictitious home. After stroking her lady’s bosom for luck in love, we escaped up the stairs to Juliet’s balcony, looking for a suitable bachelor below us. As no one returned our call for Romeo, we explored the rest of the house.
The whole experience was slightly underwhelming, with desktops set up to ’email Juliet’ next to a rather empty room containing a few paintings of the famous couple. Nevertheless, I posted my heartfelt letter to Juliet in a modern day postbox, excited for my response.
Skip forward about 6 months later and what appears in my email? A scan of a handwritten note from said lady. Now this is another tale, one you can read here!
Verona’s second claim to fame is of course its popular summer season of opera, so for our last evening we booked a last minute ticket to Aida for just 19 euros. It is definitely worth checking out which performances are online for your visit but we had no trouble getting tickets on the day.
This was perhaps the moment I fell in love with the city. The incredibly striking Arena di Verona is worth a visit even if you aren’t a fan of the opera, just for its dramatic open air structure and beautiful tiered steps where I imagined sat many enthusiastic audiences through the ages.
The performance itself was just indescribable. The singers’ voices poured out over the arena, filling me with an overcoming sense of emotion. The wine might have slightly influenced – but it really was one of the most powerful, immersive experiences I’ve had to this day.
I really was sad to say goodbye to Verona, but with Venice in our sights I managed to pull myself away. My memories of Verona are still fresh in my mind and since the moment that I boarded the departing train, I’ve fantasied about returning; renting an apartment for a few weeks, a base for trying out the famous wine festival, seeing another opera, a time to focus on my painting and blog surrounded by some of the best food in the world. One day.
Have you ever been to Verona? Or where have you been that has given you the same overwhelming feeling?