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Verona & Venice

Canalside palaces, a unique legacy of art and Italy’s biggest outdoor opera festival

By: Donald Strachan Writer & Journalist | Specialist in Italy & European travel

Venice & Verona

Few places conjure up images as vivid as the two greatest cities of north-eastern Italy, Venice and Verona. Italy’s magical floating city spreads beyond the Grand Canal and San Marco, covering several islands in its lagoon.

You can blame Verona’s reputation for romance on Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, but there’s also much more (and genuine) history in its Roman ruins and Gothic architecture.

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Venice’s art traditions separate it from the rest of Italy — painters and architects here looked east, to trading partners in the Mediterranean, as much as to the mainland.

The Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s) is an exuberant fusion of Byzantine and Gothic styles, inside and out. You can admire (and photograph) the palaces of the Grand Canal from a vaporetto, or explore the city’s many secret waterways in a gondola or kayak.

Piazza san Marco

The museums and scuole (“schools” or guilds) of Venice display works by some of Italy’s finest painters. Visit the Accademia for Titian and Carpaccio, and the Scuola di San Rocco for Tintoretto paintings that took two decades to complete. Italy’s most influential architect, Andrea Palladio, designed Venice’s great churches of San Giorgio Maggiore and Il Redentore.

Venice also has a fine musical heritage. Composer Vivaldi was Venetian, and in the Teatro La Fenice it has one of Italy’s marquee opera houses. Verdi’s operatic masterpieces Rigoletto (1851) and La Traviata (1853) both premiered at La Fenice.

This magical floating city spreads beyond the Grand Canal and San Marco, covering several islands in the lagoon

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The spiritual home of Venetian food is its fish market, the Mercato del Pesce close to Rialto Bridge. Catch from the lagoon, the Adriatic, and further afield start their day here, en route to the tables of city restaurants.

Venice also has fine wine on the doorstep: white Soave and the reds of Valpolicella, including thunderously concentrated, almost black Amarone della Valpolicella.

Some of Italy’s most sought-after olive oil oozes from the presses along Lake Garda’s eastern shore. The Garda Orientale DOP mark on the label is a reliable indicator of quality.

The Great Outdoors: Venice’s Lagoon

A vaporetto (water taxi) can take you from San Marco to explore quieter, outlying islands such as Murano (famous for its glassmakers), Burano (for lace), and Torcello, where the lagoon’s oldest building has stood since the 7th century.

On Lido is a long stretch of sandy beach.

Out of Town: Verona

Verona is wedged between the vine-clad hills of Soave and the shores of Italy’s largest lake, Lago di Garda. Verona is the fictional home of Romeo and Juliet, and “Juliet’s Balcony” is a magnet for romantics. There is nothing romantic about its fortified medieval Castelvecchio or the bloody history of its preserved Roman amphitheatre, the Arena di Verona.

Statue of Juliet, with balcony in the background. Verona

Open-air arias shake the walls of the amphitheatre all summer long during the long-running outdoor opera festival — Italy’s largest.

Three Excursions from Venice & Verona

  • Padua: around 1305 Giotto painted a tiny chapel, the Cappella degli Scrovegni, creating one of the greatest treasures of Western art
  • Vicenza: the home city of Andrea Palladio, whose many works around the centre include the spectacular Teatro Olimpico
  • Lake Garda: for scenic boat trips, water sports and lazy lunches by the waterside, washing down a simple grilled lake fish with a glass of Soaveç

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