In fair Verona, where we lay our scene
It seems little has changed since this city became the stage for the world’s most famous love story. The piazzas, courtyards, alleyways – and balconies – form a living theatre that echoes with the poetry of Romeo and Juliet.
Some say the story is entirely fictional, but lovers of romance know otherwise. In fact, at Juliet’s House, you’ll find the very balcony where our heroine called to Romeo (don’t listen when they say it was built in 1936!). An unmissable photo-op for incurable romantics, you’ll see layer upon layer of lovelorn graffiti and the original bed from Zeferelli’s classic film adaptation.
At the heart of the great stage that is the old town centre is a much older theatre, the Roman Arena in Piazza Bra. Once ringing with noise as the gladiators clashed, it is the third-largest Roman amphitheatre in Italy. The Piazza Bra itself is the main city square and the perfect spot to plan your excursions, relax with a cappuccino, and muse… was this, perhaps, where Tybalt slew Mercutio?
Fittingly for a city with such a rich theatrical history, there are not one but two Roman theatres. Cross the Ponte Pietra bridge to the north bank of the Adige River and you’ll find the Teatro Romana, still a working venue today. What could be more romantic than watching Romeo and Juliet, in Verona itself, beneath a starlit summer sky?
As well as history, culture, shopping and cuisine, the city offers the perfect base for exploring northern Italy. Just one hour to the east are historic Padua, with its rich artistic heritage, and the legendary canals of Venice. Two hours to the south is the spectacular mediaeval cityscape of Bologna. Alternatively, head west to the more natural splendours of Lake Garda. Combining spectacular landscapes with pretty lakeside towns, it also offers wonderful sailing. To the north are the distinctive Dolomite Mountains with their numerous winter resorts. Jump in your car rental and hit those slopes!
Four seasons in Verona
The Verona Carnival is one of the oldest and most spectacular events of its kind in Italy. Dating from 1531, it commemorates the day when a nobleman saved the town by distributing gnocchi. Every year since, the Veronese have celebrated the ‘Bacanàl del Gnoco’ in the two weeks prior to Lent. The festivities culminate in the grand parade of masks and a feast of gnocchi in Piazza San Zeno.
As you might expect, Valentine’s Day is a red-hot date on the Veronese calendar. So much so, it lasts for four days! The city is festooned with hearts and love notes, and there are romantically themed concerts and exhibitions.
In early April, the city plays host to the world’s largest international wine fair: Vinitaly. Explore and sample a huge range of wines, from everyday staples to the finest examples of the vintner’s craft.
The highlight of the summer, if not the whole year, is the city’s Opera Festival. Running from June to September, there are usually six productions to choose from, one of which is Romeo and Juliet. Presenting world-class music in a truly spectacular historical setting, these are genuinely not to be missed.
The Teatro Romano is another fabulous location for open-air theatre by candle and starlight. As well as hosting the Shakespeare Festival (July-August), it is one of the venues for the city’s jazz and ballet festivals.
Tocatì (‘it’s your turn’) is a celebration of street games that converts the town centre into a giant playground each September.
‘Christmas in the Arena’ brings craftsmen from around the world to decorate the ancient Roman amphitheatre with stunning and colourful nativity displays. Marking the spot is one of the town’s signature sights: the huge comet star in Piazza Bra that arcs over the walls of the Arena.