Verona - Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s heartbreaking tale of forbidden love, set in Verona, brings thousands to this ancient city’s narrow streets to retrace the tragic paths of the couple.
To mark 400 years since the Bard’s death, performances of the play, in English and Italian, are being held in the cobbled courtyard of Juliet’s House and run until the end of September .
Get your bearings
Verona is now the fourth most visited city in Italy, with a compact historic centre studded by bell towers, as well as a dynamic restaurant scene between the frescoed churches. If you arrive at the main Porta Nuova train station, head straight down Corso Porta Nuova to arrive at Piazza Bra, where the main tourist office is located. Here you will also find the Roman Amphitheatre, known as the Arena, a good central point from which to plan your sightseeing.
The excellent Verona Card is available from tourist offices, many attractions, churches and news kiosks and entitles you to free city bus travel as well as free or reduced entry to most tourist sites.
Take a hike
Start at the Porta Borsari, a Roman construction that was once the main gate to the city, and walk down Corso Porta Borsari, pausing for an aromatic coffee at 15d, Caffe Borsari. Pass the Gardello Tower, a former prison and watch tower and stop for a delicious ice cream at Pretto at Piazza dell’Erbe 40.
Savour it as you explore Piazza dell’Erbe. Once the Roman forum, its name comes from its time as a vegetable market in the 15th century. Head out of the square to Juliet’s House at Via Cappello 23. Thought to have once belonged to the Capuleti family (the real-life equivalent of Shakespeare’s Capulets), the house dates back to the 12th century. In the courtyard you’ll find a bronze statue of Juliet , while the interiors have been decorated 14th-century style. A balcony was added on in the 20th century, seemingly in an attempt to strengthen the connection to Romeo and Juliet.
Return to Via Mazzini with its designer shops, which brings you to the Arena, built 50 years before Rome’s Colosseum. If it’s opera season, you’re better off catching a performance, as seats are installed in the interior, preventing a full view of its Roman glory.
Lunch on the run
With its fast-paced service and typical Veronese fare, informal Osteria del Bugiardo at Corso Porta Borsari 17A is an ideal lunch spot. Try pasta with aubergine, tomato and fresh ricotta.
The Italian eye for design permeates all of Verona’s shopping streets, but particularly attractive is Corso Porta Borsari. Dip into Fabriano Boutique at number 47 with its bright leather notebooks and then browse through the equally colourful baubles at Canestrari at number 37A. Fabulous fragrances, especially melograno (pomegranate) can be found in Santa Maria Novella at number 9.
As you head north-east, the street changes name to Corso Sant’Anastasia. At number 4 is the century-old Fazzini - a shop famed for its knives, though those travelling with hand luggage might want to opt for the pasta cutters instead.
Dine with the locals
A relatively new addition to Verona’s dining scene is Locanda 4 Cuochi at Via Alberto Mario 12, where you can sit at the bar and watch the cooks whirl around the open kitchen. More traditional is Bottega del Vino at Via Scudo di Francia 3, a pre-opera haunt for locals that dates back a century.
Go to church
The Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore, on Piazza San Zeno, is named after Verona’s patron saint and has foundations which date back to the ninth century. Look for Andrea Mantegna’s triptych before the main altar, representing the Virgin and Christ-child among saints.Sunday mass is held at 10am and 11am, and the church opens for visitors from 12.30pm.
Take a view
Head towards the River Adige, using the spire of 13th-century Santa Anastasia or the bell tower of the Duomo to guide you close to the river. Cross Ponte Pietra, a stone bridge that dates from the 1st century BC, and climb up the 100 or so steps facing you on the other side. Pass the Roman Theatre on your right and keep walking up until the whole of the terracotta-roofed city lies beneath you across the river. It’s worth it.
Out to brunch
Il Cenacolo at Via del Teatro Filarmonico 10 was one of Luciano Pavarotti’s favourite restaurants and its hearty menu makes it a perfect option for brunch, as it will last you the whole day.
A walk in the park
Giardino Giusti at Via Giardini Giusti 2 ( palazzogiardinogiusti.it) was planted in the 16th century by the Giusti family, just behind their palace. The lower part is a typical Italian garden, decorated with statues and fountains and hedge mazes, while the upper terraces are wilder and dominated by gargoyles, grottoes and a belvedere. Open 9am-8pm.
Castelvecchio at Corso Castelvecchio 2 has been demolished, rebuilt and altered a number of times. The 12th-century castle walls house a museum of military artefacts, sculptures and paintings. Unfortunately 17 of the best paintings, including Mantegna’s Holy Family, Pisanello’s Madonna of the Quail and further works by Rubens and Tintoretto have not been on display since they were stolen (and recovered) last year. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 8.30am-7.30 pm; Monday from 1.30pm.