Sitting at a café overlooking the magnificent Roman arena, sipping on my first crisp, chilled glass of prosecco while feasting on the obligatory snacks that accompany it, I can hardly believe that I’m here. Verona was high up on my travel list before I even wanted to travel that much, and now I’ve made it, it’s everything that I imagined it would be.
I think there’s something special about visiting a place for the first time, especially one as beautiful as Verona. I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed a few tears on the plane’s descent – beautiful sights have a tendency to evoke an emotional response in me, and peering through the window to see row upon row of meticulously planted grapevines, packaged together among a lush patchwork of fields stretching long into the distance, was like a dream come true. It certainly wasn’t the last time I cried happy tears on that trip.
The arena was the first port of call. The grandeur of it takes your breath away, but when it’s haloed in a sky of such clear blue, it’s truly spectacular (the header image of my blog is that very scene). Being able to gaze at it from my café spot, shielded from the blistering sun by the row of canopies, adds a whole other dimension – a prime spot for people watching, in just a few short minutes you can see everything from the excitable foreign tour group to the well-heeled local, while at the café itself you’re surrounded by Italians wafting fans of every colour and design (I was quick to follow their lead – August is hot over there!).
And that’s just in the daytime. At night, lit up in full operatic regalia, the arena is even more mesmerising; and being able to watch a performance of Romeo and Juliet beneath the moonlight in a 2,000 year-old ampitheatre is like nothing else.
The rest of the city is just as stunning. From the shopping mecca of Via Marzinni with designer window displays tempting you to part with your holiday budget, to the iconic, if busy, courtyard of Juliet’s fictional home and the gentle hubbub of the market, there are views to impress at every turn.
It’s the smaller details that stood out for me, too: the glimpse down a side street that fleetingly captures your attention; solid, hardwood doors etched into the walls, the scent of fresh bread wafting from a baker’s window. The canvas of a market stall that whips up at the breeze, the traders vying for your attention, bartering earnestly in thick Italian accents. The small but perfectly-formed park, the lush greenery and small fountain belying its city centre location.
Then there’s the food. Where do I begin? Rich pastas and creamy risottos, pizza slices piled high with the freshest ingredients, gelato of every flavour you could imagine. Eating alfreso at our hotel under the stars, gazing over the fountains in the impossibly manicured garden (cue more tears). And one of my absolute favourite experiences: being seated at a stunning restaurant overlooking the arena, only to be disappointed that there was no carbonara on the menu – but being told that the chef would gladly whip up a plateful of the creamiest, tastiest carbonara I’ve ever eaten. Perfect.
And did I mention the wine? Not only was our hotel owned by the Tommasi estate, i.e. the biggest wine producer in the Valpolicella region, but we got the chance to go up into the hills to learn first-hand how it’s all produced (the views of the valley below? More tears).
Let’s just say that we had a fair few units on that holiday. We were able to taste the most beautiful wine at the vineyard, but the hotel itself was even more accommodating: our 15-minute tasting session in the hotel’s wine cellar turned into a two-hour blowout, ended only after we tried to leave for our dinner reservation to be lured back with calls of “But you haven’t tried the grappa!” (it worked – we went home with a lot of wine in our suitcases).
I could hardly bear to tear myself away. We visited just over a year ago, when my now-finance and I celebrated my 30th birthday. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of returning, but when I do, I hope that it fills me with the same kind of rush it did the first time. I’m pretty sure that it will.