48 Hours In: Verona
Summer opera returns to the Roman arena, says Charles Hebbert.
Friday 01 June 2012
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Why go now?
The Verona summer festival is one of the highlights of the operatic calendar. You could hardly find a more magnificent venue than the Arena (1), the Roman amphitheatre in the centre of the city. This year's festival opens with Don Giovanni on 22 June and ends with Aida on 2 September (00 39 0458 005 151; arena.it). The setting is magical, but if you are sitting on the stone steps up the sides of the Arena, remember to bring a cushion or hire one there to preserve that magic.
British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com) compete from Gatwick. Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flies from Stansted and Edinburgh. Monarch (08719 40 50 40; flymonarch.co.uk) flies from Manchester.
Flights arrive at Verona's Valerio Catullo airport. The Aerobus (aeroportoverona.it) runs every 20 minutes from outside the terminal to the main railway station (2), Verona Porta Nuova. The journey takes about 20 minutes, for a one-way fare of €6.
Get your bearings
Fifteen minutes' walk north of the railway station lies the Portoni della Bra (3), the gate that leads to the old city. Immediately through the gate is Piazza Bra ("meadow" in Veronese dialect), a large square dominated by the Arena (1), one of the city's magnificent Roman remains.
The historic centre of Verona is tucked into a large bend of the River Adige, and most of the sights are within easy walking distance of the square. Plenty of buses go from the railway station to the centre of town: buses for Piazza Bra go from Bay A (tickets €1.10 from the tabacchi in station or €1.50 on board). You can also get a bus day pass for €3.50.
The tourist office (4) is on the southern edge of the square built right into the city walls at Via degli Alpini 6. It sells the Verona Card (€15 for two days), which gives you free entry to the main sights.
Verona's hotels get very booked up for the opera season – and prices jump sharply, too. The Hotel Palazzo Victoria (5), Via Adua 8 (00 39 045 590 566; palazzovictoria.com), just inside the Porta Borsari, offers a touch of luxury – the junior suite, with a frescoed ceiling and parquet floor, is especially grand. Doubles from €220 – with extensive buffet breakfast.
The Torcolo (6), Vicolo Listone 3 (00 39 045 800 7512; hoteltorcolo.it) is a very welcoming two-star superbly positioned just off Piazza Bra. Doubles from €70, room only.
The official youth hostel, Villa Francescatti (7), at Salita Fontana del Ferro 15 (00 39 045 590 360; ostelloverona.it), is in a villa across the river. From the station, take a bus (73, or 91 on Sun) to Piazza Isolo, then walk up the hill. You can reserve only the family rooms with four beds, but there's usually room. Dorm beds from €18, including breakfast.
Take a view
The Arena (1) lost most of its outer wall in a 12th-century earthquake, but has otherwise has survived pretty unscathed for almost 2,000 years. The third largest of all Roman amphitheatres, in its heyday it sat 20,000.
From the top you get fine views of the city and surrounding hills, at ground level you feel a gladiator might step out through the grand arches. (Mon 1.30-7.30pm, Tues-Sun 9am-7.30pm, but closes 3.30pm during the opera season; admission €6, or free with Verona Card, €1 on first Sunday of the month Oct-May).
Take a hike
Heading north from the broad Piazza Bra (3), you plunge into the narrow Via Mazzini, lined with luxury window displays. At the far end lies the Casa di Giulietta (8) (Mon 1.30-7.30pm, Tues-Sun 9am-7.30pm; €6, or free with Verona Card, €1 on first Sunday of month Oct-May), one of several sites in the city claiming a link with the city's mythical lovers Romeo and Juliet. The house is remarkable mainly for the graffiti on every inch of the walls, but such are the crowds you may not get very close.
Up Via Cappello and right along Via Cairoli, you come to the Palazzo del Capitano (9). Under the palazzo's courtyard the Centro Internazionale di Fotografia hosts excellent exhibitions amid Roman and medieval ruins. Further along Via Cairoli and to the left, you'll pass the Arche Scaligeri (10). These elaborate tombs belong to the Scaligeri family, medieval rulers who were as charming as their nicknames suggest: Cangrande ("Big Dog") and Mastino ("Mastiff"). If you turn left past the tombs, you pass under the arch into Piazza Signori with its grand palaces. At the far end of the square rises the 12th-century Torre dei Lamberti (11), which has great views. It has a lift but you still need to walk up the last 125 steps. (Daily 8.30am-7.30pm, €6; with the Verona Card it's €1 for the lift)
The neighbouring Piazza delle Erbe (12) was the site of the Roman forum, and it's the main square of the old city today, abuzz with stalls and cafés.
Lunch on the run
The Osteria del Bugiardo (13), at Corso Porta Borsari 17a (00 39 045 591 869; buglioni.it/osteria; open daily 11am to 11pm) is a small wine bar close to Piazza delle Erbe (12). The staff will recite the short menu in a strong Veronese accent that will test your Italian. The soups and lasagne are very good.
It's hard to beat a good Italian kitchen shop, and Souffle' (14), on Corso Cavour 15 (closed Sunday all day and Monday morning), has all the right ingredients.
If it's food that you're after, head through the Roman gate, the Porta Borsari (15), and up to the De Rossi pasticceria (16) at Corso Porta Borsari 3 (closed Sunday). This sells magnificent pastries, cakes and homemade pastas.
Verona is at the centre of one of Italy's main wine regions, so after the passeggiata (evening stroll), for which the prime site is Via Mazzini and Piazza delle Erbe (12), wander up to Caffe Monte Baldo (17), a small wine bar at Via Rosa 12 (open till 10pm, closed Monday). Try an Amarone or Recioto.
Dining with the locals
Its bright rooms and welcoming staff give Hostaria La Vecchia Fontanina (18), at Piazzetta Chiavica 5 (00 39 045 591 159; vecchiafontaninavr.it, closed Sunday), a cosy and quirky feel. The dishes include interesting combinations such as venison with cocoa and mustard.
The Antica Bottega del Vino (19), just off Via Mazzini at Vicolo Scudo di Francia 3a (00 39 045 800 4535; anticabottegadelvino.net; closed Tuesday), is one of Verona's grand old restaurants. Try the risotto all'Amarone.
Sunday morning: go to church
There is no lack of fine settings for mass in Verona, but one of the cosier churches is San Lorenzo (20), at Corso Cavour 28, where mass is at 10.30am. Its simple interior, with its women's galleries, is mainly 12th century, but the church dates back to the eighth century, as two capitals in the transept displaying the eagle of Charle-magne testify. (If you don't wish to participate in mass, the church is open to tourists from 3-6pm.)
Walk along Corso Cavour from San Lorenzo (20) past a 1st-century triumphal arch and you can't miss the Castelvecchio (21). Many of Verona's rulers fiddled with this huge brick fortress since it was built in the 14th century, including Napoleon.
After it was bombed in the Second World War, further alterations came in 1964, when the architect Carlo Scarpa converted it into a museum (00 39 045 806 2611; comune .verona.it), creating a wonderful labyrinth of rooms and passages with works by Bellini, Pisanello, Veronese and Tintoretto. Look out for the painting by Giovanni Caroto of a boy holding up a child's drawing (Mon 1.30-7.30pm, Tues-Sun from 9am; €6, free with Verona Card).
Out to brunch
The Osteria Sottoriva (22), at Via Sottoriva 9 (00 39 0458 014 323; closed Wed), is one of the most traditional Veronese osterie: it's lively, full of locals and serves delicious dishes at reasonable prices. There's nothing better than a leisurely meal al fresco under the atmospheric medieval arcade and taste local specialities such as pastissada (horse stew – horse features heavily on Veronese menus). You can't reserve a table but you should find a table for brunch.
A walk in the park
Across the Ponte Nuovo in the Veronetta (as the far side of the River Adige is called) is the magical Giardino Giusti (23) at Via Giardino Giusti 2 (open daily: 9am-sunset; €6). Entering a small doorway on an otherwise barren-looking road, you slip into an oasis of calm. The garden has been soothing visitors such as Mozart and Goethe since the 1570s with the sounds of its fountains and the scent of its box hedges. Climb the steps at the back for superb views.
The icing on the cake
You might think that good ice cream is the norm in Italy, but Verona has some truly excellent outlets. The ice-cream maker Andrea Ballini (24), at Via Santa Maria Rocca Maggiore 4a, near the Veronetta end of the Ponte Nuovo, creates unusual flavours such as pear and fig. Open 3.30-9.30pm Sundays, from 1pm on other days (00 39 377 460 9276; gelateriaballini.it).
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