In this article our guest writer, Francesco Visconti, takes us to Verona for the weekend to find the true Italian heart of the city beyond the story of Rome and Juliet.
Everybody in the world knows Verona as the set for Shakespeare’s romance Romeo & Juliet and lovers go there as pilgrims just to see the famous Juliet’s balcony. But for an Italian who loves to travel and tries to discover the real soul of place, like me, it’s easy to perceive that this city is much more and that its romantic atmosphere came before Juliet’s balcony. A few weeks ago I spent a weekend in Verona, with my girlfriend, of course. I had already been here when I was 12 with my family, but only this time I could understand the specialty of Verona, if compared to many other Italian destinations, that foreigners visiting the town for just one day may not see.
We arrived at the train station on Friday afternoon just after lunch. The beginning of the autumn is the perfect time to visit Verona, with less tourists but still good weather and gorgeous colours all around. At this time of the day, when nobody’s in the streets, you can really enjoy the peaceful atmosphere on Corso Porta Nuova, the big boulevard that goes from the monumental door of the 16th century Porta Nuova to the centre. At the end of the boulevard we passed under the two arches that give access to Piazza Brà and it was like a jump in history. We left at our back the modern town to get in the old Roman town of Verona, whose symbol is the Arena, the second most known amphitheatre of the Roman age after the Coliseum. The Arena is less tall but larger than its brother in Rome, perfectly preserved and with an incredible acoustic that makes it perfect for concerts and music festivals!
Until 10 years ago the Arena was home of the most popular music festival in Italy, the Festivalbar and the first time I visited Verona it was just during the days of the event. So I couldn’t visit it and now I was just too excited to see it from the inside, to walk on the sand and climb the steps until the top to have a look at the rooftops of the surrounding square. In the Coliseum you can hardly touch anything, while in the Arena you are free to go all around the amphitheatre and, instead of thousands tourists struggling for taking a good picture, here we were almost alone and could make fly our imagination to the era of gladiators.
As you can suppose, we spent a good part of the afternoon in Piazza Brà and when we came out of the Arena it was already “Spritz time”. The Spritz is a typical drink from Verona and the Veneto region in general that people drink more or less at the same time when English drink tea.
In search of a nice bar, we passed from the Roman to the medieval era, walking through the pedestrian streets inside the walls of the old town. What really hit me is that almost all the area is pedestrian, something that I haven’t seen in any other Italian city and that really made me enjoy the walk. We finally found streets full of people going for shopping, for an ice-cream or chilling at the bars with their Spritz.
After our random tour of Friday night, we planned our Saturday to visit the rest of the city. Our first stop was Juliet’s house and balcony. We tried to go relatively early in the morning, but no matter what’s the time, half of the tourists in town are always pointing to that hypnotic balcony or to the statue of naked Juliet below it. We contributed to the ceremony for a while and then followed the tour into the more enjoyable Piazza delle Erbe. This place has always been the heart of Verona: it is the oldest square of the town and lies upon the ruins of the Forum of the Roman town, it’s been setting for the market and today is the heart of nightlife, full of bars and restaurants.
And it’s also an incredible collection of monuments and buildings of different eras: the house of the municipality, the Lamberti tower, the painted Mazzanti houses, the fountain with the statue of the holy Mary, the “Tribuna” and the column with the Lyon of St. Mark, symbol of the power of the old Republic of Venice, which ruled upon Verona in the 15th century. All these attractions are amazingly put together, without clashing each other, like in a colourful painting and at first sight, attracted by its elegance, you don’t even realize its wealth in culture and history.
We took a while to breathe and continued the tour. We just had to make 20 meters at the back of the House of Municipality to get to another amazing square: Piazza dei Signori, with at its centre the statue of Dante Alighieri. The imposing statue made the Veronese people give the square the name of Piazza Dante. It’s another square built in medieval times and surrounded by monumental buildings. The very curious thing is that each of them is linked to the next through arches. In a corner of the square there’s maybe the most particular monument of Verona: the “Arche Scaligere”, monumental tombs in the open air topped by arches in gothic style. They were considered the most honourable burial for the illustrious lords of the Scaligeri family, who ruled the city in the 14th century.
After a quick glance at the cathedral and the basilica of St Zeno, in the late afternoon, a bit outside the centre, we visited Castelvecchio, literally the old castle. We went there at this time to enjoy then a walk at sunset through the charming Scaligeri bridge, that crosses the river from the castle and then continuing along the river Adige until the Pietra bridge, the only bridge built in Roman times remaining nowadays. If you want to do something romantic in Verona, visit this side of the town under the night-lights!
We dedicated the Sunday to shopping and to try typical food from Veneto region. A foreigner wouldn’t appreciate the difference and everything that sounds like Italian food would taste delicious. But for an Italian that eats pasta everyday it was necessary to find a “trattoria” with typical Veronese cuisine!
Many thanks for this article to Francesco Visconti, a 26 years old Italian travel blogger and startupper, author of GaddersBlog and creator of the travel platform Gadders that helps foreign travellers discover the best places in Italy. He’s a full-time traveller, having been living abroad in different countries for 4 years, now living in Spain. He loves to know in depth a place and a country and, when home begins getting boring, starts looking for new destinations that stimulate his senses. Follow his Twitter feed and Pinterest or visit him on Google+.
Photo Credits: Photos by Francesco Visconti except Juliet’s Balcony by Jeroen Van Luin
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In this article our guest author, Lee McIntyre, shares some of the foods of South Tyrol she came to love while living in Bozen/Bolzano, Italy and invites us to experience the Törggellen festival, a mouth-watering celebration of autumn.
Bozen/Bolzano is a beautiful medieval town nestled at the foot of the Dolomite mountains, a town with a subtle blend of Italian style and Tyrolean tradition. But the thousands of visitors who use the town as a base to explore the surrounding natural wonders of the South Tyrol also know that there are a number of Tyrolean food specialties that shouldn’t be missed!
One way to taste many of those foods all at once is to head to the South Tyrol in the autumn to have a traditional Tyrolean Törggellen feast. I think of the Törggellen meals as sort of “harvest” celebrations, although I’m not sure that’s really quite an accurate description. Unlike the Thanksgiving holidays in North America and elsewhere, where everyone celebrates the harvest on the same day, there is no one day for a Törggellen. Rather, restaurants offer these meals throughout the autumn months.
A Törggellen meal begins with a typical Tyrolean first course of a starchy item: for example, you might start with Schlutzkrapfen/mezzelune, little squares of pasta that look like very thin ravioli, often filled with “something green” (a mix of spinach, onion and herbs, traditionally), pumpkin, or squash. This dish is topped with melted butter and Parmesan cheese.
Or you might choose instead some Knödel/canederli, which are big bread-based dumplings. These are made with bits of bread-for-stuffing (like you’d use to stuff a goose or turkey), which is then mixed with pieces of cheese, small chunks of Tyrolean cured bacon (Speck), and/or bits of spinach. This bread mixture is then shaped into balls or ovals and boiled in water. Like the Schlutzkrapfen, Knödel are often served in a melted butter sauce and topped with Parmesan cheese (my favorite!), although another typical presentation is serving them in a soup.
After the first course, the Törggellen feast becomes all about the meat. Specifically all about pork. I once had a hard time identifying all the kinds of pork products that were presented on a Törggellen platter, there were so many different varieties presented, including ham, roast pork, and many varieties of pork sausages. Pork dishes in the South Tyrol always appear alongside a bowl of some of the tastiest horseradish I’ve ever eaten, anywhere. It’s not sour and adds just a bit of a kick when combined with a bit of roast pork, or a slice of salami.
But the most different for me of all the pork offerings is the dark red Blutwurst sausage. In English, the literal translation of that is “blood sausage”, which doesn’t sound that appetizing, and it’s not something I ever ran across in the U.S. At a Törggellen it is served whole and hot on the central pork platter; you slice off a bit of it to transfer to your plate. It’s not as solid as the other sausages and it sort of falls apart and spills out of the casing when you cut into it. Lots of spices, including cloves, gives it a really distinctive taste. Very flavorful, very different … and very good, but definitely an acquired taste at first.
There are usually no vegetable side dishes offered at a Törgellen, apart from the piping hot sauerkraut, which has little pieces of pork mixed in, in keeping with the overall pork-theme of the meal. At the Törgellen feasts I went to, the bowl of sauerkraut on the table was constantly replenished – an all-you-can eat offering at the meal.
Of course, in some ways, even all of that food serves as merely a preamble to autumn-specific food that comes at the end of the meal: a huge pile of roasted chestnuts accompanied by glasses of the “new wine” that has just been bottled. Your fingers become quite sooty as you peel the still-warm blackened chestnuts, revealing the plump, cooked nut in side. It’s the perfect counterpoint to the slightly sweet and every-so-slightly fizzy new wine.
Although the chestnuts accompanied by new wine are available only in autumn, all of the other standard Törggellen specialties can all be found in restaurants year-round. So any time of year is perfect for a visit to sample the sumptuous flavors of the South Tyrol.
Read more about the food and wine of South Tyrol
To plan your visit to South Tyrol
For more information to plan your own visit, find accommodation and discover all the things to do in South Tyrol, visit the South Tyrol Tourism website
About our guest writer: Lee McIntyre is an American photographer, teacher and author who has lived, traveled and taken photos all over the world. Prior to moving to Tübingen, Germany in 2011, she spent three years in Bozen/Bolzano, Italy trying to master the ins and outs of life in a new language in the South Tyrol. Lee chronicles some of her adventures in her lighthearted memoir, “Life on a Gelato Diet: Everyday Expeditions with an American in Bolzano”, available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon worldwide, and for all eBook readers from LeanPub. Lee has also created a line of tote bags featuring some of her most popular photos from Bolzano. Available in a variety of sizes and designs from shop.clfoto.net, these bags are perfect for everyone’s everyday expeditions, anywhere in the world. Find out more about Lee’s current projects on her website at www.clfoto.net.
Photos: copyright Lee McIntyre except first photo by Heather Cowper
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Let’s imagine a perfect Sunday afternoon in South Tyrol. The sun’s shining and we’re having lunch on the terrace restaurant beside the sparkling water of Lake Kaltern, where families are sunbathing and enjoying a turn on the pedalos. It would be fun to have a swim but we’re off on our bikes to follow the small lanes above the lake that take us through the vineyards where ripe grapes are dripping from the vines and rosy apples are waiting to be harvested.
At the end of our cycle around the lake, we’ll stop to taste of some of the local wines from the small vineyards we just passed to round off the afternoon. Sounds inviting doesn’t it? This was my experience recently on a visit to South Tyrol, where in early September the summer crowds are heading for home and the weather is settled and sunny. It’s the ideal time to enjoy the fresh air and gorgeous landscapes combined with the gastronomic pleasures that this region has to offer, so let’s head off and enjoy the afternoon together!
Let’s start with lunch by the lake
Beside Lake Caldaro / Kalterersee (everywhere in this region has an Italian and German name) is the lido and restaurant at Gretl am See where it seems that the whole population of Bolzano / Bozen is out to enjoy the last weekend of the school holidays. The sun loungers are laid out on the grass around the swimming pool but the sun-worshippers have laid their towels out on the slatted wooden piers that overhang the lake. This is the warmest lake in the Alps, being relatively shallow and blessed with long days of sunshine, making it perfect for bathing late into the summer. There are pedalos for hire and we’ll be sure to keep an eye on the flag flying from the ruined fortress on the hill, so we know when the wind from Lake Garda will be strong enough to go windsurfing.
Our table has been reserved on the terrace overlooking the lake and today I’m trying the grilled trout, but you can have pasta or risotto if you prefer. We are in Italy after all, although this part of South Tyrol has a more Germanic feel. The restaurant is running a “fish week” menu with seafood dishes, since we’re not so far from the Adriatic, but I’m sticking with the trout from the Alps rather than the prawns or scallops from the Mediterannean.
If you go:
Gretl am See: Restaurant by the lake with a summer terrace, open from Easter to October.
Lake swimming at Kalterersee: Swimming is possible from May to October. In addition to the Lido at Gretl am See there are a couple of other places to bathe around the lake for a fee at Seegarten and Campi al Largo.
Camping at Gretl am See: There is a campsite right by the lake next to the restaurant as well as a number of hotels and self-catering accommodation around the lake.
Cycling on the wine road
It would be relaxing to spend the rest of the afternoon beside the lake, but I’m keen to explore more of the “Wine Road” that threads through South Tyrol. This well-mapped route for driving or cycling joins up the vineyards and wine producing villages where you can stop and taste the local wines and we’re planning to cycle a small section of it this afternoon. Let’s pick up our rental bikes in the village of Kaltern, on the hill above the lake and meet Roland, our guide for this afternoon. Roland is lean and tanned with spray-on lycra shorts and when he’s not leading cycling tours he works as a fitness instructor. Although we may not match Roland in fitness we have a secret weapon to help us keep up with him on the hilly stretches of our cycle route around the lake – our e-bikes. At the press of a button on the handlebars the electric motor cuts in and Hey Presto! suddenly the steep bits seem quite effortless.
We’ll follow Roland out of Kaltern and onto small lanes with hardly any traffic that run through the vineyards above the lake. The vines are neatly trained on wires with bunches of luscious, ripe grapes dangling at the bottom where the leaves have been trimmed away to give them maximum sunshine. Some of the bunches are plump and glossy black, others almost as small as raisins and others green and golden brown. I’m quite tempted to eat a few but I don’t quite dare, having read how one grape pulled carelessly off the bunch can lead to rot and spoil the whole bunch – enough to ruin a farmer’s day! Every so often there’s a large crucifix beside the road or a water trough at the edge of the vineyard planted with a rose bush or clump of lavender. In the shade of the vine we can spot a bench with a table and sense the good life, a place to rest from the sun in the shade of your own vines. Down in the valley is the blue water of Lake Kaltern and on top of the wooded hill the flag is now flying in the wind beside the ruined turret.
Let’s follow the road downhill as it leads us back down to the valley and the road beside the lake. The shady road through the woods is cool as we pass a few local houses where the ducks and chickens are pecking in between the vines. Outside one of the houses (website here) is a wine kiosk with bottles hanging up ready for a wine tasting, a small farm and wine producer which also offers accommodation under the Red Rooster organisation offering farm holidays in South Tyrol. We could have stopped to taste some but Sunday is a day of rest here in South Tyrol with most of the wineries being closed so we’ll press on past another larger guesthouse and winery Weinhof am See Ferienwohnungen a little further down the hill.
Apple time in South Tyrol
Now we’ve reached the road that runs along by the lake and cross over onto the SeeWanderWeg path that runs around the southern side of the lake. The land here is naturally marshy, too wet for vines and in between the apple orchards are drainage channels with wooden walkways leading into the Biotope area that’s been created among the reeds as a wildlife habitat. The apples look so appetising, some green, some yellow, some rosy red or plum coloured. I ask Roland where I might find the reddest apples to stop for a photograph and he tells me “there’s a place near my house in Kaltern where the apples are so red you can’t imagine, every time I pass them I want to pick one”.
Time is getting on so we’d better speed up along the far side of the lake with the wood rising up above us. Luckily the e-bike comes helps us keep up the pace as we pedal along, past a couple of hotels that have swimming places. The small paths thread through vineyards where the grapes are dripping below the pergolas and the land rises up towards the village of Kaltern. You’re probably getting thirsty on the upward stretch but let’s keep pedalling a little longer and we’ll get up to the main road where we can stop at the Wine Center run by the Kellerei Kaltern wine co-operative.
If you go:
Bike Hire: We hired our bikes from Piazza Rottenburger in Caldaro / Kaltern from €21 per day for an adult bike or €30 per day for an e-bike (worth every penny). You can also buy a BikeMobil card for 1, 3 or 7 days from €24 for 1 day which entitles you to use South Tyrol’s integrated Public Transport Network with Bike Rental for 1 day during the period from any of the stations or cycle hire places in the Sudtirol Rad / Bici Alto Adige network. More information on the SudTirol Rad Website
Time for some wine tasting
Phew we’ve made it! I think by now that we’ve earned a taste of some of the local wines after our ride around the lake, so let’s stop at the spacious modern Wine Center beside the road that runs from Bolzano. Like many of the wineries in this area the architecture is striking with glass walls and open spaces, contrasting with the older buildings nearby. Most of the wine makers in these parts farm small plots of land of a hectare or less so they go for quality rather than quantity and rely on the expertise of the wine co-operatives in the wine villages like Kaltern to produce and market their top quality wines.
You’ll notice that the staff are all wearing their dark blue aprons with pride, it’s a mark of an artizan food producer in South Tyrol. Before the Wine Center closes we’ve just got time to taste our way through a few of the many local wines on offer. There’s a Vial Weissburgunder Pinot Bianco which is fresh and fruity, a light wine for an aperitif, to drink with fish, risotto or pasta. Here’s the Premslaver Sauvignon 2013 and I’m tasting lemon and citrus flavours in this full-bodied wine which has been matured in oak for drinking with food. I’ve been looking forward to trying the Campaner Gewürztraminer although this grape is more typically grown around the village of Tramin which give the wine its name. The spicy flavours go well with Asian food and I’m tasting roses, lychee and mangos, although the style is not as floral as the Gewürztraminer that we tasted when we were in Alsace.
Although I prefer white wines, we can’t go without trying some of the reds like the Pfarrhof Kalterersee wine that is named after this area and is produced from the Vernatsch or Schiava grape that we passed on our cycle ride dangling from the pergolas. Then there’s the other typical grape of the region, the Carano Lagrein which is rich ruby red and full-bodied; “this is our Ferrari” says our sommelier. We’ll finish with a sweet desert wine, an award winning Muscat full of peach and apricot flavours, so delicious that I can’t resist buying a bottle to take home.
Our afternoon comes to an end as the Wine Center closes and I’ll pack that bottle of Muscat away in my suitcase, ready to open at Christmas and bring back the memories of the vineyards of South Tyrol, the sparkling Lake Kaltern and the 300 days a year of sunshine.
If you go:
Wine tasting: The WineCenter of Kaltern is right on the main road from Bolzano and offers tastings and purchases of a wide range of local wines. You will pay a small amount to taste each wine which is then set against any purchases you make. You can also find more information about wine tasting in Kaltern on the Kellerei Kaltern website and you will find their winery in Kaltern village, as well as the Wein.Kaltern website representing the wine growers of this area.
South Tyrol Wine Route: There are 3 sections of the wine route through the wine regions of South Tyrol, the Northern wine route starting in Bolzano, the Central Wine route from Merano to Lake Kaltern and the Southern wine route from Kurtatch to Salern. The Winepass MobilCard can be purchased in wineries and tourist offices and allows use of the South Tyrol Public Transport Network, combined with wine offers such as winery tours, tastings and entrance to wine museums. The cost is €35 for 3 days or €40 for 7 days. There is also a free South Tyrol Wineroad App to download for iPhone and Android and a free Culturonda Wine App with information about South Tyrol’s wine culture for iPhone and Android.
Information, articles and resources for South Tyrol
For more information to plan your own visit, find accommodation and discover all the things to do in South Tyrol, visit the South Tyrol Tourism website and watch videos about the region on their YouTube channel. For updates on things to do in South Tyrol follow the South Tyrol Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram pages
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