The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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Armani and Juliet in Verona ...
Thursday, March 1, 2018 -- All of the Italys--the fabulously ornate past, the effortlessly sleek present, the hopelessly romantic dream and the tourist-besotted reality--come together in Verona, a small city almost exactly halfway between Milan and Venice on the high-speed train line. And everything you need to know about all of the Italys can be found at a particular house on the Via Cappello.
At Via Cappello, 23 is the Casa Di Giulietta, the purported home of Juliet. You know: Juliet. That Juliet. The star-crossed teenager of Romeo and Juliet.
Whether you embrace Shakespeare's account or accept this 13th-Century mansion as Juliet's home is of little import. What matters is that Number 23 has a romantic balcony and lovely windows. If you squint a bit and if you're in the right mood, it's impossible not to be swept away, to somehow believe that this is Juliet's home and Juliet's balcony and that yonder lies the window through which the soft light broke.
The tourists certainly believe. Some stand in the courtyard of Number 23 and peer up longingly at the balcony. Others pay their way into the museum to stand on the balcony and look down. Many surely conjure up intensely personal visions of love. Almost all who visit approach a bronze statue of Juliet and, for good luck, rub a hand over her much-fingered right breast. These days, they all take selfies--or urge friends to document them copping a metallic feel.
Then they file out of the ancient courtyard and walk directly into the Emporio Armani boutique that occupies the storefront of the Casa Di Giulietta. Or they push on to other nearby streets, many literally paved in marble, and spend money in the shops selling fashions from Italy's other designer names. If that won't suffice, the world's most famous consumer brands are here, too, all sharing a town of 260,000 people that somehow effortlessly hosts six million visitors each year.
GETTING THERE For Americans, a nonstop to Milan/Malpensa is probably the fastest way to reach Verona. All the major U.S. carriers offer service from their international hubs. Alitalia also flies nonstop to Malpensa from New York/Kennedy and Miami. Later this year, the restyled Air Italy--which is what new minority owner Qatar Airways has dubbed Meridiana--will offer nonstops to Malpensa from JFK and Miami, too. From Milan Centrale station, Frecciarossa trains need only about 75 minutes to reach Verona Porta Nuova station. ... If you don't have nonstop access to Milan, fly into Verona Airport (VRN) on Alitalia via Rome; Aer Lingus via Dublin; British Airways via London/Gatwick; or Lufthansa via Frankfurt.
GETTING AROUND To reach the heart of Verona, a tight cluster of small streets created by a hump in the Adige River, high-quality metered cabs from Porta Nuova only need about 10 minutes. Ditto for 20-minute transfers from VRN. ... An inexpensive shuttle bus runs between the airport and Porta Nuova. ... In the heart of Verona, walking is the way to go. The narrow streets are charming and the distances short.
WHERE TO STAY Verona's traditional grand dame, the five-star Due Torri, has gotten a makeover. But the better option is Escalus Luxury Suites. Rooms are larger, more modern and usually less expensive. The 40-square-meter Fashion Suites feel twice as large, with spacious bathrooms and bedrooms and a living room that even includes a hideaway kitchen area with electric cooktop, fridge, sink, espresso maker and tea kettle. The nightly rates include full breakfast delivered to your room. ... The only major chain hotel in Verona, a Crowne Plaza, is three miles from the middle of town and as unromantic as you'd expect a Crowne Plaza to be.
THE GLORY THAT WAS ROME After Juliet's house and her Tomb, people come to Venice for the Arena, the best preserved open-air Roman Empire amphitheater in Italy. It's still in use today, hosting popular music concerts throughout the year and the globally famous Arena Opera Festival during the summer. The 2018 season runs from late June through late August.
WHERE TO DINE Twenty-two years ago, my friend and former travel agent Gary Topping led a small party down a narrow street and up to an unmarked wooden door with a brass bell. He knocked and the door opened on Il Cenacolo, an elegant, cosseting, candlelit restaurant with a wood-burning display oven. The wooden door has been replaced with glass, but a return visit this week confirms Il Cenocolo is still glorious. The 44-euro tasting menu offers a cornucopia of grilled vegetables, Italian appetizers, roasted kid and a fusillade of steak, sausage and skewers of pork and peppers. The menu includes tastings of Risotto Amarone and tortellini, two Veronese standards. You literally can't eat it all--even though you try. ... Il Punto Rosa is a charming, quirky, bi-level place that serves nonstop until midnight, still a rarity in Italy. The food is great, the service is friendly and it's fun to eat among stacked cases of wine bottles. ... The gracious Piazza Bra fronting the Arena is lined with outdoor cafes that boast smashing people-watching--but indifferent, touristy meals. Go a few steps further to Vicolo Listone and Nastro Azzurro, a top-notch Veronese restaurant and pizzeria. It was getting a makeover this week so I couldn't visit, but it remains one of Verona's best (and best-located) dining rooms.
LOCAL COLOR Via Mazzini links Piazza Bra and Piazza Erbe, one of Italy's most scenic squares. (Piazza Erbe houses a daily market.) Strolling along Via Mazzini is almost as romantic as Casa Di Giulietta because you can't help making believe you're as sophisticated as the fine shops and the casually elegant Veronese out for their daily passagiata. Nothing seems to fluster these folks as they flit from coffee bar to gelato shop. They take tourist hordes in stride and are happy to share their lovely town. Two decades ago, Via Mazzini enthralled giggly Japanese shop girls toting bulky Nikons. Now it is cash-rich Russians with selfie sticks who are the most conspicuous visitors.
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