“In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…” Juliet’s city never looked so fair as it did in the movie, “Letters to Juliet,” released over the weekend. Surrounded by teenagers giggling after each kissing scene, I realized that this movie was introducing Verona and Italy to the new generation and would have them thinking about a visit.
I was more amazed by the aerial views of Verona’s terra cotta rooftops, the winding Adige River, lush vineyards, and grand villas than by the sappy storyline. There was a quote from the movie that may very well ring true, “I hope you have shares in Alitalia because everyone will be going to Verona after they see this.”
Whatever your reason for visiting Verona, there is much more to it than the Capulets and Montagues. Here are 5 reasons to visit Verona that have nothing to do with Romeo and Juliet:
THE ARENA DI VERONA
The arena, built by the Romans in 100 A.D., is still intact and houses Verona’s opera festival every summer. Even if you’re not an opera fan, you should see at least one here on the stone seats of this 2000 year old arena. There is a ticket price for all budgets, starting at 18 euros and escalating to 198 euros for the "gold" section. Every year the schedule of opera performances changes, with one exception, Aida, which is performed every year. I’ve seen several performances, always in the cheap seats. I go early and enjoy a picnic dinner beforehand and wonder at the number of others that have been in this arena over the years.
Rolling vineyards are a dominant feature of the landscape outside the city. These vineyards produce many of the Veneto wines; Soave (white), Valpolicella (red), Bardolino (red wine of Lake Garda), Amarone (a big red wine made with the same grapes as Valpolicella but using a special processing method called recioto), and Prosecco (Italy’s sparkling wine). The "wine routes" are easily accessible from Verona, making it convenient to set aside a day for visiting vineyards and wine tasting.
If you don’t want to leave the city and would like to sit and sip in one spot, there are many good enoteche (wine bars) that stock the region’s wines. You can taste wines and snack at Bottega del Vino, Enoteca Dal Zovo, and Da Gianni e Nadia. The Istituto Enologico Italiano has a wine shop in the city center and offers guided tastings (you should book in advance).
Each year, the first week in April, Verona hosts Vinitaly, the huge wine expo for those in the wine business and wine enthusiasts. The expo celebrates and promotes all the wines of Italy. The 2010 expo had over 150,000 visitors. (If you don't like crowds, you might want to stick with the enoteche.)
You don't need to be a cinematographer to find spectacular views of the city both from above and at ground level. These sights are the best stops for photo ops.
The Torre dei Lamberti - The 83 meter high Lamberti Tower overlooks the ochre-colored rooftops and piazze of Verona.
The Teatro Romano - The Roman Theater (not to be confused with the arena) is across the river by way of the Ponte Pietra (Pietra Bridge). The Romans knew where to put their outdoor theaters as it lends to some of the best views of Verona from across the river. During July and August, the theater houses performances of Shakespeare's plays, in Italian.
The Castel San Pietro - Above the Teatro Romano at the top of a hill is the Castel San Pietro, where you will have the best views of Verona from above.
The Giusti Gardens - The gardens of the 16th century villa are a view all by themselves. From the terrace, you also get a fine view of the city.
The Ponte Scaligeri - A red-bricked pedestrian bridge connected to Verona's Castelvecchio provides views of the Adige River and the river banks.
A one half-hour train ride from Verona and you hit water. The town of Desenzano del Garda, on Lake Garda, is the perfect starting point for a day on the beautiful blue lake. From there, you can take a ferry around the lake, stopping to visit a few of Lake Garda's towns. The ferry ride itself makes for a relaxing day with views of the lake, quaint lakeside villages and lush green hills dotted with colorful villas.
PEOPLE WATCHING IN LE PIAZZE AND DOLCE FAR NIENTE
The piazzas of Verona are the perfect place to practice people watching and the sweetness of doing nothing. Each of the main piazze, Piazza Dante, Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza Bra are rimmed with outdoor cafes where you can sit, sip a local wine, and savor the food of the Veneto with gorgeous scenery in the background. Via Mazzini (a popular shopping street) connects Piazza Bra (next to the arena) and Piazza delle Erbe (which is home to Verona's daily market). It is the street where the Veronesi take their passagieta (evening stroll). You can get a gelato and take a stroll with the locals, or sit at a cafe and just watch. Each of these piazze is hopping at night for drinks or a bite, and open after the opera ends.
While in Verona, you may still be determined to visit Juliet's balcony and tomb (not in the same location). Juliet's balcony is located on Via Capello, near Piazza delle Erbe, while her tomb is located south of Piazza Bra on Via del Pontiere 35 (in the Monastery of San Francesco al Corso). Yes, there truly are secretaries of Juliet, volunteers who answer the letters of the lovesick. There are even cookies dedicated to the famous couple: Baci di Giulietta (Juliet’s Kisses) and Sospri di Romeo (Romeo’s sighs), white and dark sandwich cookies, you can find in the pastry shops throughout the city.
Verona’s Porta Nuova train station is on the Milan-Venice train line, an 1-hour ride from Venice on the frecciabianca (faster train). You don't need to rent a car to get there and get around, although one would be nice for visiting nearby wineries. For me, Verona is as, and maybe more, captivating and romantic as the story of Romeo and Juliet, and definitely deserves a visit.
Have you traveled to a city solely because you fell in love with its scenery in a movie? Did the city live up to your expectations? Will you be going to Verona because of this movie, and will you leave a letter for Juliet?
Useful Verona Links:
Verona Tourist Information - www.tourism.verona.it
Arena di Verona Opera Festival - www.arena.it
Teatro Romano Arts Schedule - www.estateteatraleveronese.it
Lake Garda Information - www.gardainforma.com
Italian Railway Website - www.ferroviedellostato.it
About Soave wine and wineries - www.ilsoave.com
About Valpolicella wine and wineries - www.valpolicella.it