I love Italy with a passion. It’s captured my heart for years, ever since I first laid eyes on it, and it’s my life’s dream to live there one day (preferably with a vineyard in the back garden). The sheer beauty of the place is breathtaking, from the rolling hills of the wine-making countryside to the stunning architecture of the historic cities, so I was thrilled to go back to Verona a few weeks ago.
Verona has got to be one of my favourite places in the world. The first time we flew into this beautiful city I shed a tear as the vineyards came into view, and I had a similar feeling of excitement as we landed this time. I was back! Happily, we were staying at the same hotel, Villa Quaranta, for the personal history of the place – my other half used to travel there a lot with his family, and given that this was a family holiday celebrating my in laws’ 40th wedding anniversary, this was the only option. He took my there for my 30th birthday, too, so it’s got bucketsful of sentiment!
It’s a truly stunning hotel as well. A 17th century villa that’s now owned by the Tommasi family, one of the biggest winemaking families in the region, it’s expanded a lot in recent years, but it manages to effortlessly blend the old and new to create a wonderful space. The older part – the original villa – houses some of the accommodation, the breakfast room and wine cellar, not to mention the beautiful old courtyard, and even the tiny church, that dates back to 1218 and is still used to this day for Sunday mass and special celebrations.
The new part, meanwhile, has got a spectacular lobby, bar area, more accommodation and the spa, while the outside space – including an outdoor pool and a peaceful garden that’s almost tucked away, complete with a Monet-style bridge over gently lapping water – is a haven of calm.
And did I mention its restaurant, Borgo Antico? A grand Italian restaurant if ever there was one, the building is as beautiful as the food, and the outdoor seating area overlooking the fountain is truly something special (cue a few more tears the first time I went). You can hear the occasional car driving past as it’s next to a fairly main road, but the high hedgerows and intimate atmosphere make you feel tucked away from it all in a beautifully exclusive setting.
Given that it’s owned by a famous winemaking family, the wine list is, as you’d expect, fabulous. We learnt all about the different wines of the Valpolicella region the last time we visited, and it’s become my favourite wine of all time – from the fresh and simple Classico to the slightly more robust Ripasso, all the way through to the punchiest of them all, Amarone. But it could be the Recioto that wins the day for me – a sweet red wine, it’s rich and comforting, but not quite so syrupy as to make it unpalatable (at least not to my tastes!).
We had a tour of the Tommasi winemaking facility this time as well, which was fascinating, albeit without much information regarding the individual wines. My favourite part of the tour was the wine cellar – and the Guinness World Record-breaking wine barrel in particular.
This little (or not so little) beauty was specifically made for the winery in 2010 and contains 33,300 litres of Amarone wine, making it the world’s largest oak cask. That’s definitely my kind of wine barrel!
The rest of our Verona holiday involved a trip to the opera, held in the Roman arena, where we sat high up on the stone steps. Having previously been to the arena but sitting slightly further down in proper seats, I’d recommend the latter for comfort, but if you want to experience the opera in a more traditional and cost-effective manner, it’s worth the experience! The views were spectacular, as was the quality of the performance (Tosca), but just make sure you bring a cushion (or hire one) and a fan, as it gets seriously hot.
We went back to Juliet’s balcony, this time going inside the house itself, and it was great fun to actually stand on the balcony rather than just look at it from the courtyard. The house had plenty of props from previous films as well, together with some history of the house and the surrounding area. Is it worth the 6euro entry fee? Probably not if you’re not a fan of Romeo and Juliet, but if you are, it has to be done! Plus you can get some pretty stunning views of the Veronese skyline, too.
Aside from that, we ate gelato, drank aperol spritz, people watched in the square and enjoyed plenty of stunning food. We visited local trattorias, sat at bars in view of the arena, went to the spa for a bit of TLC and lounged by the outside pool, drink in hand. It was the perfect mix of culture and relaxation, and probably the best 40th wedding anniversary you can have. I’m up for trip number three already.