This most romantic of Italian cities offers more than just Juliet’s famous balcony. Wine and olive oil producer Giovanni Éderle spreads the love.
This is the “other Verona”, the right bank of the Adige, across from the historic centre. For us, it is the authentic part of the city, popular with the big student population for its cheap street food, pubs and late-night bars. Walk across any of the Adige bridges and the crowds disappear, though there is still plenty to see: the Roman theatre, overlooking the river, and adjoining archaeological museum explain how much ancient history is still waiting to be excavated; higher up, the 16th-century Giardino Giusti is one of Italy’s finest landscaped gardens. Veronetta is also called Little Jerusalem, as medieval pilgrims to the Holy Land were reminded of Jerusalem by the neighbourhood’s steep hills and cypress trees. Today, volunteers run free Hierusalem Tours on selected dates, when five churches normally closed to the public can be visited (next one 26 February).
Like everyone in Verona, I visited this library on a school trip, didn’t understand anything and quickly forgot about it. But when I went back recently, I discovered a hidden jewel: the oldest library in Europe, dating to AD517, with a splendid collection of manuscripts and illustrated codici. For me, it is one of the most interesting cultural sights in the city. The library conjures up The Name of the Rose, with display cabinets of priceless books. And just next door is Verona’s immense Romanesque cathedral.
I love taking visiting friends to Al Duca, a small rustic osteria crammed with noisy diners enjoying big portions of classic local dishes (two courses €20). Housed in what was supposedly the Montecchi family palazzo (the Montagues in Shakespeare), this could have become a tourist trap but the wonderful owner, Daniela Mazzucco, has never allowed that to happen. Visitors may get a shock when they read the menu, though, as Verona’s favourite meat is horse, especially pastisada, a rich stew on a bed of polenta. But there are plenty of vegetarian options, too: big salads and an unforgettable Amarone wine risotto. The clientele is a mix of Veronesi and tourists, with locals seeming to know everyone, be they carabinieri, builders or members of Verona’s football team.
Osteria a la Carega
This was probably the first bar I sneaked into for a drink as a teenager and it is still my favourite. On a street close to the river, it has long been a meeting place for musicians, artists, winemakers and students. It is open till 2am, with a packed terrace in summer. There is an excellent choice of wines, especially from the neighbouring vineyards of Valpolicella and Soave, but also craft beers and cocktails, and the local bubbly, Durello, which makes a change from prosecco. A glass of house wine is €1.50 and there is music, usually jazz, every Thursday. It also rents bikes by the hour, and runs guided bike tours with lunch and wine
This is a unique experience, two hours of thrills for €25pp, from one end of the city to the other. Even locals are surprised to see their city from down below as they paddle under a dozen bridges, stop off at the Castelvecchio castle, and finish at the ruins of the 300-year-old Venetian customs house. In summer, when the river is fairly slow flowing, most people end up taking a dip. There is also a popular evening trip, Raft & Wine, including stop-offs with plates of prosciutto and mountain cheese, pasta or risotto and dessert
Funicolare di Castel San Pietro
This cable railway was abandoned in the 1970s but recently reopened. , it’s a great way to take in views over Verona and the surrounding hills. The funicular comes out by 14th-century Castel San Pietro (closed for restoration). Also at the top is Ristorante Re Teodorico, whose terrace is perfect for a sunset aperitivo, even if an Aperol spritz costs €5. The journey up takes a few minutes and it’s fun to walk back down the zigzag stairs that lead to the Roman-built Ponte Pietra.
This Aladidn’s cave of a boutique is down a quiet alleyway by the famous Pozzo dell’Amore, the medieval Well of Love, near packed Piazza delle Erbe. Young Veronesi love the party dresses and romantic outfits designed by young owner-stylist Matilde Daniele. She opened her showroom while still a philosophy student at university, encouraged by her mother, who runs a nearby clothing factory where the outfits are made. She only produces four or five copies of each design, so it is almost like haute couture but at off-the-peg prices.
La Lanterna – vegetarian restaurant
Given how meat-heavy Veronese cuisine is, you may not expect to see many vegetarian restaurants but over the past few years a number have opened up. La Lanterna is the pioneer of organic vegan cuisine and reinterprets Veneto dishes without meat or dairy (two courses about £25). Try bigoli (fat spaghetti) with a carbonara or ragù sauce, a classic grigliata mista, but of seitan, tofu and vegan sausage, or more exotic dishes using tempeh and nori. The wines are organic and there is even gluten-free craft beer. Two inventive chefs, both called Fabio, opened La Lanterna in 2013 when they became vegans and abandoned their jobs cooking with animal produce in a local pizzeria.
Many visitors imagine that Verona’s musical scene begins and ends with summer operas in our Roman amphitheatre, but the outdoor season runs from June to September and, for the rest of the year, the same orchestra and chorus offer opera and concerts in the intimate Teatro Filarmonico. Founded in 1761, it is a jewel of a theatre, staging unforgettable productions of Don Giovanni or Turandot, and ballets such as Swan Lake. Just behind it is an even more intimate venue, Teatro Ristori, recently restored to its former glory and presenting an eclectic programme from jazz to baroque, with Sunday brunch and wine concerts.
Soave day trip
Verona is surrounded by vineyards, with Valpolicella on one side and Soave on the other. I make Valpolicella wines but for a day trip nothing beats the fortified medieval town that has given its name to Soave’s renowned white wines. The 13th-century Castello Scaligero di Soave has been magnificently restored and a tour of the 1898 Cantina di Soave, a cooperative of 2,000 viticoltori, is a must. For lunch, the cheap and cheerful Alla Rocca, known as La Bigoleria, serves bigoli with a huge choice of sauces for €8 a time. On the first Sunday of the month, a huge antiques market takes over Soave’s steep streets. The 131 bus from central Verona stopping right outside Soave’s walls.