Verona

This is the third destination in the Northern Italy itinerary. The details related to planning for this destination and the others on the Northern Italy circuit are described in The Northern Italy Travel Planning post..

Verona is not on everyone’s itinerary for Italy. From experience, Verona is lightly touristed as compared to other destinations visited in Italy. There were no tourist buses parked en masse, there were no cruise ships pulled into port, and the city had a smaller town feel to it. There were plenty of discovery opportunities in Verona. There were interesting churches – one with origins dating back to the 4th century, and all kinds of points of interest – an intact, in-use, 2,000 year old Roman Era Coliseum, museums, and a lovely walkable riverfront that allowed for a grand discovery trek. The city was completely explorable by foot. There were plenty of excellent restaurants, some recognized with a Michelin star or two.

 

Arrival

It was a three hour drive from Genoa, Italy to Verona, crossing from Liguria into the Piedmont, then into Lombardy, and Emilia-Romagna, and finally into the Veneto arriving in lovely Verona. The drive exiting Liguria into Lombardy is hilly, with lots of tunnels, and is an exciting kind of drive with twists and turns, if one is inclined for that sort of a thing. Once outside Liguria, the landscape turned mostly towards farmland, and the road became Northern Italian Autostrada. And to be clear, the Italian Autostrada is not an exciting road to drive. They built barriers on the Autostrada, like high walls, I suppose for safety reasons, that didn’t allow for scenery to be part of the driving experience. And so, most of the drive on the Autostrada did not compare well with previous driving experiences – in Italy specifically, and in Europe in general.

 

Settling in

Exiting the Autostrada and working my way into the old part of town to where our apartment was located didn’t take a lot of time – maybe 10 minutes. It speaks to the smaller size of Verona. Milan was grand. Genoa was scruffy and rough around the edges – but definitely a large city. Verona was a pleasant surprise on arrival, as compared with our previous experiences in Italy on this trip. As a smaller town with a concentrated historic center, it was a welcome change of pace from both Milan and Genoa.

With secure, covered parking just a two minute walk away, many good restaurants within easy walking distance, and similarly easy access to the historic center, the Verona apartment could not have been more accommodating to someone who defines discovery through being a pedestrian. The apartment was beautiful, and well appointed with all of the necessities to make home for the duration of the stay. It had a grand balcony with a outdoor seating and an umbrella to provide shade. But most importantly – the shower worked well, and the bed was comfortable. The air conditioning was both necessary and welcome as we were having a bit of a heatwave during our stay. There was even a view of one of the church towers through the front window. The apartment was secure, and our host was helpful and accommodating, answering our questions as they arose. The apartment made for a pleasant and immersive stay in lovely Verona.

 

Discovery Trek

With Grand Milan, and interesting, but “scruffy” Genoa behind me, I was looking forward to a more intimate, smaller town experience in Verona.

Walking around Verona was a very enjoyable experience. Being a pedestrian was a delight. There was traffic, but it was on a normal scale – lacking the din and density of a larger city. As we walked around town we noted on many occasions that there were available parking spots, and on one occasion we wandered into a section of town with a complete street-full of available parking spots, which was unseen anywhere else on this trip. That was but one example attesting to Verona being a smaller, more accessible, and less touristed part of Northern Italy.

I found Verona to be very immersive from my perspective. Amenities within easy walking distance, historic 2000-year-old Colosseum in the heart of the old town, and churches dating back from the fourth century, all add up to an extremely interesting place to visit. But moreover, it suggests a place that is livable as an expatriate retiree, as someone that wants to move to Italy and enjoy the ambiance of a historic Italian town with great attractions, but without having to endure the issues around grand tourism, and a large city.

 

Lake Garda Day Trip

The weather during our stay in Verona was hot and humid, with temperatures in the afternoon approaching 100F. It’s the kind of heat and exposure that requires attention to hydration if engaged in outdoor activity. Walking is my mode of discovery, and my way of getting the sense of being there – the feeling of immersion. And with heat and humidity of this caliber, walking is best done in the morning when the weather is cooler, and the sun less direct. So with the weather behaving as it did, it was a better idea to take a little road trip to easily accessible Lake Garda for the afternoon – just a twenty minute drive to get to the beginning of the scenery, and in the comfort of our air conditioned Alfa Romeo.

We ended up circumnavigating Lake Garda, stopping in the town of Garda at Parco Baia delle Sirene, and stretching out legs for a bit. My impression of the Lake Garda area was that it was much more densely populated and touristed on its East shore, as we passed through more towns along that part of our route. The Western shore of Lake Garda had more cliffs, and other terrain that made it inaccessible and sparsely populated.

 

 

Food Scene

Zen Pizzeria

This restaurant was a few steps away from the apartment and was very convenient for lighter fare and pizza. The service was good, prices fare, and we couldn’t beat the convenience factor.

 

Vesuvio

This is a restaurant just two minutes down the road from the apartment, with outdoor seating facing the river and a nice cross breeze. Antipasto plate with mixed salad for starters, a veal chop, and eggplant parmigiana for the main courses. The antipasto had buffalo mozzarella, black olives, picante salami, pickled cauliflower, and anchovies. The antipasto selection had a nice variety of flavors. With the buffalo mozzarella as a foundation, a pickled pepper added a bit of sour, the salami was spicy,  the anchovies salty, the pickles were savory, and the cabbage was bitter. What a well orchestrated variety of flavors. The eggplant was rated as fabulous by my choosy wife. The veal chop could have been a little more tender, possibly because it had drifted past medium rare on the grill.

 

Tre Marchetti

Smoked salmon, seabass, swordfish as a starter, fresh squid over veggies as the main, paired with a bottle of local white wine recommended by the knowledgeable waiter. The smoked fish was very tender but the smokiness was mostly an aromatic as opposed to a flavor. The presentation for the smoked fish was very interesting as it was served under a cloche with thick smoke trapped underneath it so that the fish was not visible.  As the waiter lifted the cloche, the smoke dissipated in a puff around our heads – it was a fanciful presentation. The tiny, 3 inch squids over vegetables were very tender and tasty. This restaurant was upscale, with excellent professional service, and the only place on this trip that added a 15% service fee to the check.

 

Epilogue

Reflections on Verona. I did expect a smaller town experience, and a nice diversion from cities the size of Milan, and Genoa. And I was pleasantly surprised by how pedestrian accessible and explorable this lovely little city turned out to be.  The Lake Garda side trip was a bonus. Altogether, we had a lovely experience living like locals in Verona. I would consider being a resident of Verona for an extended period – it was that lovely.

Related Travel Planning

Related Destinations

 

 

Northern Italy Travel Planning

Northern Italy Travel Planning - Milan, Genoa, Portofino, Verona, Como

Motivation – Northern Italy Travel Planning

This is about travel planning – an exercise in imagination regarding where to go, and moreover, why go there. It helps me set my own expectations about what’s to come at the selected destinations. The theme of this trip is a selected region within a single country – Northern Italy.

Italy is a country I continue to return to, and continue to discover, time and again. The regions I’ve already visited are varied, and differ from one another in geography, climate, cuisine, language, and other dimensions I have yet to discover. But they’re all interesting.  

Having passed through Milan several times previously in transit to Venice, and Florence, I knew I wanted to eventually spend time there. Milan is the anchor of this Northern Italy trip, being both its entry and exit points, with the rest of the destinations visited in a circuit.

I wanted to visit the Ligurian Italian Riviera, specifically the town of Portofino and thought it would work out well as a day trip from Genoa.

Having previously been to Venice, I wanted to further explore the Veneto region, and do so through stopovers in smaller towns that would present a different kind of profile, and less densely touristed. It was a toss-up between Vicenza and Verona. I picked Verona because it made a tighter geographic circuit, and it was closer to Lake Garda – I thought it might be nice to explore there if time permitted.

And finally, I needed to see Lake Como, and the wonderful towns, and villas dotting its shores that I’ve read so much about in the media, and travel blogs.

 

Itinerary – Northern Italy Travel Planning

The calendar allowed for 9 nights on this trip, scheduled over the American Independence Day holiday, the 4th of July.  Four destinations would be a challenging itinerary as transit time would cut into exploration and discovery, but I really wanted to see all four destinations. I thought Milan deserved the extra time as compared to the other 3 destinations as it was by far the grander city, with the most exploration to be done.

 

Milan – 3 nights

 

Genoa – 2 nights

 

Verona – 2 nights

 

Como – 2 nights

 

Logistics – Northern Italy Travel Planning

From my home base in Atlanta, nonstop flights to Milan are available through Delta, and Alitalia as a Delta code share. While non stop flights are by far the most convenient, they can be very expensive, especially for the summer high season. Typically finding nonstop round trip tickets under $1,000 is pretty rare because the International market is dominated by Delta, and the lack of competition out of Atlanta. But I happened upon a flash sale by Alitalia where they were discounting coach fare to under $700. At that price point it was a good value, so I jumped on the opportunity.

With 4 destinations, and each separated by a three hour drive from the previous on my selected circuit, it logistically made little sense to use trains, or any other public transportation as it would take even longer to get to the next destination. Trains in particular may have multiple stops, may not run on time, may require a change with added connection time, and so on. Therefore I elected to rent a car, and here too I found a bargain through Rentalcars.com on an Alfa Romeo.

Car rental is a bit different in Italy in that insurance coverage is compulsory for primary coverage. Most insurance comes with high deductibles, and full coverage is either not available or comes at a high price. I typically use American Express as my primary coverage when possible, or as the secondary coverage when primary insurance is compulsory, as in this case with Italy.  This has worked well for my personal situation.

I have a strong preference for apartments over hotels for several reasons. In general, apartments are a better value as compared to hotel rooms because they have much more space, can come with a washing machine so that both excess luggage and laundry services can be avoided, and are typically less expensive than hotel rooms – sometimes much less expensive for a much better experience. And the most important reason for apartments over hotel rooms is that it leads to a much more immersive experience for me.

I can find apartments in the center of the old part of town in most of the destinations of interest, which leads to more exploration time because I’m already located where I usually need to be for my style of travel, and I avoid transit time to the center of town. An apartment feels more like being a resident as compared to a hotel room. I found excellent apartments for each of the four destinations on this trip using a combination of Homeaway.com, and Booking.com

 

Resources – Northern Italy Travel Planning

Google Flights is my standard tool for research, and planning airfare. There are plenty of others, and I’ve tried most, but find that I really don’t need to save the very last nickel at the cost of spending more time chasing that nickel.

Booking.com, and Homeaway.com, were used to book all of the apartments for this trip. My preference is to avoid Airbnb because they’re not transparent with property locations, and do not promote the size of their properties in their standard description.  But I do use them if I can circumvent their deficiencies.

Google Maps is absolutely indispensable for planning purposes. I shudder to think what trip planning would be without it. I download the maps for the countries I travel, to avoid being out of cell range (highly unlikely in Europe), and to navigate should I exceed my daily data allowance.

Google Translate is installed on my phone and smart watch with Italian already downloaded for this trip. This way I can translate on the spur of the moment even if I have no data left for the day, or if I’m out of cell range (which still happens when indoors in some locations).

Tripadvisor is awesome for advanced travel planning, as well as finding a decent restaurant on the spot. 

 

 

Related Destinations – Northern Italy Travel Planning