Verona is the City of Love. Besides being the site of the most famous love story of all time (Romeo and Juliet), beauty simply pervades the town. And fall in love with it I did.
I didn’t think I would find much in Verona. After famous destinations in Italy like Rome, Florence and Venice, I figured there would be maybe a day’s worth of interesting things to do in Verona. Boy was I wrong. Turns out Verona is now one of my favorite cities I’ve traveled to so far, along with Ghent and Brighton, and I really didn’t want to leave.
Did you know that Verona has one of the best preserved Roman ruins in Italy, next to Rome and Pompeii? They have a roman theater, an arena (third largest Roman arena in the world and still used for shows, concerts, operas and events), excavation sites of the original city several feet below, and even a wall encircling most of the city. I was quite bummed when I saw who was going to be playing in the arena after I left: Kiss, Dirty Dancing, Carlos Santana and Mumford and Sons!
Then there is Saint Peter’s Castle on the hill just the the river. From here you get easily the best views of the town, and actually where the only good views of the city were taken from in the movie Letters to Juliet. I went up there several times to eat lunch, enjoy the view or on one day to have a large picnic with a couple dozen other CouchSurfers while watching the sunset. From up there you can see all of the city, the turns of the Fiume (River) Adige and most of the surrounding countryside. And from atop the Roman wall behind it, you have an even better panoramic view of all the surrounding countryside.
Aside from several castles in Verona, there are also several impressive churches and basilicas. While they are not as impressive as those in Rome or Florence, they were still nice to see. They certainly lent themselves to the overall beauty of the town. There is also the large Piazza bra where the arena is located, and the Piazza delle Erbe in the center. The truth is I could go on about how beautiful the town is, but suffice to say it is exactly what you might imagine a perfect setting for Romeo and Juliet to be.
Speaking of which, I found it fascinating that the city has a whole tourist industry built around a fictional character in a Shakespearean play. Juliet’s house and balcony, her tomb and other landmarks of the Capulet family can be visited throughout the city (all for a fee, of course). The only free attraction is to touch the right breast of the bronze statue of Juliet in the courtyard outside her house to ensure a lucky love life. You can also write your name or leave a note on the walls in the courtyard. The council in Verona is trying to pass a law now to ban that with a hefty fine, so now’s your chance! Oh, and Juliet’s Club as depicted in the movie Letters to Juliet is real and has been operating since the 1930s! Santa Clause has some competition!
The countryside outside Verona is fantastic too. Less than an hour to the west is Italy’s largest lake, Lago di Garda. The lake itself is beautiful, but that it is surrounded by snow-capped mountains makes it stunning. I went to the small town of Malcesine (with another CouchSurfing event) and took the cable car up to the snow-capped peak of Monte Baldo. From there we hiked through the snow for some breathtaking photos of the lake and surrounding mountains, while watching the paragliders drift above us. That night we went back into town for a fantastic meal next to the large castle on the water there. I maybe overdid it with three courses, but the food was too good to stop eating, and somehow it didn’t actually make me too full.
Ironically, I initially found a host for four days in Verona through CouchSurfing.com. I have found it’s nice to have a place to stay for a few days. One of the benefits is to leave my bags and travel to another local town or location for a day or two. Four days turned into two weeks, and I would have stayed longer if I could. I spent one day on Lago di Garda and four days in Torino. Otherwise I spent the days walking through the beautiful streets of the towns, hiking in the surrounding hills, visiting the Roman ruins and best of all, meeting new friends and attending the many CouchSurfing events that Verona has each week.
The cost of living in Verona is cheaper than other towns I have been through, Restaurants were a couple Euros cheaper and I was able to buy enough food for several days of home cooking for about €20 (another advantage with staying at the same place for more than a day or two). The best part is that while there is extensive public transportation, the town is small enough that you really don’t need it. Most of the town is in a bend of the river and most other parts can be reached in less than an hour of walking, or a few minutes on a bike.
The restaurants are especially nice. My favorite was Tigella Bella. I originally went there for a CouchSurfing event with a dozen other people when I first arrived in Verona. They have a meal unlike anything else I’d eaten in Italy. For only €10, you get unlimited tigella (small wheat flour and yeast pancakes) and gnocco fritto (fried dough puffs). With this is served a platter of various meats and a dozen sauces. The sauces are delicious with flavors such as cream with olives, cream with mushrooms, gorgonzola, herb cream cheese, salsa, etc. There are also sauces for desert, such as Nutella, white chocolate, jelly and grated coconut. Drinks are cheap there too and desert is fantastic. I had sorbetti (Italian sorbet). It was so good I went twice and recommended it to other travelers I met in the city. When you make it to Verona, make sure you visit there too.
I didn’t find a free walking tour in Verona, but it wasn’t really necessary. With all the walking I did and great friends to show me around while I was there, it just wasn’t needed. There are also information signs all around the city explaining the various landmarks and sights.
The friends were what made Verona extra special for me. My host Maria was extremely talented, working in museums, nursing homes and a laboratory which helped single mothers and other individuals find creativity and purpose by reusing old products in art. She was also a fantastic cook, and I am forever grateful for her teaching me how to make real Italian tiramisu.Then there were Nick and Shannon, two American expats living in Verona and hosting some of the most fantastic CouchSurfing events I’ve been to, including the hike to the top of Monte Baldo and the fantastic apertivo at Tigella Bella. Anna and Giamba host a weekly couch surfing event, which for me was the picnic at St. Peter’s Castle at sunset. I made some really good friends at the picnic too. The day before I left, I was walking through the town when one waved to me on the street. Small world!
Between leaving the city and leaving behind my new friends, I had a very hard time moving on to my next destination. But my 90 days in the Schengen zone is almost up (only 22 days left). And since I want to go to a couple festivals in the Schengen area this summer, I need to leave now. So now I’m off to Brighton, my favorite town in England. From there I go to Edinburgh for the Beltane Fire Festival and the Isle of Skye, and who know where after that. But I will always miss Verona! And someday I will be back for sure.