Text & photos by Marla Norman
It’s after 8:00 p.m. when we leave Dal Forno Romano. We’re still buzzing with excitement over our visit — both because of the wines and Marco Dal Forno’s generosity.
A heavy rain is falling. The night is pitch black and desolate. It’s almost impossible to see as we make our way along the twisting, perilous route to Verona. After 30 white-knuckle minutes into the drive, our afterglow has faded as quickly as the few headlights we encounter.
Finally, we see the outskirts of Verona and the road widens. But, as we approach the city center, we can’t seem to find the right exit. The GPS reroutes continually. Suddenly we’re driving down an alley that turns into a sidewalk. Pedestrians shout and make unfriendly gestures. Desperately lost, we park and call the hotel.
In an incredible show of hospitality, the Hotel Accademia sends a valet to guide us to their garage. Escorting us back to the hotel, our new best friend explains that cars are banned in La Città Antica (Verona’s Old City) and that access — except for a few back alleys that we had already discovered — is blocked off.
At last, safely checked into our room, we collapse on the big, comfortable bed; then realize that even more than fatigued, we’re ravenous. The helpful manager at Hotel Accademia recommends a light supper at Osteria del Bugiardo. We grab umbrellas and head off.
The tiny Osteria is packed. Just as we’re ready to move on, a sympathetic waiter finds two stools. Within minutes, we have mozzarella, Parma ham, hot bread and olive oil. Still hungry, we order gnocchi with meat sauce and macaroni with gorgonzola — a Mac’n Cheese meraviglioso!
Leaving the Osteria, we walk along the Adige River. The rain has stopped. Slow moving boats glide along the water. A few stars glisten overhead. It’s lovely to be in Verona at the end of an eventful day.
VERONA IN A DAY
Verona is a very, very old city— dating back to 550 B.C. The Romans occupied the region for several centuries, leaving behind a spectacular arena, theater and fortified walls. The city reached its cultural and artistic peak in the 13th and 14th centuries under the Della Scala (Scaligeri) family dynasty. Later, a series of wars initiated by northern Italian kingdoms forced Verona to ally with Venice in 1404.
All to say, that Verona and it’s 25-centuries of history deserves more than a single day. Sadly, that’s all the time we have. The good news — most of what we want to see is within walking distance. And, after the previous day, we’re more than happy to avoid cars and comply with the all-pedestrian rules. Better yet, the skies are deep blue — not a rain cloud in sight.
Piazza delle Erbe
Our first stop was once the “forum” or central market during the Roman era. Crowning the attractive plaza is a fountain dating from 380 A.D. — the lovely Madonna Verona. Nearby is the ancient town hall, Torre dei Lamberti and the Mazzanti House with frescoes that are still amazingly colorful and intact. At one time, Verona had over 300 painted façades — the Mazzanti are the last of that period, so all the more precious.
Piazza dei Signori
Walking on, we enter a deserted Piazza dei Signori. Thrilled to have the magnificent piazza all to ourselves, we quietly pay our respects to Dante Alighieri, whose statue is prominently displayed. Originally from Florence, Dante fled to Verona after a political cause he supported turned violent. Had he returned to Florence, he would have been burned at the stake.
Interestingly, in June 2008, nearly seven centuries after his death, the city council of Florence passed a motion rescinding his sentence. Luckily, the great poet seemed to be right at home in Verona. And it was here that he composed his Divine Comedy.
In Piazza dei Signori, Dante has illustrious company. Perched behind his monument, on the Loggia del Consiglio, are statues of Marcus Aurelius, Pliny the Elder and Catallus.
Casa di Giulietta
Several of Shakespeare’s plays were set in Verona, including famously, one of his best-loved works: Romeo & Juliet. Most critics doubt the great Bard ever set foot in the city. Regardless, one of Verona’s most popular attractions is Juliet’s House — a 13th century structure once owned by the Cappello family, whose name is similar enough to Capulet that it became confused with the Shakespearean play.
As we stroll by, visitors are already queuing up near the statue of Juliet to partake in the bizarre ritual of rubbing her right breast for luck in love. None of which makes much sense, since both she and her Romeo were literally the original “pair of star-crossed lovers.” I mention all of this in passing, since that’s exactly what we did…..
Arena di Verona
Spectacular to behold, Verona’s Arena dominates several blocks of the Città Antica. The structure is enormous. Only Rome’s Colosseum and Capua’s Arena are larger. Moreover, the Arena di Verona is considered the best preserved of the ancient Roman amphitheaters and is still in use. Opera performances and concerts are held regularly. The summer opera season in Verona is one of the city’s largest tourist attractions.
The Arena is quiet and empty, the day we visit, making it easy to get an unobstructed view of the old stones and architecture. Almost 20 centuries old, the amphitheater is a timeless beauty. The Summer Opera schedule includes La Traviata, Carmen and Aida. We promise ourselves to see a performance one day!
Ready for a break, we grab a table on the terrace of Ristorante Caffe Vittorio Emanuele on the Piazza Brà. Sitting directly across from the arena, we can continue to admire the magnificent structure and watch passersby strolling the long promenade. It’s the perfect day for an outdoor cafe!
From our vantage point we can also view the Portoni della Brà — a striking set of arches at the entrance to the Piazza Brà. An impressive clock marks the time, reminding us that each moment in Verona is precious.
There is also a bust of William Shakespeare on one of the pillars and a plaque with a quotation from Romeo and Juliet — even though they never existed seems it’s impossible to get away from those two.
Teatro Romano & Castel San Pietro
After lunch, we cross the River Adige to the Teatro Romano. Much smaller than the Arena, the theater dates back to the time of Augustus Caesar, built in the 1st century BC. Completely reconstructed, the Teatro also hosts performances.
Near the Teatro is a Funicular, ascending 500 feet up to Castel San Pietro. A strategic position since Roman times, the old fortress and church show their age. But the panoramic views are still very much intact. We take a quick ride up and then walk along the walls for incomparable views of Verona below.
…is ubiquitous in Verona, as you’d expect. Shops are everywhere, to serve the many tourists and locals alike. We order cones at Gelateria Ponte Pietra and enjoy every scrumptious slurp on our walk back to the hotel.
Ristorante Il Desco
We decide to splurge on our last evening in Verona, so we book a reservation at Il Desco. An institution in Verona, owner Elia Rizzo opened his doors in 1982. He chose a historical building in the Città Antica, then filled the rooms with colorful paintings by his best friend, architect Lorenzo Bernardini.
Rizzo’s menu is his updated version of traditional Veneto cuisine — more so now that his son Matteo is with him in the kitchen. Aside from culinary genius, the two Rizzos offer endless attention to detail. For example, when we first arrive, bread with cheese and butter-cream made from gorgonzola and mascarpone is immediately served. Incredible! This combination alone is worth the Michelin star.
We order scallops to start (cleverly labeled “Pulp Fiction” — at least on the English menu) the tortellini (for which Il Desco is particularly famous), black cod parmigiana and veal fillet with a pear sauce. The scallops are tender and sweet. The tortellini are exquisite, as is the cod. The fillet with pear sauce stole the show, however, savory, sweet and entirely different in the best way possible.
The wine list is on another level as well — 40 pages worth, to be precise. Numerous Italian offerings are featured along with a great collection of French wines and selections from Slovenia, South Africa and Hungary as well.
We choose a 2018 Blangé Arneis by Ceretto – one of the most refreshing whites from Piemonte and very reasonably priced. We also order a 2016 Marchesi Fumanelli Terso blend of Garganega and Trebbiano and for the red, a nicely mature 2009 Masi Osar Oseleta. We were tempted by the Dal Forno Romano Valpolicella Superiore Monte Lodoletta — especially after our recent experience at the winery — but at 172.00 €, we decide to compromise.
With these exceptional wines and an unforgettable meal, we celebrate our day in Verona with promises to return for much, much longer.