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Addicted to Verona

The charming city keeps our writer coming back for more.

SHAKESPEARE’S OBSESSION WITH ITALY IS WELL DOCUMENTED. A third of his plays were set in il bel paese and two were set in the obsession-worthy city of Verona.

I too am obsessed with Verona…nay, addicted. Over the past 25 years, I’ve rendezvoused with the city on upwards of 70 occasions, and each encounter deepens my decades-long love affair with this Venetian paramour on the Adige River.

Is the appeal rooted in the love story depicted in the Bard of Avon’s arguably most popular play? No, that story didn’t end so well. But Verona’s modern love story is just as passionate — entrenched in and fortified by wine, food, music, and theatre in a Goldilocks sort of setting.

Verona is neither too big (thus not attracting the mass of tourists of Florence and Venice) nor too small (it has both an airport and a train station, allowing relatively easy access to and from the city). It is located in the wine-producing Valpolicella hills and is home to the semi-organized chaos of Vinitaly — the world’s largest wine show, dedicated predominantly to Italian wine.

Perhaps it is because Verona is home to Vinitaly that the city’s restaurant wine lists encompass more than just selections of the region (unlike most parts of Italy, where restaurant wine lists predominantly reflect the local region’s production). Which brings us to the epicentre for wine in Verona, and not just during Vinitaly (but absolutely during Vinitaly) — the historical, globally renowned Bottega del Vino.

Bottega del Vino is a Veronese institution with a history dating back centuries. Its current owners are the Famiglie Storiche, an association of long-standing Valpolicella families, including Allegrini, Brigaldara, Masi, Speri, Tedeschi, Tommasi and Zenato, among others. The encyclopedic wine list is legendary as are the raucous, yet always remarkably civilized, crowds that spill into the alley outside the entrance during Vinitaly (held in April), revelling in the global selections from the establishment’s 20,000-bottle wine cellar, a multitude of mag- nums, and bubbles, bubbles and more bubbles. The Northern Italians may drink more Cham- pagne than the French!

The food is traditional Veronese with dishes like risotto con amarone (risotto with Amarone), bigoli con ragù d’anatra (bigoli pasta with duck sauce), luccio in salsa con polenta (pike in sauce with polenta) and guancia di manzo brasata all’amarone (beef cheeks braised in Amarone). The Bottega is a default, whether for an aperitif and cicchetti (snacks), dinner or a nightcap. The best part about the Bottega may be its lack- of-pretense, fun-loving staff led by manager Luca Nicolis.

While Bottega del Vino may be the temple for wine lovers visiting Verona, the city has no shortage of excellent restaurants and watering holes, many of which are located within the walls of or walking distance from the historic centre.

Al Pompiere is one of Verona’s oldest trattorias — warm, elegant and always a standout with simply but expertly prepared regional dishes, such as pappardelle al ragù di cinghiale (pasta with wild boar ragout) and gnocchi con ragù d’asino (potato dumplings with donkey ragout). The restaurant also boasts upwards of 30 types of cured meats and 100 types of Italian cheese.

Osteria Mondo d’Oro presents traditional flavours with a twist in a cozy, stylish room. If the weather is nice, ask for a table outside. Trattoria Pane e Vino (I’ve had horse here on several occasions and it was always delicious), Locanda 4 Cuochi and Osteria Enoteca Alcova del Frate will all allow you to eat well and feel great. At Tre Marchetti, it’s not unusual to have Matteo (the founder Roberto’s son) spontaneously perform an aria or to find yourself sharing the dining room with Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Zubin Mehta, Bruce Springsteen or one of the many other artists who have performed just steps away in the 2,000-year-old Arena.

Verona seems to excel at casual, simple and delicious. Locanda Le 4 Ciacole (a neighbourhood restaurant with great antipasti, outstanding pasta and a cool, fun wine list), Locandina Cappello (great for a quick meal) and Corte Farina (great pizza) will all satisfy. But if you want to go upscale, the one-Michelin-starred Il Desco elevates the experience with grace and finesse.

While wine may be at the forefront of Verona’s image, the cocktail craze spreading across the globe has not bypassed this city. Located just outside the walls of the historic centre, Enoteca Zero 7 is a lively spot for an aperitivo. Archivio for cocktails, Frz Lab with its massive selection of gin, and several of the bars surrounding Piazza delle Erbe are all equally suited as an evening’s beginning, middle or end. The Soda Jerk, with its speakeasy feel, seems abundantly comfortable as the potentially dangerous “shall we go for one more?” decision destination.

When travelling to Italy, many visitors default to Rome, Florence and Venice. Verona is worth a visit. Who knows, you too might just fall in love.


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By Gurvinder Bhatia