Wine, Romance and a sore back: a city break to Verona
What do you look for in a city break? Food and wine, definitely; impressive architecture, probably, a whisper of romance, possibly. But backache might not be high up on your list. And yet, picture the scene. It’s dark, almost unpleasantly hot, and the stone steps you’ve been sitting on for the past two hours are killing your back. Are you sold on this holiday yet?
And then, you raise your candle up, along with the 2000 other people in the Roman Amphitheatre in Verona, just as the heroine is about to meet her grisly end. It’s not proper opera unless the heroine meets a grisly end. This is the moment in 2019 that you will remember and treasure for ever.
A night at the Verona Opera Festival is very high up on the bucket list of most opera buffs, but what about those who have never been to an opera? Is it really something for them? Well, you are not going to know until you try, and if you are going to try, I do not think you will find a better place to go.
If you were going to take someone who had never been to a rugby match before, would you take them to Hackney Marshes or would you take them to Twickenham for a game against Wales? Even if they do not like rugby, and do not understand the rules, the experience of being there is just overwhelming…..even if you are Welsh and losing! Opera is the same. Go to Verona!
The festival is held every year between June and September. Performances this year (2019) include La Traviata, Aida, Il Trovatore, Carmen, and Tosca. Placido Domingo has a one off concert here, (not quite sold out). These are all easy to follow stories, with well known and dramatic music, so a perfect introduction for those who have not been to an opera before, and old favourites of those who have.
The performances tend to start after 9 pm, so it is a good idea to eat beforehand. There is food and drink available in the amphitheatre, and in theory you should not bring your own in. However, it is not that difficult to smuggle some in. The dress code is described as elegant. The definition of “elegant” perhaps declines along with the price, but essentially jeans and shorts are out.
Seat prices range from €200 for the best seats in the stalls with real seats, downwards to €26 for unnumbered seats on the stone steps up top. Unless you have a real problem with sitting on stone steps for a few hours, I would recommend the numbered stone steps at about the €60-€150 mark. You can hire cushions if three hours on stone steps seems a little daunting.
So that is the Opera covered. What else does Verona have to offer?
Verona is supposed to be the inspiration behind Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and the town boasts a famous balcony (Juliet’s) which will be an obvious Instagram subject.
You might also want to visit the Well of Love, which would be equally as good a subject for an Opera or Shakespearean tragedy. Local soldier tells his lover that her beauty is as cold as the water at the bottom of the well. She tells him to jump in. He obeys and promptly drowns. She is overcome with remorse and jumps in after him.
Verona has plenty of options for romance without quite such a dramatic ending. If you wish to end your day with a lovely meal. Verona is a Unesco recognised city and has plenty to offer in terms of restaurants and bars, architecture and ruins.
A number of wines well known in the UK are to be found in the vineyards around Verona, including Valpolicella, Bardolino and Soave. Amarone, known as the King of Verona wines, is made with the Valpolicella grape, which is dried for four months and then stored in wooden barrels for two years. A wine tour is one of the essential things to do in Verona.You may want to pair your Amarone with a hearty risotto all’amarone, using a local rice and large quantities of Monte Veronese cheese. Perhaps you would like to try the popular horse stew, or not.
If you want to fully immerse yourself in local culture, or even Culture, on a City Break, I consider Verona to be one of the best places to go. Even on a short break, the City is small enough to fully explore. You can really get under the skin of this City in a way that you cannot with the bigger Cities like Rome or Paris. The Opera festival really makes it stand out over other Italian or even European Cities, even if you do not know much about Opera.
There are a number of direct flights from the UK, with flight times being about two hours from Gatwick or Stansted. I would recommend a stay for four nights, which gives plenty of time to see everything the city has to offer and possibly a day trip out to Lake Garda. There are a good range of hotels from budget to 5* luxury. £700 per person is probably a reasonable figure for a 4* hotel towards the outskirts of the City, including reasonable opera tickets, while you should perhaps budget for £2000 pp for luxury closer to the centre of town.
As an ABTA regulated travel consultant, of course, I would always recommend going through a Travel Agent to ensure that your trip is fully protected and also to ensure that you get absolutely what you want, and that your hotel is conveniently located in the city. It is of course possible to book flights, hotels and opera tickets separately online. The most important thing to bear in mind if you are thinking of including the opera in your stay is to book now. This is a popular opera festival (because it is so good) and tickets do sell out.