Venice is likely the first place that comes to mind when considering a Northern Italian holiday. It’s hard to resist the gondola rides down the Grand Canal, endless bridges, Gothic palaces, and bustling central square Piazza San Marco. But with Venice’s beauty comes hordes of tourists, disappointing food, and a hefty price tag. May we suggest an alternative?
For a better travel experience, spend a day in Venice and then use the charming city of Verona as your base to explore Italy’s Northeastern corner. It’ll give you a truer sense of this region, with its varied and striking landscape, cultural offerings, and diverse cities and towns. Laid-back Verona, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracts fewer tourists than nearby Venice, but there’s tons to see and eat. The best part? It’s cheaper and you won’t have to constantly battle crowds to make the most of the city.
Verona is best known as the setting for Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and indeed you can and should visit fictional Juliet’s balcony and house. But there’s a reason this former Roman settlement inspired that famous romance: Verona, with its pink-hued buildings, is filled with many real treasures worth exploring. Visit the well-preserved, almost 2,000-year-old Arena, a spectacular Roman amphitheater that still hosts operas and concerts during the summer. Climb or take an elevator to the top of Lamberti Tower, the tallest in Verona, for some of the best of views of the city. Explore Castelvecchio, a fortified castle on the Adige river, and walk across its adjoining bridge for more gorgeous views, especially at sunset. Finally, end the day with an Aperol spritz in a cafe on Piazza delle Erbe, Verona’s forum in Roman times, or Piazza Bra, the city’s largest square.
Of course no visit to Italy is complete without indulging in its famous cuisine. Verona is known for its simple and hearty dishes such as gnocchi, risotto (try risotto al tastasal or risotto al radicchio), polenta, and pastas like bigoli, which is similar to spaghetti but thicker. For adventurous eaters, horse and donkey meat are also popular here, served in various ways; one common dish is pastisada de caval, braised horse meat.
Once you’ve had your city fix, drive about an hour north to Trentino, an outdoor lover’s paradise, with its mix of mountains, woods, lakes, and orchard-covered valleys interspersed with charming little towns. Life is slower in this region and it’ll automatically put you into vacation mode. Stay in Trento, a small city with a lovely old center, mountain views, and Austrian influences. From Trento it’s easy to explore the region, get active, and work off those carb-loaded meals. This part of Italy is home to the majestic Dolomites, a chain of Alpine mountains that are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, perfect for those looking to ski, hike, mountain bike, climb, or trek. If you prefer a less strenuous workout, numerous cable cars in the region can also take you to the eye-catching peaks and lookout points. Those into water sports can take advantage of Lake Caldonazzo or Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake. Or if you’d rather avoid exercise altogether, just sit back with a glass of wine, relax, and enjoy the stunning scenery.
Also set aside time to sample the region’s unique wines. Trentino is home to many wine growers who’ve joined large cooperatives, such as the winemakers Mezzacorona and Cavit. Some local wines worth trying include Teroldego, Lagrein, Schiava, and Marzemino, along with whites made from Nosiola. Lovers of bubbly are especially in luck. Thanks to Trentino’s mountainous climate, it’s a center for high-quality sparkling wines made in a traditional method, metodo classico. Around forty wineries in the region produce these wines so there are lots of tastings to be done. Visit Rotari, which specializes in these sparkling wines, and go for a guided winery tour. Sample its higher-end Flavio or its smooth and refreshing sparkling brut rose.