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The Day After a Night at the Opera - Verona

 


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This year's outdoor summer opera festival in Verona may well be coming to an end, but even though the northern Italian town is world famous for its wonderful Arena it's not just a place worth visiting from June to August.

The town has a rich cultural year-round diary of classical music, ballet and theatre, as well as all the charm and historical interest you would expect from much larger Italian cities.

There's great food and wine of course, and - it goes almost without saying - virtually endless possibilities to shop until you drop.

And if you want to catch some breathtaking scenery, then the picturesque Lago di Garda is just under an hour's drive away.

One stop, non-stop culture

Of course, opera may dominate during the summer months, but plenty of people visit for other reasons.

The town might only be home to just over 260,000 people, but it has a long and rich history and more than its fair share of Romanesque and Medieval architecture to warrant its inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Grab a guide and wander around the Basilica di San Zeno where Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet were secretly hitched, or go it alone and join the rest of the tourists who flock to Juliet's famous balcony. Meander over the fortified 14th century Ponte di Castelvecchio or visit the Roman amphitheatre, the Arena in Piazza Bra during the day.

Verona is a place that impresses big time, and leaves you knowing that you've only just scratched the surface.

And if old ruins and warbling tenors are not really your thing then there's always the Teatro Filarmonico - also in Piazza Bra - most of it destroyed by bombs during World War II but rebuilt in the 1960s and now home to (more opera) ballet and classical music.

Retail therapy

Verona is quite simply culture “pure" but that's not all of course. If you want a break from exercising the grey matter and feel more inclined for a spot of shopping, you'll be spoilt for choice.

It's always a treat in Italy and Verona is no exception, although the main pedestrian streets of Via Cappello and Via Mazzini are heaving with tourists for most of the day.

Nipping in and out of the shops can prove very expensive, especially if you've brought along your “flexible friend" for a little bit of retail therapy and it can be easy, oh so easy to get carried away with the madness of all those gorgeous things to buy.

And when the stores are closed, it doesn't mean the streets are deserted. Far from it. Instead it's time for that time-honoured Italian tradition of passeggiata.

It's the chance for the locals to stroll noisily and ostentatiously, strutting their stuff putting the tourists to shame. You know the kind of cliché for which the Italians are famous; “beautiful people" seemingly plucked straight from the pages of a glossy mag, who make we pasty-faced northern Europeans look, well pasty-faced.

Italians in general would make wearing a sack look figure-huggingly trendy as they stylishly sway down the street going nowhere and the Veronese are just as fashion conscious as their counterparts in Milan or Rome.

The espresso effect

As far as eating and drinking in Verona is concerned, you can basically never go wrong. This is after all Italy and there is a huge choice of feeding stations and watering holes for the hungry, thirsty and foot worn traveller.

Of course Italy means coffee - the real McCoy and none of that coloured water that might be passed off elsewhere as an unacceptable alternative.

Even to a non-fanatical coffee drinker there can be no denying the glorious effect a small shot of the rich, thick stuff the Italians brew up can have as it hits the back of the throat. It just has to be one of the simplest but most enjoyable pleasures of life and it doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

If you want to go native, prop yourself up against the bar and down one in double quick time before venturing forth revitalised. Should you wish to make the most of it though, simply plonk yourself down somewhere, order a drink and spend a moment just watching the world pass by.

Wining and dining

For a full blown evening meal you could try the delightful and elegant Ristorante Antica Bottega del Vino in the Vicolo Scudo di Francia. There are plenty of local specialities and an enormous wine cellar to fit anyone's purse.

In fact Verona in general is a virtual lake of good regional wines with an international reputation - Soave, Valpolicella, Bordolino and of course sparkling Prosecco. And everywhere you eat you'll probably be offered a free glass of the bubbly stuff.

More great dishes can be found at the Cantina di San Rocchetto in Via Mondo d'Oro, and especially tench and (carpaccio of) trout caught from the area around the Lago di Garda.

If you don't have time for a meal because you have tickets for the opera (at 9.00pm) but fancy a pre-dinner drink, try the little bar (there's just one) in the Piazzetta Antonio Tirabosco. It's just behind the busy Piazza Erbe, and is much quieter - a wonderful place to kick back and relax before tripping off to the Arena for the performance.

And don't worry that you won't find anything to eat after the performance. Even at midnight there are a heap of places on the Piazza Bra itself, bang opposite the Arena, and they all offer a full meal and superb service. The best place has to be the Tre Corone, but reserve a table.

Small is beautiful

There aren't really any well kept secrets in Verona. The town is too small and nothing is really too far away from the centre.

Even if you slip off into the side streets to avoid the crowds, the chances are you won't have “discovered" anything that hasn't already been visited by thousands before. More than likely the people at the next table will be tourists themselves, Germans British or French - and there are a fair number of Italians too. But it is possible to get away from the heaving masses and relax.

Sure tourists are everywhere - that's part of what makes the city tick - certainly in summer.

But most importantly perhaps, the townsfolk are friendly and welcoming. They're obviously well-used to tourists and there's none of the superior arrogance that you might find in some of the country's larger cities.

It helps if you have a smattering of the language, but even if you don't, the staff in shops, restaurants and hotels are more than willing to help you muddle through.

Verona as a town is Italy at its best. Not too large to be overbearing, and far from being too small to become boring.

So whether you're an opera buff, a history-lover, a shopaholic or in search of a great meal and drink, you could do worse than schedule a stopover in Verona.

Buon viaggio e benvenuto.

Johnny Summerton is a Paris-based broadcaster, writer and journalist. For more on what's making the headlines here in France, log on to his site at http://www.persiflagefrance.com or for more travel pieces check out http://www.urlswurld.blogspot.com

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