Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.
In September we flew with Topflight from Cork to the city of Romeo and Juliet and transferred to Sirmione on Lake Garda. The charter airline, which carried us there and back, Volotea, a Spanish low cost carrier, have just announced that it is starting up a regular service on this route from this coming summer. Verona is a convenient gateway to a variety of interesting northern Italy destinations so I thought I would share some of my experiences with you.
First of all Verona itself. The Arena, Italy’s second most important, nowadays stages operatic performances rather than gladiatorial combat! Evidence of Verona’s past as a powerful city-state is everywhere. Perhaps most startling is the outdoor tomb of Cangrande, one of the Scaligeri dynasty who ruled Verona and much of the surrounding area. Blessed with two atmospheric piazzas, Signori and Erbe, and with Giardino Giusti, one of Italy’s finest Renaissance gardens, there is much to admire in Verona. Of the hotels we have stayed in, the predictably named Giulietta and Romeo are my favourite.
Vicenza, a glorious city dominated by the architecture of the great Palladio, is a mere 25 minutes by train from Verona. Perhaps one of the most underrated of all Italian cities it boasts a stunning piazza, the world’s oldest indoor theatre, and surprisingly, one of the most important collections of Russian icons. A short hop further along the Verona-Venice trainline is the fabled city of Padua with one of the most important early Renaissance frescoes in all of Italy, the work of Giotto.
Taking another train route from Verona you can easily access the stunning Dolomite mountain range. We visited Bozen and Brixen in the Italian Tyrol region, for centuries up until WWI part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Brixen, also known as Bressanone, is particularly beautiful, its Duomo is unique and the surrounding mountains make a beautiful backdrop. The Goldener Adler located right on the river is a lovely Austrian style hotel and very welcoming.
Our most recent trip to Verona and beyond brought us to Sirmione on Lake Garda, perhaps the lakes’ most visited town, popular because of its well-preserved Scaligeri Castle, the hot water springs and important Roman ruins, said to be a villa belonging to the Roman poet Catullus. The Hotel Catullo is highly recommended as an oasis from the crowds, which can be overwhelming, particularly in high season. Personal preference on Lake Garda based on previous travel experiences would be Salo on the western side where Mussolini made his last stand, and pretty, relatively un-touristy, Torri del Benaco on the eastern side. The Albergo Gardesana is well-located and the best choice in Torri.
Of course Verona is an Italian wine lover’s dream. Familiar types grown in the area would include light and fruity Bardolino named after the pretty town on the lower east side of Garda, Valpolicella from the area between Verona and Lake Garda, increasingly producing Ripasso, a stronger version of traditional Valpolicella. Soave is the most famous white from the region. On our recent trip, I discovered two new and wonderful wines, grown in the area roughly from Salo to the city of Brescia, more about these discoveries in a future article!
This month’s recommendation: Super Valu’s Australian Barossa Valley Estate red wines are great value on special at the moment, €12, and available as either a straight varietal Shiraz or a ‘GSM’ combination of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre. I can’t decide which one I like the most, but both are excellent on these darkening cold nights.