I knew Verona was going to be rather special, it being the setting for no less than two of Shakespeare’s plays. Fantastically situated, yards from the river Adige and bang opposite Sant’ Anastasia, one of Verona’s larger churches and, minutes away from all the sites, was my hotel, Hotel Due Torri.
Originally a 14th century antique inn, it has a large castle-like interior with frescoed ceilings. It’s fifth floor panoramic terrace looks down on the uniform brown-tiled rooftops of the city centre and here there’s a rooftop bar. It’s where everyone seems to want an Aperol Spritz, a bright orange combination of sweet liqueur and fizzy Prosecco which is truly refreshing with its bitter-sweet aftertaste.
The mezzanine breakfast area seemed to take more dogs than owners all to the leniency of the epauletted staff. The primrose walls in my room were covered in framed gold and mint damask silk and fabric and the parquet floors, Murano chandeliers and traditional wooden furniture, as well as the pale salmon pink marble bathroom with gold fittings, all made for a stylish stay.
I went to the Roman arena, built of rosy marble in the 1st century and surviving the earthquake in the 12th, and today a performance venue seating up to 30,000, ranging from the expensive inner ring to the ‘gradinate’, the seating on the sloped stone steps. Though it’s obviously more exciting to see a performance, you can visit it anytime but get there early by 8:30am ahead of the queues. The other great tourist attraction is Juliet’s Balcony but it’s not factually accurate as Shakespeare only mentioned a window not a balcony and this romantic pilgrimage is now an unedifying scrum of selfie sticks and Instagram hunters.
The city centre is mercifully unspoilt, not in a theme park way, just respectfully preserved with no rubbish or adverts. It is all highly walkable along its maze of streets bordered by old crenellated buildings with colourful frescoes acting as a status symbol as are the raised outdoor tombs of the great and the good believing themselves to be buried closer to heaven.
For it was Easter Day and I sat in the sun in the Piazza dei Signori, under the stunning Loggia del Consiglio, in front of the brooding statue of Dante, with his finger upon his cheek and sporting his linen cap with its lappets over his ears while children played football and rode miniature scooters beneath.
I visited the striking, striped Duomo, with its two-storied main porch. It was built in the 12th Century and contains Sansovino’s chapel that houses Titian’s ‘Assumption’. It’s one of the four main churches to visit along with Sant’Anastasia, San Zeno and San Fermo whose long rows of images of saints adorns its extraordinary wooden ceiling high above in the upper church.
I crossed the Ponte Pietra, the Roman bridge, with two of the arches made from massive marble blocks, to walk round the side of the river Adige meandering in massive and sudden loops and came to the Castelvecchio Gallery which houses some charming Tintorettos and many a ‘madonna con il bambino’.
I wandered down via Filippini, part of a picturesque, quiet and unspoilt neighbourhood with its colourful houses and laundry-drying balconies. It was the setting for my lunch at the charming Osteria Dogana Vecia that offers authentic meals, full solely of locals with all the cooking and serving done by its two owners. I marvelled at how the Italians make such delicious meals out of sometimes the most basic ingredients as I savoured the peas in my ‘pappardelle coi bisi’.
Verona is a perfect long weekend away or addition to either Lake Garda or Venice. Dreamy, exquisite and measured as only the Italians know how.
Classic Collection Holidays (0800 047 1064), classic-collection.co.uk offers 3 nights at Due Torri Hotel, Verona from £912 per person. Price based on 2 adults sharing a classic room on a bed & breakfast basis and includes return flights from London Gatwick to Verona and private transfers.
Adam Jacot de Boinod was a researcher for the first BBC television series QI, hosted by Stephen Fry. He wrote The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World, published by Penguin Books.
Photographs courtesy of Due Torri Hotel and Verona Tourist Board