Italy is a country that has always enchanted me, and yet I haven’t seen nearly as much of it as I’d like. I elected to study Italian at university, hoping that by the end of four years I’d be scooting around the streets of Florence on my Vespa, living a life that only The Lizzie McGuire Movie could emulate. Things may not have panned out that way (to say the very least), but my desire to see Italy – and devour just about everything in sight – has remained strong, even after graduation. So when B suggested recently that we made a trip back to his birthplace of Verona to see his parents and old haunts, I couldn’t have been more excited.
The plan, then, was set. We’d fly out from Amsterdam in September for a week at his parent’s house near Verona, exploring the nearby towns and sights and generally letting loose. Immediately I set to making plans, almost all of them revolving around food (as the French say, quelle surprise). On our itinerary we had hikes, meals, city explorations and many nightly marathons of The Killing (obsessed is not the word). First on the list? A trip into Verona, B’s birthplace and the true home of his Italian side.
Verona is a truly beautiful city. We went into Verona twice during our time in Italy; once the heavens opened and we almost drowned in the rain, and once we were subjected to the blistering heat of the mid-September sun. Both times, though, I was captivated. As with many old Roman settlements, Verona is a city that is steeped in history, with the old arena (L’Arena) as one of the main attractions. You can still catch shows here during the summertime, but we left it just a bit too late this time. I can imagine it being wonderful, though, with the historic setting only adding power to the performances of the actors. Next time, please!
Of course, Verona is also famous as the supposed home of Juliet’s Balcony (La Casa di Giulietta). Indeed, hoardes of visitors flock to this destination every year, standing on the balcony to recite Shakespeare’s iconic play by heart and write declarations of love on the wall. You can also visit Juliet’s tomb (which is actually empty) nearby, if you want to immerse yourself further into the story.
My favourite bits of the city, however, were not these guide book classics. On our sunnier outing to Verona, we climbed up the _____ for breaktaking views of the city which were totally worth the pain in my thighs on the way up (in my defense Amsterdam is totally flat and thus my legs just aren’t used to these things you young people call hills). We also wandered over to the old castle (castelvecchio) to see the ruins of the old Roman castle and to gawp at the views over the river Adige. A visit to the basilica of San Zeno should also be on your list, even if it’s just to gawp for a minute at the great bronze doors and the accompanying frescos.
We were actually staying a bit outside of the city, in one of the many small villages that you find in the surrounding hillsides of Veneto. Lined with vineyards, small trattorias and woodland walks, these villages are never going to be a thriving tourist attraction, but nevertheless they hold a certain charm – I think the week was the first time I can remember that I didn’t have a moment lost to worry or sheer blind panic.
It definitely wouldn’t be a blog post written by me if I didn’t include just a few foodie recommendations. Italian food is probably my favourite cuisine, so priority number one for this trip was definitely getting my fill of all things pizza, pasta and ice cream. The best meal of the trip for me was a carbonara made by B’s dad (I had about four helpings), but seeing as that isn’t commercially available en masse (I’ll see what I can do), you’ll have to make do with this:
- La Bella Napoli: we went to this pizzeria at B’s insistence, as he seemed to vaguely remember coming here a few years back and being presented with a pizza as big as his table. The pizzas may not have been quite that big, but that’s not to say that we left hungry; here you can choose from square pizzas measuring 40cm, 50cm or 60cm at a very decent price. We opted for two 50cm pizzas between four of us and that seemed to do quite nicely – my favourite was la pizza bianca.
- Il Gelato: this is a B family favourite, as they remember frequenting this gelataria when it was still ran by one man from a tiny shop in the village. It is now a much larger and more polished affair, but I’ve been assured that the ice cream is as good as ever – the team used to do daily fruit runs to local markets to ensure the best fresh produce, making the fruit flavours the real stars of the show. Having tried the passion fruit, strawberry and peach flavours, I can certainly concur. If ice cream isn’t your thing, there’s a wide selection of Italian desserts and coffees on offer, too.
- Local Trattoria: the trattoria we went to was so tiny that I don’t think it had a commercial name (there’s a single granny doing all of the cooking), but the food we ate here could certainly hold a candle to much fancier, more expensive places. It was here that I had my first ever primo and secondo meal; pasta ragú to start, following by meat and potatoes. The ragú was some of the best I’ve ever had – and the potatoes? Covered, nay dripping, in oil, salt and rosemary. Bellisima.