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Verona is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Veneto Italy. The Arena built around 30 AD is a well-preserved Roman amphitheatre that dominates the Piazza Bra’. The spectacular Piazza Bra’ acts as a staging place for the thousands of people that stroll around the Colosseum. It is the center of this ancient city with its splendid Medieval palazzi surrounded by 10 km of ancient walls. It was mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy and is famous for the setting of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet. Today the palazzo considered Juliet’s home is visited by large numbers of people. The play is performed every summer and is one of the highlights of the Opera Festival season. The Piazza Bra’ is surrounded by restaurants that cater to thousands of people who attend the Opera. The Arena seats about 25,000 people so you can image the buzz that fills the Piazza with smartly dressed people enjoying an after theater drink or meal.
There are about 33 Agriturismi in Verona; we chose the small winery Nicobresaola located in Custoza about 20 minutes from Verona. Nico Bresaola, Marina and his daughter started this Agriturismo about 4 years ago. They grow Bianco di Custoza and Bardolino grapes, olives, kiwi, peaches and radicchio rosso. They belong to a cooperative that processes the grapes for about 180 vineyards in this area.
The 4 rooms are tastefully decorated with modern furniture and very spacious. Clearstory ceilings with open beans and pretty views over the vineyards gave us a comfortable and peaceful place to spend a few days.
We were greeted by Nico’s daughter Bernadetta who spoke English and Nico joined her, and speaks English and French fluently. They gave us a key to the room, showed us into the kitchen off the yard and invited to enjoy anything in the refrigerator and of course the espresso machine. Naturally as you can guess it was filled with fruits grown on the farm. Later Marina, Nico’s wife arrived with food and drinks for a party they were having in the yard for 2 evenings. We were invited to join the festivities with about 60 people and live music. Full of energy, they are a fun family with great friends who made us feel that were part of their social circle. http://www.nicobresaola.it/
We were off to the opening night at the Area di Verona to see Placido Domingo conduct the Opera Carmen. Domingo is celebrating his 40th year performing at the Area with many events planned. In the past we have always sat on the main floor. Taking the advice of some people I knew, we decided to get tickets in the gallery where I was told that the acoustics was better. Sorry to say this wasn’t the case and I found the seating uncomfortable and the acoustics extremely bad. Not all was lost as we had fun with many of the people sitting around us. Since we had enjoyed the Festival a number of times in the past and never experienced rain with no hint of bad weather in the forecast, we were not prepared for a major thunderstorm during the second act. We were lucky that we were sitting next to an exit and were able to get out quickly before the crowds rushed for all exits in an attempt to escape from the rain.
The opera was captivating, with creative scenery and beautiful music. We were sorry to have missed the second half. I suggest that if you sit in the gallery you choose seats in the E & F sections next to the stage. The acoustics would be better and you can see from anywhere in the Arena, but always be prepared for rain.
This crowd was not going to let the weather get in the way of having a good time as they crowded the restaurants and the Prosecco flowed.
If you are looking for something a little more up scale to stay, I would recommend the Villa Del Quar (a Relais Chateaux hotel). Located in the Valpolicella Valley the charming villa has superior accommodations and authentic period furniture and is a typical patrician dwelling. The elegant restaurant “Arquade” has 2 Michelin stars and 3 Golden Keys classification by the Gambero Rosso guidebook and is excellent. Relax in the afternoon at the outdoor pool surrounded by vineyards before visiting Verona and the opera. There is a large and beautiful wine cellar where we sampled Grappa’s made in the area. The staff is very friendly and helpful and will arrange transportation to the Opera for you. Be sure to make reservations in the restaurant in advance. www.hotelvilladelquar.it/.
What is Agriturismo? It is an Italian term for a farm holiday or agricultural tourism, but mainly it’s a concept. The idea is to better apprehend farmers’ life and rural traditions. It is taking in the culture, art, food and the countryside of Italy. It is not about working on a farm or even necessarily staying at a farm.
Many agriturismi (the plural of agriturismo) offer guests cooking and/or painting classes, horseback and bike riding, language lessons, guided tours or wine tasting – none of which you are required to do. Some farms do have programs where you can participate in various tasks. Italy does a fantastic job of educating and promoting their products and they do it with passion because they believe they have the very best.
The advantage of agriturismo is to experience a tranquil vacation and come in contact with the local population and nature. Enjoy biking for example through olive groves, or hiking in a National Park. Some areas have thermal baths and most have cathedrals and architecture rich in history and art. You can enjoy local food grown either on the farm or from the local area. Meals are often served family style by people from the farm or village. One small castle we visited in the Assisi area was located down a long dirt road surrounded by olive groves. There were only 6 rooms, all occupied by people of different nationalities. We ate at a long table in the dinning room served family style by local women from the village. Large dishes of pasta and roasted chicken held by one woman and served by another filled our dishes as we tried to discover what languages we all could communicate in. The conversation was translated into French, German, English and Italian and we managed to have a lively and fun discussion. All of the ingredients were farmed in the local area and the olive oil was made from olives grown in the surrounding orchards.
We took an apartment at a farmhouse in Montepulciano where we had a kitchen and shopped at the local markets and prepared some of our own meals. The owner of the farm helped us out by recommending where to go and what the specialties were of the area. The farm also had a pool and taking a swim late at night after a day of activities with views of the town of Montepulciano lit up at night was enchanting – we were in another world. We sat outside under an awning-covered patio overlooking the gentle hills and patchwork of colors created by the terra cotta buildings and farmland as we enjoyed a breakfast of fresh melon and prosciutto, fresh breads and pastry from the local pasticceria. Breakfast is a good meal to prepare yourself as the local markets have wonderful fruits, salumi and cheeses. Italians tend to eat a very simple breakfast of croissant and cappuccino. Speaking a little Italian in this case helps and is a great opportunity to practice. Italians are very understanding about language so no need to be embarrassed if you don’t speak well. They are truly happy if you make the effort. There are many free Italian lessons on-line if you want to learn some helpful phrases.
Many towns have revived traditions and costumes such as old games, plays and sports performed in traditional costumes that characterized the midlevel life of the area. Having your own transportation is important, as you are in the countryside where public transportation is not readily available. If you don’t have a car, then look for locations that are serviced by public transportation or where proprietors are willing to pick you up at the train station. Possibly a portable bike would work if you want to use public transportation but still have some freedom of movement. It all depends on how much your willing to invest in getting to and around your destination. Many farms will have bikes for you to use but be sure to inquire, as you will want to explore the area at your leisure. Most regions offer Argriturismo vacations. It always pays to do research before booking a region or farm.
You can find websites on the Internet but keep in mind the activities you enjoy the most and make sure that you will be able to experience them in your chosen area. Also inquire about major local events. Most of these places are small and sometimes prices increase and reservations during major holidays/events are difficult. Argriturismo vacations are often but not always the least expensive way to travel, this is a concept that brings together a way of life and nature.
Two agriturismi that I visited this summer in Veneto are “Col Delle Rane” in Caetano, S. Marco (Treviso) Italy http://www.coldellerane.it/en/home.asp and “Nicobresola” in Custoza, Verona http://www.nicobresaola.it/. Located in Veneto both offer wonderful accommodations at reasonable prices. If you are visiting Verona, Lake Garda, the Prosecco wine route are in a good location. Venice is only an hour train ride from both locations and the train is very inexpensive. Look for my articles on Veneto which will be posted here in the near future.