Italy’s major cities are cracking down on tourist-led misbehaviour. Milan, Rome, Florence, Venice and Verona have seen a wave of bans including and not limited to bottles, selfie sticks, picnics and food trucks. The bans stem from the general decay of urban centres as much as their visitor led debris.
Anyone who travels to Italy in the summer months will agree that its cities are overrun by tourists. I spent last summer in Florence and was astounded by the number of people in its main square – Piazza della Signoria. The waiting time for entrance to the Uffizi Gallery was SIX HOURS and yet I, like everyone else, queued up to enter. What drove me to stand in line for six hours ask the sane amongst you? It’s worth it. Totally and utterly worth it. Herein lies Italy’s double-edged sword.
So, late this summer when I visited Verona I was desperate to avoid tourist traps. Even in October the city was packed with hordes of visitors. It’s easy to see why. The simple formula of great weather, good food and rich history literally sit side by side. The 1st Century Roman amphitheatre dominates the city and all the al fresco dining and coffee drinking happens around it.
However, this time round I approached Verona the Italian way. At the recommendation of a good friend (who happens to be Italian) I made the wise choice of staying at a villa away from the city centre. This meant that each evening when I was at the end of my tether being a tourist I could steal myself away to an authentic and far more satisfying Italian experience.
I stayed at the magnificent 19th century Italian villa, Al Giardinetto, in the quiet neighbourhood of Borgo Venezia. It was just 15 minutes from the city centre but far enough away from the crowds that I could still enjoy tranquility. The villa is owned by Rosanna Rossi who purchased it in 1985. Everything about its rustic charm appealed to the romantic in me. High ceilings, tiled floors and lace curtains that fluttered in the breeze as you flung open the deep green shutters was a far cry from what I encountered in the city.
Entrance to the villa was through its pretty giardinetto (little garden) complete with olive trees and a swing. It was perfect for a quiet coffee with my host before I set off for the day.
Inside, every detail was a nod to this home’s history. Watercolour pictures of flowers in the garden, the home and Verona adorned the stairway and the muted colours faded into the wall.
My double room up stairs was as rustic as I expected it would be. Twee pillowcases, quilted sheets and more hand painted pictures complimented the terracotta tiles on the floor and the windows rose from the floor all the way up to the ceiling. It was warm and comforting and I certainly had a feeling of home.
In keeping with the homely feeling of Al Giardinetto you can expect lots of home cooking from Rosanna. Starting with a home-baked chocolate cake dusted with icing sugar on arrival to a hearty Italian breakfast with coffee. It begs the question – why would you want to breakfast in the city.
Three Things You must Do in Verona
Visit the Amphitheatre
A short taxi or bus ride from the villa brought me straight to the busy heart of the city. The Verona Arena (Arena di Verona) is enormous and on the outside appears to be crumbling. However, this 1st Century AD Roman amphitheatre is the world’s third-largest to have survived and is still used today. I have it on good authority that during the Opera season it hosts magnificent performances.
Piazza delle Erbe
By all means stroll around the city and through the market. It’s a pretty town with lots of places to eat, fountains and medieval buildings covered in ancient murals. However, I covered it all within half an hour. So I recommend not spending more than 30 minutes here. After I’d seen the market and amphitheatre there was little to keep my interest. Save the day and head out of Verona to Lake Garda.
From Verona Porta Nuova the train to Dezenzano del Garda arrived here in under 30 minutes. After my decision to stay at Al Giardinetto this was the second best decision I’d made. It would be a waste to visit Verona and not visit the largest lake in Italy. Its name evolves from Germanic word warda, translating to place of observation. It is certainly that. I arrived here in time for the sunset and dinner. As it was October I did not have any difficulty finding a place to eat. However, if you’re visiting in summer I imagine you would need a little more time to get a table.
It is undoubtedly popular with tourists and there is no way around this. However, the lake itself is magnificent. Clear, blue and surrounded by villages and mountains. Its vastness reduces the human impact in that I failed to notice anything or anyone else other than the lake. This is one not to be missed.
Al Giardinetto is located at Via Tiberghien 11, 37132 Verona.
For bookings visit www.bnbalgiardinettoverona.com