Nope. I forgot about the roads. The roads, at least in this part of Italy are terrible, not because of
their condition but because there is not one square intersection anywhere. When stopped at a traffic light, one must make a decision on which one of the dozen available roads to take to get you to where you are going. Each and every intersection resembled an octopus about to pounce upon its prey. Even the Google Bitch was confused. But, you ask, why should I care about the roads and why Verona of all the places in Italy to start out?
We chose Verona because the flight from Copenhagen to Bergamo was only $44.00 each (yes, we’re cheap) and it seemed more appealing than a large city like Milan. Verona is in the heart of many yummy wine appellations, including:
Valpolicella, Soave, Bardolina, Lugana, Custoza, and Durello. More on some of these later. But, yes there is always a but, in order to easily get to Verona from the airport near Milan and to visit the wine appellations at our leisure we would need a car. Sure, we could have taken the train and done the wine tour thing, but what’s the challenge in that when we can drive crazy roads in a foreign country? So, here we are driving this white Fiat toaster, our Italian Porsche, through this maze the Italians call roads.
But I kept cool under the pressure, meaning I didn’t live up to my reputation as Cranky Pat, and
we arrived safely at our AirBnb near the old city center. And an excellent AirBnb to say the least. We had this lovely place all to ourselves for a full week.
Once we settled in, our first priority was to find a good local source for our daily wine and to find a nice neighborhood restaurant for our daily repas. As luck would have it, just a few block away was a wine shop called La Cantina de Santa Toscana. You can find them on Facebook. Many positive things going for this place: 1. He sells wines from Custoza, Valpolicella, and Soave. We fell in love with the Valpolicella Superior, the Ripasso, and especially the Amarone from the Monte Del Fra winery. Also, a must is the Grappa Di Amarone also from the Monte Del Fra winery. 2. You can fill your own bottles, a process known as vino sfuso (see featured photo credit-CK). He had empty one liter bottles for sale at 0.50euro and the wine, excellent for everyday drinking, cost 2euro per liter. 3. Friendly and helpful owner that actually spoke a little English. Very rare in these parts.
Next on the agenda was to find our favorite little neighborhood restaurant. Our AirBnb host told us about a little place nearby called
Pizzeria Trattoria Bar Santa Marta SAS. All locals, no tourists, and the food was good local fare. One of waitresses actually spoke a little English which helped immensely, because navigating an Italian menu is similar in difficulty to driving Italian roads. Not only do you have to figure out what the hell you’re ordering but for which course; First the antipasto, then the primo, followed by the secondo, and on and on, ending in the dolce.
We ate here almost every night. Very charming atmosphere and the prosciutto and mozzarella antipasto, for 8euro, is killer (we ate it almost every night!).
Now it was time to explore the city. As advertised, the city on the river Adige is stuffed to the brim in antiquity, diverse architecture, and Italian fashion statements. Verona became a Roman colony in 89BC, according to Wikipedia. 89BC! That was a damn long time ago. I think that should give you some idea of what type of ruins and architecture we were looking at in Verona. Between 89BC and the end of the first world war, Verona was ruled by almost every tribe and country on the continent of Europe. Amazingly, it only became part of Italy in 1866 after the Austrians evacuated the city. We started our walk by touring some roman ruins on the outside of and across the river from the old city.
Then an easy walk across the bridge into the old city. This section is less traveled, as it is a distance from the old town square and the arena. We found a nice little bar for a beer and watched how the locals did lunch. A small bar occupies about a third of the front room eating area. On the bar are an assortment of small sandwiches and other toothpick material goodies. It was kind of like Spanish tapas. You walk in, stand at the bar and order a drink, then you begin munching on whatever you want. All on the honor system. Once satiated, you call for your bill and you’re off back to work. Now that’s what I call fast food!
Beer and people eating food watching completed, it was time to continue our trek towards the old town center. And what a change the center was from the edges of old town from where we had come; bustling with tourists and shady sorts. Twice we were approached, by the same man, asking if we had change for his shiny, new, 1euro. 1 euro? Why would someone need change for a mere 1euro? Ahh, counterfeit perhaps. We politely declined and marched off. Since we’re on the subject of shady sorts, I always carry my wallet in my front pocket and tether it to my belt. Be careful and always stay aware of your surroundings. You’ll find everything from ancient Roman ruins (The Arena), fountains, markets, and even giant fashion
billboards in an ancient square here. On the river near the edge of old town is the very scenic Castle Vecchio, Old Castle, and it’s worth a visit. I guess they couldn’t come up with a more creative name for it. I wonder what it was called when it was new? Anyhow, crossing the Castle Vecchio bridge provides some nice photo ops of the river. Just be aware that around mid day the place is packed with tourists. Plan accordingly. We were there mid day, almost everyday, because of a small nicely maintained park, where we would break out a bottle of wine with the usual goodies for our afternoon meal. It’s also a great place to just people watch. One day we were entertained by a group of 20 somethings tight rope walking between trees while snacking. The green spaces, overall, were lacking and poorly maintained in Verona. Not what one would expect with the great climate here. But we were here for more than visiting old stuff and walking around touristy areas. We were here to explore their wines.
And you know what that means, right? That’s right, getting back in the car and negotiating Veronian roads. Getting to the Custoza area was a mere 20 kilometers away, but there were many octopi intersections to navigate through. One intersection in particular we never got through correctly, even confounding and confusing the Google Bitch resulting in her complete meltdown. We did get there though but we were only able to visit two wineries, Tamburino Sardo and Monte del Fra. To say the experience was laid back is an understatement.
A family run winery, Tamburino Sardo’s tasting (get Google translate up and ready) room is located atop a hill in an unpretentious building. We arrived right at the afternoon opening time and were greeted by one of the owners. I don’t think they get many visitors. Maybe wine tasting isn’t a thing in this part of the world, because we were the only people there. He spoke very little English but worked hard to make himself understood, apologizing for his broken English. After tasting a few of his reds and whites, all very good, he told us that the Custoza region was better known for their whites and Valpolicella better known for reds.
Now off to Monte Del Fra another family owned winery. We had already tasted some of their wines because our local wine shop featured them, so we knew we were in for a treat. It had the same vibe as the last place, unpretentious and laid back. So laid back, in fact, that the tasting was self serve. When Carrie attempted to inquire about a tasting, she was told, in Italian, that she was to serve herself what and how much she wanted. WOW!, now this is my type of place. So, while we drank one amazing red after
another, especially the Amarone, we watched 3 guys fill up huge vessels with wine from the stainless cylinders in the tasting room. Apparently, you come here, fill up your jugs for the week and head home. Of course, while you’re filling up your jugs, fill yourself up with some of Monte Del Fra’s best. After about 30 minutes we were greeted my one the owners, the only English speaking person for miles around, who gave us some background on the winery. He was especially proud of his white, a multiple medal winner, the 2015 Ca Del Magro. Yes, it was really good! He told us that they do export to the USA, so look for it. You will not be disappointed.
After a great afternoon of driving the Italian countryside while discussing and sipping, wonderful wines it was time to head back to Verona. The roads felt a bit less daunting in this direction, not sure why.
Well that ends our first week in Italy and a great start to our 2017 European adventure. Now it’s time to get back into our little Italian toaster and head to Feltre in the Dolomites. I hear it’s beautiful!
Hike Drink Live Laugh (Apero Time!)
P.S. More photos of our wanderings about Verona below.
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