Hearts and writings on the wall in Verona

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For the record, I attempted to start this post about Verona without referring to the most famous lovers of the world, but couldn’t help it. Thus: I had read my Romeo and Juliet and seen the film and a day trip to Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, was a must when we were at Lake Garda. Verona is about an hour’s ride from the southern part of the lake.

I’ll introduce some selected highlights of that day. We were there last summer during the Verona Opera Festival. Before our trip I went through the festival program with the intention of booking opera tickets but ended up not doing so, because they didn’t have translations to English (projected onto the wall) for the operas we were most interested in. The last time I saw an opera was in Prague and the translations made the opera experience both understandable and meaningful. But, with hindsight, I should have booked the tickets anyway: to have experienced the magic and that special feeling of an opera premiere in a warm summer night under the stars. In Northern Italy.  A reason to go back. You can find the program of this year’s festival here.

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But there was something there by the large Piazza Brà and the Arena amphitheater that we got to marvel, something gigantic, fascinating and gilded: the sets of the operas that were in the festival program. They were colossal almost. After having a little something to drink in one of the cafes by the Piazza we went to explore the sets and guessing which decor belonged to which opera. The best riddle of the day.

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About the Romeo and Juliet themed things: the Tomb of Giulietta can be seen quite quickly. The House of Juliet (Via Cappello, 23) was very popular and there was a long queue for the both the balcony and for Juliet’s statue. If touching the statue can bring you good luck with love understandably you don’t want to jeopardise finding the love of your life. The entrance to the inner courtyard (a small one) is free. What I liked most was the wall where the visitors could write and draw their own love messages, graffiti, hearts and so on: your own love manifestation next to a world-famous romantic setting.

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One of the best things was strolling around the city, taking in the atmosphere, admiring the beautiful alleys, the old balconies with flowers and wooden window shutters and the palaces by Piazza delle Erbe. Walking down the riverbank and stopping for a rich espresso or a slice of savory pizza. We had a slice to go from Pizzeria Al Taglio Paolo e Rosetta SNC: the crust was skillfully prepared and the toppings were plentiful and so tasty.

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A few points for visitors: Verona is compact and excellent for walking from one place to another: also by foot you encounter possibilities such as small boutiques selling beautiful lace blouses. Which brings me to the second point: wear natural fibers. Especially in July. And especially if you plan to do some walking.

It’s a beautiful and idyllic city with romantic vibes and cues.

The taste of Italy – three restaurant suggestions

20150803_154619The food, yes. And the wine.

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Italian food. When I read travel guides before our trip to Italy Eataly occurred frequently. We tasted many rich and delicious local products and dishes, from the  savory pizza in Verona to a tasty Insalata Caprese enjoyed in Riva del Garda for lunch and made of quality ingredients.

I’ll share now three restaurant/bar suggestions from our trip. The first is the Casa degli Spiriti (Via Monte Baldo, 28 , Costermano, Verona). It is a charming and beautiful house with a gorgeous view on the Lake Garda and it is situated in one of those tight tornante turns. We passed it by car many times as it was close to our hotel and mentioned that it would be nice to maybe have a cocktail or a coffee there. We saw the butler at the door but what we didn’t know beforehand was that we would  step into a place housing a Michelin star restaurant, such a beautiful decor and an extensive wine collection. Well, ok, the Ferrari and the design fountain at the parking lot maybe gave a hint.

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We enjoyed a late lunch/afternoon tea from the day-time menu on the terrace.  The cappucino was served with home-made biscotti. The service was very good and the atmosphere warm. The other half of the owner couple told us that the casa is a popular place  for weddings. I can believe, though, a wedding budget of some size is required. Warm recommendations for the place: a trifle of tasty elegance to the day.

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The second suggestion, a very strong and memorable one, is Taverna Kus (Contrada Castello 14, San Zeno di Montagna, Verona). We went there twice and on both times after 10:30 pm. I guess we are really Mediterranean diners. Our daily trips and adventures took a bit more time than expected. On both times the restaurant was still open but the second time when we arrived after eleven the kitchen had closed, which is more than understandable. And this is where all points go to this place. Despite that we arrived rather late, the attitude of our friendly and professional waiter was super. He welcomed us, asked us to have a seat and said that he would see what he could do for us. And what happened was we got a delicious meal with warm bread, local quality salami, a selection of cheeses and well chosen wines.

The lets make this happen attitude  is something I really value, in life in general and also in customer service. And at the time of our visit this was really mastered in Taverna Kus.

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We sat in the atmospheric garden. The top flavours from the a la carte menu were fish from the Lake Garda prepared in three different inventive ways and a combination of veal and chantarelles. The wine recommendations were apt.

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The third place to tip is actually at the Milan Malpensa Airport. It’s the Ferrari Spazio Bollicine bar (in the main building on the first floor).  I’m tipping it because it really hit the spot. You know that feeling when you’ve got some time before your plane takes off and it would be nice to eat something, not heavily but something tasty and salty. And maybe toast to the successful holiday. This was the setting and after a bit of window shopping we saw the tempting aperitivo sign.

The food was colourful and fresh, the wine sparkly and good and the price very fair. It hit the spot, as a tall young man from Texas said when having a hotdog after we had finished the day working outside in the slightly chilly summer air in Iceland.

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Well fed in Italy, yes we were. The last picture is from the beach boulevard in Garda: a nice place for a stroll before dinner or for a post-dinner gelato.

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Visit to a winery: Villa Calicantus

One thing on my wish list (or must do list) for our trip to Northern Italy was a visit to a winery: to get to know and sip new wines, to learn about the making process and to enjoy the experience in the evening sun with fellow travellers and wine enthusiasts. I wanted to see and learn what it means to produce wine – and to taste, of course.

We chose Villa Calicantus, located in Calmasino di Bardolino (Verona). There are plenty of wineries in the Lake region so there really is where to choose from. I booked the visit by email on the previous week. We chose the Total wine tasting.

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We started from the  winery where our energetic and enthusiastic host and the owner of the place Daniele explained the different phases of producing wine. Villa Calicantus focuses on organic wine. In the cellar we tasted two wines straight from the barrel.

Then we came upstairs and sat on the terrace of the charming villa. Chickens pranced on the yard, the afternoon sun warmed us and ambient Italian music played in the background. We tasted a rosé and two red wines. We had the wines with local products like salami and olive oil and with homemade bread and a delicious mushroom topping. We finished with cherries filled with Grappa and Limoncello.

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After the tasting we walked to the vineyard behind the villa and Daniele told about the different tasks one must do when growing the vines. The vineyards are on a hill and from the top opened a view to the lake and the wine area.

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I enjoyed the tour and the evening and can recommend it. The visit provided information about the wine production process, but it wasn’t packed with info. It was informative but relaxed, and definitely tasty. If you want to go, make a reservation in advance by email. The price for two was 50 euros. The web page says they also organize Full Moon wine tastings. Might be very nice.