As the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, there’s surely no place more romantic come Valentine’s Day than Verona in northern Italy – if you discount the star-crossed lovers’ sticky ending, that is.
1. How to get there
I’ve skirted Verona doing car trips in Italy twice before, but on my last trip, I had a Eurail Pass – and time – so my pal Tessa and I stopped off on our way from Venice to Lake Como. It’s only a short train ride from either (and Milan), which means you can pack a lot in to either side of a one-night stay. The city was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status because of its architecture and if you stay centrally, your feet can take you everywhere you need to go. We loved traipsing around the back streets and along the River Adige, however, the crowds were mostly headed in two directions – to Juliet’s balcony and the Verona Arena.
2. Juliet's house
OK, so Romeo and Juliet is fiction, which means Shakespeare made it up, yet every year, hundreds of thousands of people pour off Via Capello into a tiny courtyard to see the balcony of Casa di Giulietta, where Juliet stood while Romeo declared his love. Why let the facts get in the way of a good story, eh? There’s a tiny museum in the house itself, but the big drawcard is a bronze sculpture of Juliet. The poor girl spends her days being molested by tourists ever since someone decided that rubbing her right breast brought luck. In fact, her boob took such a hammering, they had to replace the whole statue a couple of years ago. The walls are covered in lovers’ graffiti, but it’s not very romantic.
3. A balcony of our own
We only decided we were going to Verona a couple of days in advance, so I took to my Lonely Planet guide for its hotel recommendations. There was no room at any inn, but one kindly person suggested I try Lodovica at Palazzo Gelmi, and lo and behold, she had one lucky last room in her upstairs B&B. The room was big and airy, the breakfast good, but Lodovica herself was the true discovery. She suggested she try to get us tickets that night for Aida at the famous Verona Arena, which was handily at the end of the street. I’d never heard of the famous Verona Arena but obviously said yes.
4. Verona Arena
I now know this ampitheatre was built in the first century and is one of the best-preserved examples of its kind. Rock and pop bands perform there, but it’s most famous for its summer opera season. I’m not an opera buff, but it was a beautiful night – still 30 degrees at midnight – and with a cast of almost 500, not to mention eye-popping people-watching opportunities, Aida was utterly wonderful and an unforgettable experience.
5. La Cucina
In a massive Travel Editor fail, I had the most wonderful dinner at a place Lodovica recommended but now cannot find a single shred of evidence of its existence or of my ever being there. Sorry! What I do remember is that before the restaurant, we went to a great place very close to the arena called Signorvino. Part wine store, part deli, it was where I discovered the Italian sparkling wine franciacorta, a delicious drop more akin to champagne than the more common prosecco and perfect, no doubt, for a Valentine’s Day toast.