It’s difficult not to be enchanted by Italy’s picturesque towns, says PAUL KIDDIE
Best known for its link to Shakespeare and the setting for the romantic tale of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Verona will soon have you falling head over heels for its unique charm.
The ancient city in the north of Italy has established itself as a destination of choice for those who enjoy city breaks, and it’s easy to see why.
Situated just a short flight from Scotland – we landed after just two hours 20 minutes – Verona has plenty to offer, and not just pizza and the country’s famed gelati.
An early morning departure from Edinburgh will have you lunching in one of the main atmospheric piazzas, watching the world go by just a stone’s throw from the famous Arena, a 1st Century Roman amphitheatre.
The third largest in the country and older than the Colosseum in Rome, the imposing open-air structure still hosts major pop concerts and operas – Placido Domingo was appearing in La Traviata during our visit.
Once you find your bearings, it’s a city which can be easily explored on foot, and there is plenty to see.
Thousands of eager visitors wind their way through the narrow cobbled streets in search of ‘Juliet’s balcony’ and for a small entry charge, can climb the stairs and pucker up above the busy courtyard for the obligatory photograph.
There are numerous squares where you can sit back in a cafe and breathe in the culture. Market stalls spill out from the cobbled streets in the shadow of bell towers, offering everything from t-shirts to chips.
One thing visitors shouldn’t miss is taking the Funicular di Verona up to Castel San Pietro where a rooftop restaurant awaits with the best views over the city. If you can take your eyes off the spectacular vista, the food at Re Teodorico Restaurant Verona won’t disappoint.
Eating out in Verona is a real treat, and with a little planning it doesn’t need to break the bank.
For those travelling with families, you can’t go wrong with the standard pizzas and pastas. A margherita pizza was around 8 euros on average, while spaghetti bolognese was readily available for around the same price. Meat and fish dishes, though, were nearer 20 euros. If you have thirsty kids in tow, watch out for the soft drinks! 5 euros for a diet coke or orange juice wasn’t unusual.
For fans of ice cream, the variety of gelati on offer is mind-blowing and will have you licking your lips in anticipation as you ponder what to go for.
Another of Verona’s great advantages is its location. Venice is just over an hour away by train, while Lake Garda can be reached by public bus in similar time.
A day trip to Venice with its unique sights was the perfect memory maker. Warnings of how crowded it would be proved unfounded. Anyone who has tried to walk around Edinburgh during the Festival would have a harder time negotiating the capital’s streets! There really is no place else like Venice with highlights including the Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge and St Mark’s Square. And of course a gondola trip.
A real surprise was a new luxury shopping centre which opened its doors in 2016 adjacent to the Rialto Bridge offering the newest rooftop views over the city. Among its previous guises, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi was a post office under Musolini but now delivers 360° views over the city. Access to the terrace is free but there is a booking system in place on busy days.
With Verona and Venice ticked off the list, Bardolino on the shores of Lake Garda was the next destination to complete the Italian adventure in a more relaxing way.
Just 25km from Verona, Bardolino is arguably the most attractive of the numerous picturesque towns dotted along the edge of the lake. It is popular with water sport enthusiasts, walkers and sun-worshippers and the historic centre, with its narrow streets and abundance of restaurants is perfect for a sunset stroll. There are no sandy beaches to speak of so you need to get used to the uncomfortable challenges which accompany the pebble variety.
Like Verona, eating out can be expensive but sticking to pizza and pasta served our budget well and underlined how the Italian chefs can make the simplest of dishes quite delicious.
Boat trips from the marina are hugely popular but beware the chaos at the ticket booth. Leave plenty of time to queue in line for your journey of choice.
We took the short cruise to Sirmione, though the likes of Garda and Lazise are also close by. A short bus trip from Bardolino you’ll find the theme park Gardaland, which is well worth a visit for families.
Aimed at all age groups, there are roller-coasters to test the nerve of the bravest. Quite how my 11-year-old son persuaded me to join him on the Vortex I don’t know.
Day passes cost around 39 euros per person. We took the evening ticket option (6-11pm) for 22 Euros and found it the perfect way to avoid the heat of the day while still having enough time to cram in all the rides we wanted to experience.
Our 10-day trip was the ideal introduction to Italy for the family and I have a feeling it won’t be our last.