Forget Romeo and Juliet, the star-crossed lovers who put this rose-tinted town on the map. Go to Verona and find your own love story. Mine is with the Bottega del Vino, a 110 year old osteria tucked into a little ventricle off the beating heart of the historic centre of Verona. People tell me its quite touristy, but it never feels like it. By day, old men stand at the bar nibbling prosciutto. By night, it’s a mix of glamorous women, aging chief executives and food-lovers, as black-waist-coated waiters rush by with platters of grilled polenta covered in gorgonzola or speck, and pasta with horse.
The walls are covered with armagnacs from every year from 1900 to 1973, and the wine list is 2,400 bottles long. It’s a beautiful place that stays true to its traditions, and is an absolute must on your visit to Verona.
Personally I would avoid the expensive Il Desco and Dodici Apostoli restaurants, for a friendly down home osteria, like La Stuetta, near the ruins of the Roman theatre, or the trestle-tabled and curiously named Al Carro Armato (armoured car), or the impossibly atmospheric Osteria Dal Duca.
You have to have bollito misto, that full-on platter of boiled meats that is like the best Sunday lunch you’ve had in your life, at Ristorante Greppia, a picturesque family restaurant of vaulted ceilings, marble columns and reasonable prices, just off Via Mazzini. Here, the bollito master appears wheeling a gleaming stainless steel trolley.
First he will reach into the hot stock and produce a steaming hunk of ham, then a slab of beef, followed by a whole veal tongue, a rich fatty cotechino sausage, and a wobbly roll of testina (pig’s head). After arranging slices of each neatly on your warmed plate, he will return with the condiments - coarse rock salt, mostarda di frutta (mustard-glazed fruits), fiery horse radish, lush green salsa verde, and a huge bowl of what looks like runny oatmeal. This is “peara” the classic Veronese sauce of bone marrow, beef stock, Parmigiano and breadcrumbs. Each mouthful is a taste of medieval times.
If you have time to get out of town, go for the casalinga cooking of Ristorante Ciccarelli on the outskirts of town, where you will be surrounded by trolleys of boiled and roasted meats, grilled steaks, hand-made pasta, jugs of wine and tables of noisy locals.
Or just sit in the charming Piazze delle Erbe, with its famous daily markets of fruit, vegetables and books and fourteenth century fountain with its statue of the Madonna, and walk through the dark narrow streets and sun-washed piazzas, visiting the starkly beautiful church of San Zeno Maggiore and its accompanying fourth century brick tower, an exquisite ghost of Romanesque architecture, or the massive, crenellated fourteenth century Castelvecchio, with its graceful museum of madonnas.
This year, I made it to the old Roman amphitheatre, the Arena, for Zeffirelli’s production of Aida, which was a right spectacle. Other things to do in Verona: dining at Greppia next to the local priest as he slowly makes his way through a modest bottle of Valpolicella and potato gnocchi. Licking panna cotta gelati from the tiny little Gelateria Mazzini while strolling past Gucci, Prada and Versace, down the elegant Via Mazzini. Drinking Campari at the M27 bar as the deejay gets ready to do his stuff. Shopping for a picnic at G. Albertini salumeria, the very picture of 1950’s Italy, for olives straight from the barrel, first grade double-crowned local prosciutto, and house-smoked La Contadina ricotta. Rubbing the breast of the statue of Juliet in what was supposed to be her house ( yeah, yeah). Perching on silk cushions at the Arena while Italy’s finest opera stars bring Verdi to life in the gathering dusk. A Prosecco and mandarin juice cocktail at Café Filippini in Piazza delle Erbe. Tearing into a freshly baked, rose-scented Scarpato pandoro or colomba cake from a local pasticceria. But always, always, leaving room for dinner at the Bottega del Vino.
Antico Bottega del Vino-1890
Via Scudo di Francia, 3 (800 4535) (off Via Mazzini)
Antico Caffe Dante
Piazza dei Signori (59 5249)
Via Mantovana, 171- Madonna di Dossobuono (95 3986)
Vicolo Samaritana, 3 (800 4577)
Via Redentore, 4/b (803 2462)
Vicolo Gatto 2/a (803 0175)
Osteria Dal Duca
Via Arche Scagliere, 2B (59 4474)
Via Mazzini, 5
(Prefix numbers with 39 045)