Verona may be the ‘City of Love’ thanks to its Romeo and Juliet associations, but that does it a great disservice. This is a fascinating place, enlivened by a sizeable student population, and home to good restaurants, cafes and bars. The ancient centre fits snugly inside a dramatic bend in the River Adige and is very walkable. Historic bridges connect the centre with Veronetta, a lively and only slightly younger district to the north. On our second morning, we walked along the river after a breakfast of rice cakes and macchiatos.
The River Adige begins life in the Alps and had become a fast-flowing muddy brown torrent thanks to the same thunderstorms that had accompanied us across the mountains. Its route to the Adriatic Sea south of Venice makes it the second longest river in Italy. The views from the northern bank across a town dotted with church towers are delightful. We strolled from Ponte Navi until crossing Ponte Pietra back into the old town.
The famed Ponte Pietra is the most picturesque bridge in the city. A bridge has stood on this spot since 148 BC, and some of the original Roman elements are still visible despite repeated cycles of destruction (natural and manmade) and rebuilding. Most recently it was blown up by retreating German soldiers in 1945. It was faithfully reconstructed using the original stone fished out of the river and re-inaugurated in 1959.
Passing under Ponte Pietra’s medieval gate, we re-entered the narrow maze of atmospheric streets and weaved our way amongst ancient churches, small squares and grand noble houses. The Piazza delle Erbe, once the city’s economic and political hub, is a hotspot for al fresco dining and people watching. This was the medieval market, and is surrounded by old palaces and towered over by the Torre dei Lamberti.
Connected by a narrow passage is the Piazza dei Signori, another square with medieval palaces, in the middle of which is a statue of Dante. The great medieval poet and philosopher was banished from Florence and found refuge in Verona under the patronage of the Scaliger family. The powerful Scaligers ruled Verona at its peak as an independent city-state, their wealth bequeathed the city some of it’s finest buildings and the author of the Divine Comedy protection.
A short stroll from Dante’s statue is the Church of Saint Mary ‘Antica’, where the extraordinary Scaliger family tombs are found, a fitting tribute to medieval Verona’s most powerful ruling family. The wondrous history found in this tangle of medieval streets and squares is but an amuse bouche for what awaits in the Piazza Bra. Here is one of Italy’s finest Roman monuments, and the third largest ancient amphitheatre in the country, the Arena di Verona.
Built in 30 AD, the arena is massive and almost perfectly preserved. When there isn’t a pandemic, opera is performed here, which must be an experience like few others. Surrounding the square are lots of bustling restaurants, but tucked down streets leading out of the square are dozens of great little bars and restaurants. This area is aperitivo central. Head west towards the river and you’ll find yourself at another Scaliger family highlight, the Castelvecchio.
The 14th century castle has a postcard-perfect crenelated bridge that leads over the river, from the far bank you get fabulous views back across to the castle. The retreating German army demolished this bridge as well in 1945, it has been painstakingly reconstructed since. From here it was a pleasant stroll along the river to Ponte Garibaldi, close to the stripy Verona Cathedral, and the palazzo where we were staying.
* A line from the Prologue of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet