Naturally defended on 3 sides by the Adige River and a wall on the other it has been a strategically important location for millennia. Both the Hapsburg and French empires claimed Verona at some stage but when Italy became a nation state n the
19th Century Verona joined and as has been every since. Damaged and rebuilt after WW1 today Verona has an immense cultural and historical heritage that draws tourists from far and wide.
Central to the attraction is the arena built in the 1st Century AD, the 3rd largest in Italy after the Coliseum and the Capula. In its heyday of gladiatorial combat it could seat 30 000 spectators. Today the arena is home to more passive pursuits and hosts the annual opera festival that draws 500 000 visitors each year. Celebrating its centenary in 2013 this 57 concert festival that runs from mid June to early September is the world’s premiere outdoor opera festival. There is nothing quite like listening to one of the famous arias from Aida, Carmen of Barber of Seville whilst soaking up 2000 years of history and the overwhelming spectacle of a vast stage and often casts that run into the hundreds!
This is a true once in a lifetime experience.
The festival rotates the great works of Puccini, Verdi and other great Italian composers, but the feature each year is the big set produced for Aida, the flagship opera which had its world premiere here in 1913.
The beauty of the opera is that fact that you can create the experience you want to. From black tie and silk skirts to short sleeves and slacks; it all blends together to create a unique atmosphere.
Typically the opera commences between 9 and 9.15 pm and runs until around 1am when everyone pours out into the street cafes surrounding Piazza Bra and the area comes alive. Soak up the atmosphere with a night cap and await the stars of the opera to walk out and be greeted by the adoring crowd. One Direction eat your hearts out – In Italy opera is king!
If attending the opera in Verona is on your bucket list of experiences then a 3 day break to Verona is in our mind optimal. Depending on your interests and the summer temperatures (it can get hot!) it is possible to visit most of Verona’s key highlights in two days.
Verona has Shakespeare to thank for the legend of Romeo and Juliet. A visit to Juliet’s house is a great way of experiencing romance in Verona. The belief is that this was the home where Juliet the heroine of one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies lived. The medieval residence has been beautifully restored and allows you a few private moments on that famous balcony overlooking the bronze statue of the heroine herself.
We would then suggest you move down to Piazza Erbe the most elegant area of town. Perhaps visit the opera museum en route prior to taking a coffee break at one of the outdoor cafe bars. A visit to the top of the Torre dei Lamberti tower behind the square, where a lift takes you to the bell tower, affords panoramic 360 degree views over Verona. The bells at the top of the tower peel out every hour and half hour.
Head down to the Chiesa Anastasia the most impressive church in Verona. Its interior harmoniously combines gothic and Romanesque features and frescos by Pisanello.
For a look back across the city cross over the Ponte Pietra and climb to the Castel san Pietro viewing location above with its views back across the city. If you would like to break for a drink or lunch then the Terazza Bar Al Ponte nestled on the city side of the bridge is worth a visit. The location is superb.
If churches are your thing then a couple of minutes from the Ponte Pietra is the main Duomo. Not as ornate as the Chiesa Anastasia it is however located in the oldest corner of the city from where you can see the ancient walls and mosaics of the city from the church’s side rooms.
This only leaves the Castel Vecchio, a 5 minute walk away and then you can satisfy yourself that you have seen the highlights of city.
You could do all of the above in a day at a push but then half the fun is taking time out for a coffee or spritzer or indeed a gelato in the excellent ice cream bars. Two days is prefect and to get best value the Verona card will give you free entry to all the main sites.
For a pre opera dinner near the arena where you can see the atmosphere build we would recommend the excellent Marchetti restaurant a stone’s throw away from the arena. With an exquisite indoor dining room and pavement tables the classic cuisine is excellent.
Then it’s on to the opera for a night to remember!