Tuesday 27 September 2016

Verona & Limone: A delightful taste of northern Italy in one trip

Italian Insider

Judy Murray

Published 28/12/2015 | 02:30

Beautiful Verona: The small 'centro storico' of the city is pleasant and easy to amble through, with many interesting buildings, piazzas and churches to visit.
Beautiful Verona: The small 'centro storico' of the city is pleasant and easy to amble through, with many interesting buildings, piazzas and churches to visit.

Don't skip Verona on a trip to Lake Garda, says Judy Murray. The Northern Italian city is a gem.

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Usually when people fly into a hub airport, it's straight into the hired car or the transfer bus, and, with eyes averted, drive directly to their holiday location. I flew to Verona, closest airport to Lake Garda, my destination for the weekend, but had been advised to spend some time exploring this lovely city and was delighted that I had not missed such a little gem.

Verona is one of several cities of Veneto, a large region in Northern Italy. Others include Venice, Padua, Treviso and Vicenza, all of them easily accessible by very good road and rail systems. If you do decide to stay in Verona, the small "centro storico" is pleasant and easy to amble through with many interesting buildings, piazzas and churches to visit. Right in the centre in Piazza Bra is the enormous Roman Amphitheatre or Arena, the third biggest in Italy.

This space originally held over 30,000 spectators for the Roman gladiatorial shows. During the Renaissance, it hosted circuses and cultural events, and in more recent history held some of the first cinema shows, and a spectacular visit from Buffalo Bill in 1906. Today it is home to the biggest open-air opera festival in the world, which runs every year from June to September attracting thousands of music tourists to the city.

Nearby is the fabulous Teatro Filarmonico, which is the main opera theatre in Verona, one of the most important (and beautiful) opera houses in Europe.

If music is not your thing, you can visit the 14th century house said to have been the home of Juliet Capulet, complete with the balcony (only installed in the 20th century) where she was wooed by a certain Romeo. Some believe this was all a figment of Shakespeare's imagination, but it does not stop thousands visiting the house. More letters are sent to Juliet in Verona than to Santa Claus, with notes and messages adorning most of the walls in the courtyard. I did not linger! Instead, I headed up to the small market in Piazza delle Erbe, a square dating back to Roman times, and was able to enjoy one of my favourite pastimes - checking out the local produce.

Nearby is the Arche Scaligere, the extraordinary Gothic monuments containing the bodies of the Della Scala family, who ran Verona during the 13th and 14th centuries. They built Castelvecchio, on the banks of the Adige River, famous for its architecture, gothic and Renaissance art, and worth a visit alone for the views from its parapets across the city and up to the Apennines to the north.

A busy, pleasant day was followed by a delicious meal of beef Taglia (not to be mistaken for Tagliatella pasta) thinly sliced fried strips of beef on a bed of sauteed seasonal radicchio, onions and pine nuts, washed down by a glass or two of very local Valpolicella.

The next day we took the long route to Lake Garda via Modena to do a taste tour at the Acetaia Malpighi. If, like me, you thought vinegar was for chips, and did not fully understand the current phase of dribbling balsamic on all and sundry (including strawberries) this tour came as a huge shock to my taste buds. Like Champagne, the traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is protected by the DOP label (appellation origin protected).

The juice for the top end Balsamic is matured in very special barrels for a minimum of 12 years, their internal patina developing the taste over the maturation period. We were plied with the different varieties, some 100% white Trebiano grapes aged for 5 years (delicious) others aged for longer periods and using red and white grapes, and of course using different woods for the barrels.

Everything involved in the creation informs the taste. Real Balsamic Vinegar should not be cooked, but sprinkled over food. At a cost of anything in the region of €150 per bottle a drop of the 25-year-old Gold Label on your parmesan, parma ham and strawberries is recommended. It is surprisingly delicious, and thankfully at that price it does keep forever.

Lunch was at the nearby Agrituristica Cavaliera, a farm up in the hills outside Modena. (http://www.cavaliera.it) Agrituristica means that all produce served has to be grown on the farm, or come from local suppliers.

In the beautifully restored barn, we had delicious, perfectly al dente risotto with vegetables, home cured meats, a local delicacy called gnocco fritto a light fluffy pastry served with conserves made of just-picked strawberries and peaches, all accompanied by a light red Malbo Gentile from the farm's vinyards, perfectly matching the food grown in the same ground.

With tastebuds truly primed, we drove to Limone, on the edge of Lake Garda, Italy's largest natural lake. With the beginnings of the Alps dominating the skyline to the north, we started our descent into the glacially carved basin, the sun hitting the high peaks to the west, the eastern side of the lake turning from navy to black.

It was a spectacular arrival.

The next day, we explored Limone, one of the smaller towns which form a necklace around the edges of Lake Garda. The name comes from an old Latin word for border, rather than the many lemon groves, which thrive on the terraces cut out of the hillside above the small harbour village.This is a museum to all things citrus. Ingenious growing methods involve glass frames being inserted into the structures during the winter months to keep the citrus trees warm, and growing.

I strolled up through these terraces breathing in the heady aroma of lemons, limes and grapefruits.

The narrow cobbled streets of Limone are easy to negotiate and you are never far away from the harbour with pretty little squares, cafes and restaurants to sit in and people-watch.

Sipping a glass of chilled sparkling Ferrari I had arrived at my final destination, Lake Garda, and it was time to relax.

And to savour the many other delights of Italy.

Getting there

Crystal Summer (01 673-3839; crystalsummer.ie) has packages to Limone, Lake Garda departing May 21 including seven nights in Hotel Leonardo da Vinci in a twin-room en suite with balcony from €809pp half-board.

Pre-bookable tours: Lake Garda Tour from €50 per person; Flavours of Trentino from €47 pp; Wine Tour from €49 per person.

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