Post-lockdown Verona feels safe and spacious – and it's catnip for lovers

Jane Druker
·4-min read
Juliet's balcony, Verona
Juliet's balcony, Verona

Italy’s national flag says it all: red for the blood shed in its unification in 1861; white for the snow on the mountains, green for the beautiful meadows - and, for the time being at least, its place on the English list of countries we can travel to without restrictions.

I have holidayed here my entire life – summers used to consist of two months of strawberry and hop picking in my home county of Kent, then a two-week sunshine getaway starting on the ferry at Dover. Nine hundred miles, two whole days, and round and round the Alps we’d go, through Northern Italy following Lakes Garda and Como, down via Pisa, Portofino, Santa Margherita and onto Punta Ala, from which we could see the Isle of Elba. My memories are of exploring bustling busy cities on the way, pitstops at the key tourist sites (“there’s the Leaning Tower, now back in the car”), followed by long days of lazin’ and grazin’ beachside. We feasted on mortadella sandwiches, followed by fragola gelato, the best strawberry ice cream I’ve ever tasted, and spent evenings enthusiastically dancing in discos and in my case, exploring my very first romance. Ah – Stefano Bonarretti. Still makes me smile.

Romance is quite simply what Verona represents. Set on the Adige River and home to not only (Romeo and) Juliet’s balcony (more of which later but you are supposed to be lucky in love should you stand underneath it), but to the Opera and the Verona in Love Festival (now in its 14th year) when, each Valentine’s Day, it is illuminated with candles, hosts heart-shaped markets and love-themed tours. Don’t think I don’t know how corny it sounds but, I promise, it is anything but.

Instead, elegance and atmosphere pervail. This is home to art galleries including Achille Forti Gallery of Modern Art, Castelvecchio full of medieval paintings and frescoes, the Roman Theatre Archeological Museum (located right next to the remains of the Roman Theatre, which includes ancient artefacts), the ubiquitous Gothic and Rennaissance architecture, a stunning Cathedral and the most magnificent Roman amphitheatre I have ever seen. You may now have to wear a mask - unless seated to eat - but the visual sensations remain complete. Walking around the Gallery of Modern Art I stumbled across a few entwined amourous couples. God bless Italy for still having the same arousing effect it always has!

A heart-shaped market in Verona on Valentine's Day
A heart-shaped market in Verona on Valentine's Day

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The city’s beating heart began between the 13th and 14th century when it was ruled by the Della Scala family, and it is still a World Heritage Site. Even the Second World War couldn’t rob it of its natural allure, when its bridges were damaged and forlorn; instead it was rebuilt using the original bricks that had been blasted into the river. Walking riverside today feels special and unique - gone are the snake-crowds; just one school group occupied space behind me (like here, they have only gone back this term to some sort of normalcy).

While Verona is best known as the home of the Montagues and the Capulets – Shakespeare may well have taken some artistic liberties here. Those family names may well ring true of the time, but Romeo and Juliet – the story – is instead based on projection, hearsay, rumour and good old-fashioned fiction. The aforementioned balcony exists but quite simply as a tourist attraction, however William Shakespeare has set one other play on site – The Two Gentlemen of Verona – so let’s just assume its innate majesty affected his inspiration deeply.

Verona has also been home to relatively more recent legendary lovers: the bright, bold and beautiful have all had a bed here: from Maria Callas to Vivien Leigh in the 1950s and 1960s, Brad and Angelina still jointly own a winery down the road, and it’s even been home to Bond. James Bond. Quantum of Solace was filmed on the lake in 2007. Romantic spots are everywhere: the Castel San Pietro is on a hillside with a view across the river, the Torre dei Lamberti has a terrace where you can drink it all in with a glass of vino, and the Ponte Pietra is great for romantic outdoor dining. Nowhere is full yet everything is ripe for enjoyment; you feel in on an abundant secret.

While it is a travesty that there are so few people on the streets right now, now is the time to take advantage of this beautiful city and country without the usual crowds. I just hope we keep Italy thriving – it's the best tonic I have ever known.

Riviera Travel offers an eight-day tour to Lake Garda, Venice and Verona from £789pp with departures April to October 2021, departing from 11 airports. A number of departures have a maximum group size of 25 people.

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